The best travel perks and discounts for members of the military
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Many airlines, hotels and travel cards pay year-round tribute to those who serve our country, by way of various discounts, deals, bonuses and perks. Sometimes these deals are available only to active duty military personnel, and sometimes the perks extend to US military veterans and their families. But no matter the form these travel benefits take, they all reflect the gratitude the travel industry extends to those who serve our country.
Here are the hotel, airline, credit card and other perks available.
Marriott Bonvoy and its many brands have discounted federal, state and local government rates available to government and military personnel. These discounts vary from location to location, so finding them requires a little digging. Go to Marriott Bonvoy’s website and click “Find & Reserve” at the top left-hand corner of the homepage. Once there, you can fill in your desired destination, travel dates, etc. Be sure to go to the box labeled “Special Rates,” click on the drop-down menu and select “Government & Military.” Then click “Find Hotels.” You’ll get a list of all the Marriott Bonvoy properties in your chosen city that offer special rates and their eligibility requirements.
Federal and US military employees are eligible for military rates and discounts. When searching for rooms online, be sure to check the box labeled “Government/Military Rates” to see the applicable rates. Plus, there’s a 10% discount on leisure stays for active and retired military and their families at participating hotels and resorts (the rate is not valid for official government or military travel).
Veterans, military and government personnel get discounts at or below per diem rates at Best Western hotels throughout North America (present an official identification card or work orders at time of check in). Plus, enrolling in Best Western’s Service Rewards Program — the hotel chain’s award program tailored to members of the military and armed forces — unlocks even more benefits. These perks include an automatic upgrade to Gold Elite status (which comes with 10% bonus points with each qualified stay) and savings of 10% or more when you book the military rate.
Veterans and active duty members of any official government-sponsored branch of the United States armed services are eligible for a discount of 10-15% off Hyatt’s standard rate. Immediate family members are eligible as well. To get the discount, use the offer code MILVET while booking. You’ll be asked to present a valid US Military/Veteran ID or other documented proof at check in.
Participating Wyndham properties — which include Wyndham, Days Inn, Ramada, La Quinta, Travelodge, Wingate, Super 8, Microtel, Knights Inn and others — offer discounts of 12-15% off their Best Available Rate to active and retired military personnel, veterans and their families. Plus, qualifying military personnel and their spouses get automatic Gold-level status when they enroll in the Wyndham Rewards program.
The hotel chain behind such hotels and resorts as InterContinental, Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Kimpton, and others offers a “Military Appreciation Rate” at participating locations across the United States, Canada, Central and South America. The discounts off IHG’s “Best Flexible Rate” vary, with a minimum of 5% at participating hotels. The offer is available to active or retired US or Canadian military personnel, veterans or a dependent family member (a valid, government-issued military ID is required at check in).
Choice Hotels — which includes brands such as Comfort, Sleep Inn, Quality Inn and others — extends a discounted rate for official and leisure travel to active duty and retired military personnel, their dependents and members of several military associations (advance reservations are required and you’ll need proof of eligibility at check in). Plus, active duty military, veterans and military spouses are eligible to join the Choice Privileges rewards program at the Lifetime Gold Elite level, which frees you from annual stay requirements.
Motel 6, along with its sister extended-stay brand Studio 6, offers active and retired military personnel and their families a discount of up to 10%.
Active duty military personnel and veterans — in addition to government employees — are eligible for a 10% discount on official travel at any US Red Roof location. The hotel chain also has a 10% discount on leisure travel for all government, military, veterans, and retirees.
Planes & Trains
Most travelers know that US-based airlines typically extend early boarding and other privileges to active duty military passengers. These flyers are eligible for many other perks as well.
There are special fares for military and government travelers, but you must call the airline to book them. While Southwest offers all of its passengers — military and non-military alike — two free checked bags, military passengers traveling on active duty or permanent change of station orders are exempt from that two-piece limit. Plus, they won’t be charged for excess, oversized or overweight bags as long as each bag doesn’t exceed 100 lbs. and 80″.
American Airlines offers government or military fares in some markets. Active duty military personnel are allowed Group 1 boarding privileges. Active duty military and their dependents traveling on orders can check up to five bags for free, as long as each bag is up to 100 lbs. and 126″ (width+length+height). Active duty military traveling for pleasure or personal business get up to three complimentary checked bags up to 50 lbs. and 62″. Another perk: US military personnel traveling in uniform on a same-day American flight can enter Admirals Club lounges with immediate family — defined as a spouse, domestic partner and/or children under 18 — or up to two guests (access is based on lounge capacity and the offer doesn’t apply to the Airspace Lounge at San Diego International Airport or the JAL Sakura Lounge at Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport). One more not-so-well-known perk revealed by The Points Guy: active US military members and family members traveling with them on the same reservation get free access to Preferred Seats and Main Cabin Extra. US military traveling on a military or government fare can select Preferred Seats, while other active US military can request a Preferred Seat or Main Cabin Extra from an airport agent.
Whether you’re traveling for personal reasons or on orders, call Delta’s Military and Government desk at 800-325-1771 to get details about the airline’s discounts for active duty US military personnel. Those traveling on orders can check up to five bags of up to 100 lbs. each for free. Active military traveling for personal reasons can check up to two bags up to 50 lbs. each (if you’re flying First Class, Delta Premium Select or Delta One, that allowance goes to three bags at 70 lbs.). Military members and US State Department Foreign Service Officers traveling on active transfer orders can check their pets as baggage for a fee, but some restrictions apply.
Perks apply to active duty personnel, those who have been discharged from the military within seven days of the date of travel, and cadets of the Air Force Academy, West Point, Naval Academy, Merchant Marine Academy and Coast Guard Academy. The airline offers up to a 5% discount on fares, although you’ll have to access them via membership in Veterans Advantage. Active US military personnel and their dependents on a personal trip can check up to three bags for free (up to 72 lbs. and 62″ in size); those traveling on official business get up to five bags (100 lbs./115″). United also offers United Club access to active duty military members in uniform, or with present leave orders or rest and recuperation papers.
In some markets, Alaska Airlines offers military fares to active duty military personnel and their dependents. These fares are only available when buying your ticket by phone (1-800-252-7522). Active duty US military personnel can check up to five bags for free, and overweight or oversize fees are waived for bags up to 70 pounds and 115″ (linear). The airline also ships the pets of active military members (via cargo) for a discounted rate of $150 plus tax. Onboard food purchases are 15% off for all members of the military and their families. Recently, Alaska added one more perk: complimentary Alaska Lounge day passes to active US military personnel who are traveling on orders (you must be ticketed to fly on an Alaska flight departing within three hours).
Active duty military personnel not traveling on orders get a 5% discount off the base fare by calling 1-800-JETBLUE. In a separate offer, JetBlue offers a 5% discount to US active duty military, retired military, veterans, National Guard and Reserve and their families who are enrolled in Veterans Advantage. Enrollees of Veterans Advantage also get two free checked bags for leisure trips and up to five when traveling on duty.
Frontier typically charges for carry-on bags as well as checked baggage. But, the discount airline offers “US military passengers” (active duty armed forces, reserves and National Guard) a free carry-on bag in addition to two free checked bags and one free personal item. Note: these baggage waivers apply only to active duty military personnel. Families or traveling companions are not eligible.
US active duty military, military veterans, members of the National Guard, military reserve and their dependents get up to three pieces of checked baggage for free. Plus, the airline waives its typical fees for oversized checked baggage, a carry-on bag, getting a boarding pass printed at the airport and seat assignments.
Active duty US military personnel, their spouses and their dependents are eligible for a 10% discount on the lowest available fare. There are some exceptions, including weekday Acela trains, Saver Fares, non-Acela Business class, first class or sleeping accommodations. During your ticket search on Fare Finder, select “Military” for each eligible passenger. Uniformed military personnel also get to head to the front of the ticket line.
Travel Credit Cards
Some of The Points Guy’s favorite credit cards also offer a number of perks to military personnel. The Platinum Card® from American Express waives the $550 annual fee (see rates and fees) and the authorized user fee for those covered under Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). Other Amex-branded cards also waive that annual fee, including the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express Card ($450; see rates and fees) and the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express. In some cases, spouses may get their fees waived as well; call Amex customer service to find out. Chase Sapphire Reserve waives the annual fee for those covered under the Military Lending Act (MLA) on accounts opened after September 20, 2017.
The Bottom Line
A host of benefits awaits travelers who serve, or have served, in the US military. Because these benefits, their requirements, and the eligibility of family, spouses and dependents vary so wildly, carefully research each military discount offer to avoid any surprises. Many airlines, hotels and other businesses might ask for proof of eligibility, so don’t leave home without the military ID, veteran ID, dependent ID, orders and/or other documentation you’ll need to take advantage of the many travel offers out there.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex, click here.
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