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Top Ten Tips for Military Travel for Veterans

Military travel is a top benefit for veterans. Many veterans and their family members can travel for free on military aircraft by using the space-available travel program (often referred to as “space A). Although this is a valuable benefit, space-A travel can often be frustrating, unless you follow these tips.

Departure terminal choices for veterans

Generally speaking, military air terminals on the West Coast have more scheduled flights to Pacific locations, such as Japan, Hawaii, Alaska, Korea, Australia, and Guam, while terminals on the East Coast have the most flights to Europe and the Middle East. You need to plan your travel itinerary accordingly.

Also keep in mind that military terminals located in commercial airports are mostly contract flights, and the military generally fills those with space-required passengers. You have a much better chance of “catching a hop” from a terminal located on a military base than from a terminal located in a commercial airport.

Time your veteran travel wisely

If possible, travel during off-peak space-A travel periods. Historically, February through March and October through November are low travel periods, and your chances to get out quickly on a space-A hop are much greater. (Peak periods are the summer months when school is out and during the Christmas holiday season.)

Sign up for veteran travel from home

Don’t waste your time standing in line at the terminal to sign up for a space-A flight. Most terminals now allow remote signup, which allows you to put your name on the space-A waiting list via fax, and sometimes even by e-mail. The advantage of this system is that your name stays on the waiting list for up to 60 days, getting closer and closer to the top every day.

Consider signing up for a space-A flight three to four weeks before your desired date of travel. You can call the terminal at any time to find out where you stand on the waiting list.

Keep your veteran travel plans flexible

When you want to travel around the world, you can often get where you want to go by any number and combination of routes and stops. You may feel like you’re playing a game of connect the dots, but with a little patience and flexibility, you will reach your destination.

For example, if you want to get to Japan, consider listing Korea as one of your destination choices. You can then sign up for a flight to Japan at the military air terminal in Korea. Both Osan and Kunsan air bases in Korea generally have several flights per week to Japan.

Double-check your veteran travel documents

Although active-duty military members can travel to most countries by using their military ID card and leave (vacation) orders, family members and veterans usually need a valid passport. Some countries require a visa or may require that certain vaccinations be current.

Use the State Department’s website to check for required travel documents. Nothing is more frustrating than arriving at the military flight terminal, having your name called for a space-A flight, and then discovering that you can’t board because you don’t have the right travel documents.

Veterans should pack lightly for travel

As a space-A traveler, you can check two pieces of luggage, weighing up to 70 pounds each, per person. Family members traveling together can pool their baggage allowance as long as the total doesn’t exceed the total allowance. Still, take only what is essential for your trip because you can’t check your bags until your name is called for your flight.

Although some terminals have baggage lockers, many don’t. So chances are good you and your bags will be stuck waiting overnight somewhere. So take only what you truly need.

Arrive for veteran travel ready to go

Call the terminal to find out when the space-A showtime is for your flight. Don’t confuse showtime with departure time. The space-A showtime is the listed time that they plan to select passengers from the space-A list. If you’re not there to accept when your name is called, they move on to the next person on the list, and you miss your chance for that flight.

Arrive at least one hour before the scheduled showtime. Sometimes they call for space A earlier than scheduled. Also, when your name is called, sometimes it’s only minutes until you go through security for boarding, so be all set and ready to go.

Be financially prepared for veteran travel

Remember, you may not travel on the same day you arrive at the terminal. You need to have funds available to stay overnight, or possibly for several days, because most military terminals close at night. Sometimes veterans can stay at an on-base lodging facility for a relatively inexpensive fee. But you can’t count on these being available, so you may need to seek commercial lodging off-base.

Additionally, if you have to return home before a certain date, remember that your return travel is also space available. If you can’t get a return space-A flight that fits your schedule, you need to be prepared to purchase a commercial airline ticket.

Purchase an in-flight meal with veteran travel

Meals on most commercial airlines leave much to be desired these days, but thankfully that can't be said about the in-flight meals available for a nominal fee on military aircraft.

Often called “boxed lunches” or “boxed meals,” these munchies are very good. Options include a healthy-heart menu, breakfast menu, snacks, and a sandwich meal. Prices usually range from $1.35 to $5.00, depending on your choice. You can also bring your own food and drinks aboard. Sorry, alcoholic beverages aren’t allowed.

With veteran travel, sign up immediately for a return flight

As soon as you get to your destination, take a few moments before you leave the terminal and sign up for your return flight. Your name remains on the waiting list for 60 days, which means that while you’re out and about taking in the sights and eating too much rich food, you’re getting closer and closer to the top of the list for your return flight.

It’s often more difficult for veterans and family members to return to the United States than to depart from it. That’s because those traveling on passports must enter the States through designated customs and immigration points, whereas active-duty members can enter the United States at virtually any military terminal.

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