Yes, sir: Grab these great military travel deals

by Ellen Creager
Detroit Free Press

Cheap hotel rooms. Nearly free flights. Gorgeous resorts at rock-bottom prices. And military discounts on regular vacations.

Amazing deals are out there for active-duty or retired servicemembers, spouses and veterans looking for a getaway.

You just have to know where to look.

"We probably have 100 different vendors. They don't all offer military deals at the same time," says Matthew Foote, of the Detroit Arsenal Travel Office. "A cruise line might have a deal on 15 rooms for military. Once those are sold, that's the end of the deal. It's a matter of searching and looking."

Often posted around the world, servicemembers and their families are used to living in exotic spots. So when they travel for fun, they tend to like edgier trips, traveling "more actively and bravely" than most, says Steve Ball, an Air Force retiree and spokesman for Detroit Arsenal.

The Arsenal is Michigan's only remaining military base with a travel office, which is part of the Family Morale, Welfare and Recreation department. Anyone can use it, but it's geared toward military families.

What are some of the deals out there?

Active military with or without family members can stay on-post at many military facilities around the world through Department of Defense Lodging at rates from $44-$75 a night. For example, Army Lodging has 4,100 guest rooms at 24 global locations.

Most hotels give military discounts. Show your military ID, and it can get you up to 50 percent off the room rate. For example, Holiday Inn Express in downtown Detroit gives the "government discount rate" of $109 a night instead of $169.

If a servicemember or spouse is abroad and needs to fly home for a family emergency, the emergency assistance officer can help with airfare, wire money and even provide lodging or food, said Gwendolyn McCarthy, manager of financial readiness at Detroit Arsenal. Locally, they also assist servicemembers stranded at Detroit Metro Airport.

Armed Forces Recreation Centers has four Department of Defense-owned resorts around the world for servicemembers. They are Shades of Green at Disney World in Orlando, Hale Koa Hotel in Honolulu, Dragon Hill Lodge in Seoul, South Korea, and Edelweiss Lodge and Resort near Garmisch, Germany.

McCarthy and Ball say the Dragon Hill Lodge is particularly elegant, Edelweiss is in the Alps, and Hale Koa is right on a gorgeous beach.

Spur of the moment-loving military folks can sign up for space-available flights on military flights.

"You have to be totally open minded; it's not like you walk up and get a ticket," Foote said.

McCarthy, a retired military spouse, recently flew from Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Mt. Clemens to Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida for free.

"I had put my name on the list six months ago in case they had a hop. They called the evening before and said, 'We have a bird coming in, can you be here at 2 o'clock in the morning?' I was ready. I live five minutes away, and I was there."

Ball once flew from Virginia to Crete, then Italy and back — for $28 total.

The Armed Forces Vacation Club offers free membership to military and spouses and has vacation rentals in popular spots for just $329-$369 a week, usually for a two-bedroom condo that sleeps eight, Foote said.

Government Vacation Rewards is a travel discount program designed for government employees and military personnel.

Remember, all of these deals have to do with leisure travel. What if a servicemember is being deployed or transferred or traveling on official business?

That's a whole different ballgame. "They hand you a ticket, and you don't need to do anything," Ball said. Off you go, and it probably won't be to Disney World.

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