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06/01/2008 05:20PM, Published by Anonymous, Categories:

Everyone knows the downsides of military life – frequent moves, long deployments and chaotic schedules – but folks in the military community also know that there are some perks and one of them is cheap travel. By staying in military hotels, using a military booking service and flying on military flights, families can save hundreds, even thousands, while traveling this summer.

“You can get crazy discounts on really great stuff,” says Lori Bruschi.

Bruschi is marketing chief for Fort Bragg’s Morale, Wellness and Recreation office and a military wife herself. To get the best deals, she says, families should always travel using their military IDs.

“Use the tricks of the trade,” Bruschi said. “When you check in for a flight or at a hotel, use your military ID and ask for an upgrade.” If first-class seats or rooms are unsold, clerks might be willing to upgrade for free or for a small fee.

“Check out all the discounts,” she said. “Get what you can. Take advantage of it. Book as far in advance as you can.” That’s a tall order for many military families, but Bruschi says that shouldn’t stop them from trying. Travel insurance is inexpensive, about $15, Bruschi said, and most airlines are willing to change flights for $100 or less. Bruschi says book the trip and prepare to be flexible if dates change.

Military resorts like the Hale Koa in Hawaii are especially sensitive to the specific demands of military lifestyles, Bruschi said. Military facilities will usually change reservation dates at no charge. She and her husband wanted to stay at the Hale Koa a few years ago but learned that he would be deployed during their planned vacation. She called the hotel to explain, and the staff helped her make a new reservation.

Bruschi also recommends using the Armed Forces Vacation Club for great deals on privately-owned accommodations ( Army wife Tori Noon says she has used the club several times with great success.

“They have a wide range of locations and types of places and the prices are in the $379 to $600 per week range,” Noon said.

Like many military spouses, Army wife Michelle Kounos says she would love to take a summer trip with her husband and two children, ages four and eight, when her husband returns from a 15-month deployment to Iraq. But the family was forced to dip into savings while he was away, leaving them with a smaller vacation budget.

“I’d love to do something relaxing, cheap and nearby,” Kounos said. “We don’t want to have to drive far because of the gas prices, but we want to go somewhere with something for the kids to do and something for us.”

Kounos said that they would especially love to vacation at the beach because, as native and landlocked Midwesterners, they love going to the coast as often as they can. A beach destination within easy distance of Fort Bragg is the Fort Fisher Air Force Recreation Area in Kure Beach, just outside Wilmington. Military hotels are also available in Charleston and Savannah.

Steffanie Wolfert, an Army wife, has stayed in military hotels all over the world. She vacationed with her husband, two children, and both sets of grandparents at the Shades of Green military resort in Orlando two years ago. They reserved a family suite with two bedrooms and a sitting area, kitchenette and bathroom. Wolfert said it was plenty of room for the group of eight. Shades of Green guests get the same perks as those in other hotels inside the Disney World theme park but at a fraction of the cost. The hotel even has its own counter where guests can get discounted tickets to other Orlando-area attractions.

Wolfert has also stayed at the Dragon Lodge in South Korea, the Edelweiss Lodge and Resort in Germany and at military hotels throughout Europe and the United States. She said the great thing about military facilities is that they offer reliably clean, safe and affordable accommodations in desirable destinations. Many have commissaries, shopettes and exchange stores nearby that offer inexpensive groceries, necessities and souvenirs.

Military discounts are available for entire trips and single-event tickets through MWR’s Tickets and Tours office in the Mini Mall on Fort Bragg. Military ID holders can even get discounted tickets for movies in Fayetteville.

As the manager of that office, Deloris Gardner knows all about the discounts military families can find. And she offers this advice for summer travelers with children: “Don’t go anywhere in August when it’s the hottest time of the year, and it seems to be the busiest for all the amusement parks. Also, buy tickets to amusement parks in advance from us. You’ll get a better price and you won’t have to wait in line.”

But Army wife Kelly Wright may have the best, least expensive idea for a summer vacation. “We’ve been traveling, moving and apart so much for the past year,” she said, “that my idea of the perfect military-sponsored, inexpensive vacation is a few days together off work with a beach ball, a blow-up pool and some lounge chairs in the backyard.”


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