How to Travel Cheaply As a Military Veteran and Retiree

One of the benefits of military service is belonging to a “club” with members all over the globe, even in places around the world that civilians don’t get access to. And in gratitude for our service, hundreds of organizations offer active military members and veterans discounts, deals, and benefits on travel, transportation, and accommodations. 

In fact, so many businesses make it easy for military retirees to travel cheaply and widely on a budget, that if you’re retired military and looking to travel, it’s more than worth it to do some research and take advantage of all the deals that apply to you. 

Travel services and clubs exclusively for veterans

Travel clubs for veterans are a great idea, not only connecting members with discounted rates on travel and accommodations, but also offering access to communities of veteran travelers. Below are a couple of prominent options, but search online for many others.

  • Veterans Advantage: This is a membership reserved for anyone who has served in the military and their immediate family members. There is a fee to join (just $4.99 a month), which will give you access to thousands of discounts, many of which are travel-related.
  • GovX: A website where military, police, and first responders can find discounted tickets and travel deals, GovX also offers deals on premium workout gear and other merchandise. Membership is free, but you’ll need to set up an account and verify your status first.

Airline benefits and flight discounts

If you’re looking to fly the friendly skies at a discount, you’re in luck: There are many airline discounts and freebies available for military members and vets.

  • Space-A: The acronym stands for “space available,” and it represents an amazing opportunity for active duty and military retirees to take advantage of cheap or free plane tickets for flights that aren’t full. If you’re flexible about your travel plans, you can fly for free, or close to it. Otherwise, be sure you’re able to cover the cost of your flight or have a backup plan in the event Space-A becomes unavailable. (Yes, this realistically happens, and more often than I’d like to remember. Still, the benefits are worth the uncertainty!)
  • Airline discounts: Many airlines offer military discounts. The catch is that you won’t find them offered online; you’ll need to call and ask for them. United, Delta, JetBlue, and Southwest airlines offer a percentage off (usually 5 percent). Other airlines often offer a discount, too — but you won’t know unless you ask.
  • Free checked baggage: Southwest, United, American, and Allegiant airlines usually offer waived baggage fees for service members and vets. Other airlines may offer their own deals, so again, be sure to ask.

Flying can get expensive, but with the variety of military discounts offered by many airlines, you’ll find air travel more affordable than you’d think.

Hotel and resort deals

When I started traveling after I retired, I was thrilled to find that numerous major hotel chains also offer military and/or veteran discounts. The amount of discount you’ll get will vary, depending on the chain and the market where the hotel is located. Here are some of the major players that offer discounts or other special deals exclusively to military:

Virtually all hotel chains will offer some sort of perk to current and former military. Again, it’s important to ask because not all of these discounts are advertised.

Resort discounts

You can score some terrific deals on resort stays if you know where to look! These resort and/or vacation accommodations come at appealing prices for vets and service people. 

  • Armed Forces Vacation Club: This club is a great option for military members and vets, offering vacation deals, holiday getaway packages, and resort discounts in 47 U.S. states and territories, plus Canada, Mexico, and countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, Central and South America, the South Pacific, the Caribbean, and the Middle East.
  • Armed Forces Recreation Centers: The Department of Defense owns five luxury hotels in the U.S. and countries around the world — including Germany, Korea, and Japan — where active duty and retired military plus their dependents can access some top vacation destinations at a reasonable price. 
  • Disney and Universal resorts also offer spectacular deals for active duty and military retirees. These discounts are typically announced once a year (including specially priced theme park tickets that come at a steep discount). Once a discount is announced, you’ll have to call and get quotes for accommodations, as they vary based on individual hotel, time of year, and available inventory. Be sure to understand all the indicated terms before forking over your cash, though; these heavily discounted deals are very specific.

Cruise deals

If you’re looking to land a deal on a cruise, you can do that, too. Many online booking agencies or cruise lines offer excellent discounts to military veterans and retirees.

  • GovX: As noted above, this is a commercial website that caters to military and other government workers, with a travel section where you can explore cruise deals.
  • Military Cruise Deals: A website dedicated to veterans to find discounted rates based on their military status – the site also monitors bookings and can apply new discounts as they arise.
  • Princess Cruises Military Cruise Benefit Program: Those who have served the U.S. military can receive up to $250 in onboard spending cash (which can also be used in conjunction with other discounts).
  • Disney Cruise Line: Disney offers discounted cruises to active and retired military. Offers are valid for new booking only.
  • Carnival Cruise Line: Carnival offers cruise discounts to active duty and retirees.

These cruise lines and many others routinely offer great deals to military veterans and retirees. It’s important to keep in mind: You might need to be flexible because some of these companies frequently offer last-minute deals to military for staterooms not already sold.

Car rental markdowns

Most of the major, and even lesser-known, car rental agencies offer discounts to active duty and veterans for leisure travel. You’ll typically need to show a military ID, but some agencies will accept a DD-214. You can often score about 10% off car rentals or receive other perks. 

To find these deals, search for the name of the car rental agency you’re interested in, along with the keywords “military leisure travel” or “military discount.” Usually, the resulting URLs are separate from the car rental agency’s primary website, and a pre-filled discount code is listed in the booking box. If you have coupons, many rental agencies will allow you to “stack” these discounts with the military one.

Train, bus, parks, and other offers

Amtrak and Greyhound offer special discounts to active duty and retirees, usually, tickets are about 10% off. Additionally, if you’re located in a city, be sure to check their mass transit websites to see if they offer discounts. Many cities, such as Houston, offer military discounts for local travel.

Additionally, you should always research any intended destination or attraction to see what deals are available there. The National Parks Service offers special military passes, along with discounted lodging in the parks. Some theme parks offer free or specially-priced tickets, and most restaurants offer military discounts. 

I’ve been thrilled to find, one of the perks of being a military retiree who travels was finding out that there are a ton of resources available to vets. Even popular booking websites, such as Expedia, now offer travel discounts to military. Even if you don’t see a discount advertised somewhere, it never hurts to ask — and sometimes it can unlock some magic savings! 

However, it’s important to understand, not all discounts apply to all military veterans. Many discounts are only offered to active duty, retirees who have 20+ years of service, or disabled veterans. If travel discounts are an important consideration for you (and aren’t they for almost everyone?), be sure to check out any requirements or restrictions regarding discounts before booking your travel. Then, find your deal and go!