My wife is active duty military – and with that comes a number of perks. One of those great military benefits is a significant savings on vacations via flights, hotels, and car rentals. Eighteen months ago we went to Hawaii at a cost of half what others would expect to pay. On Saturday, I found out how it would have been even cheaper if I did a little more planning. Today, I’d like to share some of the ways to save money with nearly free vacations – but remember, you may need to be in the military to take advantage of them.
Cheap Military Hotels
Navy Lodge – This is usually our first choice to stay wherever we travel. In the summertime, Newport, Rhode Island is an extremely popular vacation destination with some hotels starting at $400/night. A room, just as good, in an arguably better location, at the Navy Lodge is $75. The rooms are big enough to do cartwheels in and come with a kitchenette (refrigerator, stove, microwave, etc.)
Special Military Housing
- When we went to Hawaii, we stayed at the Hale Koa, a military hotel that I would rate with the best I’ve ever been to. It’s about $100/night – which is a bargain compared to the $300/night hotels on the left and right of you. Plus, it’s the only place you can go to a luau hosted by Glenn Medeiros – sing after me, “Nothing’s gonna change my love for you. You outta know by now…”
- If you prefer to go to Walt Disney World, you might want to check out Shades of Green. I’ve never stayed there, but prices look to be around $110/night for a prime location on Walt Disney World Resort.
- While it’s not a hotel, there’s a small place on Martha’s Vineyard that, with extensive planning and luck, can be had for cheap as well. We hadn’t been able to book there before we moved to San Francisco. I wish I had more details, but I couldn’t find anything published on the Internet about it.
Camping and RV Parks – There are a lot of military camping sites available and Military Campgrounds does a very good job of detailing them. I’ve been looking at the Petaluma campsite as a cheap place to stay on a weekend of wine tasting in Sonoma Valley. Reading reviews with comments like this really sealed the value for me, “The food at the dining facility is still great, although now the rates went up five cents! All you can eat for lunch or dinner for $3.55.”
Space-A: Fly For Free
The military has a program that allows people to fly to many places in the world for free. It’s called the Space Available program, but is commonly referred to as Space-A. If it sounds too good to be true, in many case it is. There are two reasons why we hadn’t pursued this option in the past:
- We didn’t know how it worked. No one at my wife’s job had ever tried to fly Space-A and couldn’t really share how it works. This past weekend I spent a lot of time reading John D’s Space-A FAQ. It takes some time to understand the jargon and common acronyms.
- You can’t book a flight You show up at the terminal and “hope” that there a plane available, that it’s going where you want, and that there is space for you on the plane. Due to 9/11 restrictions, it’s often not published in advance where and when planes are scheduled to go. We found that the Pepperd message boards flight schedule information is very helpful for determining where planes are likely to go. For instance, we found that planes leave Travis, about 45 minutes from us, and go to Hawaii nearly every day. A few times a month, they continue through to Australia. This can be a savings of $3000 for the two of us – or it could be a nightmare or waiting and lost vacation time.
Civilians can find many deals on car rentals. However, we’ve found that booking through the military gets us a better deal than any of out other connections. Usually it’s around $30 a day from Hertz for the cheapest – but they always bump us up a class for free.
Photo Credit: Yogi