How to Save on Travel with Military Discounts
My own family, with three little boys and a daddy in Kuwait, has benefited greatly from military travel discounts, even when close to home.
My parents live about 50 miles away, a little off the highway that leads from Portland, Oregon to the Pacific Coast. For the military-discounted price of $9.90 for me and $4.95 for each of my boys, I can hop an Amtrak bus to a station near my parents' house. Once there, excursions to the pricey Oregon Coast Aquarium are 10% off, and souvenirs in the gift shop are discounted, too, which surprised even the Aquarium receptionist when I called. "I had no idea!" she said, when I told her we'd gotten 10% off our alligator books and shark teeth.
This is a good reminder that, when traveling, it's always a good idea to ask. Sure, there are lists of restaurants and shops that offer military discounts nationwide (A&W, Dunkin' Donuts, the Melting Pot, and Red Robin are some examples), but the smaller and independent establishments won't appear there.
Shades of Green Resort
While Disney resorts, hotels and theme parks offer a confusing assortment of military discounts (the best are for the "Value" hotels, at 30% off regular rates, and a 4-day "Magic Your Way" ticket package at Disneyland), the most unique and military-friendly experience is the Shades of Green Resort, part of the Disney World complex.
Nearly any active duty, reservist, retired or veteran servicemember is eligible, and widows, too. Rates for rooms are based on your rank (with the best prices for lower-ranking E1-E5), and the resort also sells discounted ticket packages for the parks and the two adjacent PGA Championship golf courses.
Sea World, Busch Gardens, and Related Parks
At eight theme parks owned by the SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment group, an active duty servicemember and three dependents can each get one free admission each year. Pick your park, fill out an online application, print the form and pack your bags. Bring that and your military ID and you'll only have to buy food and souvenirs.
As mentioned, Amtrak offers 10% off most ticket prices. I have cleared the sleep out of my eyes many a morning to gawk at the herons stalking proudly through the marshes besides the tracks between New York City and Philadelphia (note: the Acela doesn't qualify for the discount on weekdays).
The gorgeous (and a little scary) mountain's edge and coastal views of the Starlight Express between Portland, Oregon and Southern California are something I'll always remember. (Another note: sleeping accommodations and business class aren't discounted, but my son and I didn't mind snoozing in the large, comfortable coach seats.) Be sure and bring your military ID, as you won't get the discount without it.
Although the bus service also has a 10% fare discount for walk-up fares, the real star of the show is a $209 round trip ticket anywhere in the Continental U.S. For an entirely whimsical trip – Portland, Oregon to Memphis, Tennessee – I would save almost half of the special web-only ticket price. Greyhound also requires valid military ID or spouse/dependent ID.
Camping is a fun way to mix a parent's field training in with one of the great joys of childhood (my husband said to me in a mopey voice a few weeks ago – from Kuwait, where he says families camp in the desert with big-screen TVs – "we've been so bad at camping!"). Camp Jellystone is a great way to mix camping with some of the joys and amenities of a pricier vacation.
Most locations offer 10% or more off rates that run around $50 a night for a family. A couple of beautiful spots: Natural Bridge, Virginia, Cobb Mountain, California, and Missoula, Montana, which was honored as one of the top 50 camp grounds in the country.
Bed & Breakfasts
Military discounts are not all cookie cutter hotels and chain restaurants – bed & breakfasts offer deals for servicemembers too, often much better than the typical 10% off.
The stately Hoyt House on Amelia Island, Florida offers discounted rooms for just $129 a night, including breakfast (that's at least 40% off regular rates).
The remote and spectacular Northern Lights B&B in Old Forge, New York gives a 25% discount on weekdays and 15% off on weekends. Many B&Bs near military bases will honor per diem rates for food if you are on orders – just ask.
Military Attractions, Battlefields, and Historical Sites
Nearly every park, museum or site with a military heritage will offer a discount for servicemembers. Philadelphia is a great example; the city has many sites with a military heritage (after all, much of our nation's military began there), including the Independence Seaport Museum, where your military ID will get you tickets for $7 instead of $12; at the National Constitution Center, members of the military get in absolutely free.
This is, of course, only a partial list. Many other businesses, restaurants, museums and attractions offer discounts for servicemembers and their family. If you can remember to bring your military ID, and always ask before you pay, you might end up spending 30% or 40% less on a trip than you would as a civilian – and, perhaps, discovering a place you'd never have explored otherwise.
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