My friend Charlie write the Running with Miles blog here on Boarding Area.  He has been very successful with that blog in the last couple of years, but is always trying to do more.  I know some crazy runners out there, but he has come up with a plan for running and frequent flyer miles that is just plane crazy.  He is going to run a full marathon distance for six days straight on six different continents.  Here is his schedule:

September 6PM – Thessaloniki, Greece
September 7AM – Cairo, Egypt
September 7PM – Abu Dhabi, UAE (yes, I know it will be hot!)
September 8PM – Sydney, Australia
September 9PM – Santiago, Chile
September 10AM – Washington, DC
and the back to Greece on the 11th.

Now there is an old saying that a good friend will bail you out of jail, but a really good friend will be sitting right next to you in jail.  Therefore, I am going to join Charlie when he gets to D.C. and run as much of a marathon as I can stand.  I hope a bunch of you can also join us and contribute to his Wounded Warriors fund drive.  For details on the run and further update, read Charlie’s blog and read about his first post on the subject here.

Wear your PT uniform and represent the armed forces for a great cause.  Personally, I am kind of hoping Charlie is worn out by the time he gets to D.C. and we can keep it down to 10 minute miles…

Posted by glenn | One Comment

Courtesy of reader, Robert, we have this new tip.  Service Members in uniform and those with orders when in civvies, can access any American Admirals Club.

Admirals Club

I knew we could do this for US Airways back a few years ago, but hadn’t tried it on American.  You may get different answers depending on the club, but I expect this is a legacy of combining American and US Airways.  Here is the referenced language and the American website where it can be found:

Military

If you’re on active military duty, you have complimentary access to all Admirals Club lounges when traveling the same day on an American Airlines or US Airways operated flight. When you arrive, please present your:

I would print out this page, or have the URL in case one of the matron says she doesn’t know what you are talking about.  Note that I could find no such language for United Clubs, but have had success getting in there while in uniform.  The lady actually gave me the “duh, of course you can enter” look, but I haven’t seen this actually written so your mileage may vary.

Citi Prestige

Another technique of course is to apply for the Citi Prestige card.  This also gives you Admirals Club access.  It comes with a $450 annual fee, but here is a trick.  Each year the card gives you a $250 credit on an airfare charge in addition to 50,000 Thank You points and other benefits.  If you got the card now and paid $450, you could then get $250 off a plane ticket in 2015 and another $250 off in 2016. and then cancel the card before the annual fee for the next 12 months was charged!  That puts you $50 ahead with free Admirals Club access.

Posted by glenn | 4 Comments

Disney announced a renewal of their popular Armed Forces Salute Program that will run 1 OCT 12 through 28 SEP 13 28 SEP 14 through 3 OCT 15.  This program gives a significant discount to all military members, including Guard, Reserve, retired, and spouses.  Tickets are about 50% off and a discount of 30-40% is available on rooms at their resorts.  There is even a discount rate for Disney cruises.  The details can be viewed at Chief Master Sergeant (Ret.) Steve Bell’s website http://www.militarydisneytips.com/.  Note that the program has changed slightly, such as only allowing six tickets – not 12, and blackout dates.  So if you have used it in the past, you better check it out before assuming anything.  Here are the details:

Disney Theme Ticket Discounts for Military Members

Walt Disney World in Orlando Florida

  • Four-Day      Park Hopper Tickets or Four-Day Water Park and More Tickets for $156.00 $177.00
  • Four-Day      Park Hopper Tickets plus the Water Park and More Option for $184.00$207.00.
  • These      tickets can be purchased at Shades of Green, your local Base Ticket Office, or Disney Theme Park ticket booths (Tax will be added      at Disney ticket booths).

Blockout dates:

  • 22 December 14 – 2 January 15(No theme Park or WP&M Use)
  • 29 March – 9 April 2015 (No theme Park or WP&M Use)
  • July      4, 2012 (No Magic Kingdom Use) Nice change!

Disneyland in Anaheim California

  • Three-Day Park Hopper Tickets for $125.00 $132.00
  • These tickets can be purchased at Your local Base Ticket Office, or Disney Theme Park ticket booths (Tax will be added    at Disney ticket booths).

Blockout dates:

  • 25 December 2014 – 4 January 2015 (No theme Park  Use)
  • 15 – 17 February 2013  (No theme Park  Use)
  • 29  March – 9 April 2015  (No theme Park  Use)
  • 4 July 2013  (No theme Park  Use)

Disney Resort Room Discounts for Military Members

Please note, the number of rooms at these rates is limited, so you might have to be flexible!

Walt Disney World in Orlando Florida

  • 40% off Deluxe Resorts
  • 35% off Moderates and Fort Wilderness Cabins
  • 30% off Value Resorts including Art of Animation

Disney World Room Blockout dates:

  • 27 – 29 November 2014
  • 24 – 31 December 2014
  • 30 March – 4 April 2015

Disneyland in Anaheim California

  • Up to 40% off Resorts

Disneyland Room Blockout dates:

  • 27 – 29 November 2014
  • 24 – 31 December 2014
  • 30 March – 4 April 2015

The Disney Cruise Line

The Disney Cruise Line continues to offer Military discounts. Military Discounted Cruise Rates are usually announced 30-60 days out.  Then when a military rate is announced for that particular sailing they will apply that rate to your reservations. They usually set aside fifty staterooms of all categories for the military rates (except for suites and the lowest categories).

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One of our readers, Brian,  told you last fall about new rules meant to save the Government money by reducing the amount of per diem for long term stay (over 30 days).  Here is the text below for the new rules that took effect 1 Nov 14.

Flat Rate Per Diem for Long Term TDY (Effective 01 Nov ‘14). Establishes a flat rate per diem allowance for long term TDY that would authorize a traveler 75% of the locality per diem rate for TDY periods over 30 days but not exceeding 180 days. This item also establishes a flat rate per diem allowance for TDY in excess of 180 days to be set at 55% of the locality per diem rate.

Congressmen Derek Wilmer D-Wash. and Walter Jones R-N.C. have introduced legislation, lobbied for by Federal worker unions, that will roll back the DoD attempts to save money on per diem.  The Government rationale for the proposed change can be summed up by this statement:

The Defense Travel Management Office said the changes create an incentive for Defense Department travelers to find cheaper long-term lodging. Extended-stay hotels offer kitchenettes and refrigerators so “people aren’t eating out at an expensive restaurant every day,” DTMO director Harvey Johnson said in an October DOD News report.

Here is the link to the Stars & Stripes article.

I know from working with the FAA ten years ago that they already had a rule for reducing long-term per diem and if the workers couldn’t find a place to stay for the lower per diem, they had to ask for a waiver which was almost always granted.

However, I think this is a little different with the military.  In my experience, long-term TDY most often occurs with initial entry skills training like my officer basic course.  I have already seen this be a problem for some junior Service Members (even without the reduction) who attend something like intel training at Ft. Huachuca only to be turned away from living on-post due to lack of BEQ space.  So they end up living on the economy in some motel racking up big expenses that the unit has to try to quickly get processed before the SM maxes out her Government Travel Card.  Now we want to put the burden of asking her (or him) to negotiate a lower rate or go find a cut-rate motel in order to get to 75% or 55% per diem for lodging.  Kind of a lot to ask an E-2 to do.

Lodging is what is really the issue, not M&IE.  I wish there was a way for them to separate these two and just reduce the M&IE for long stays.  Maybe if DTS could automatically find long term rates that would fit the reduced rate, that would help.  In the meantime, with 26 co-sponsors of the bill it sounds likely that this legislation will pass and force DoD to find another way to save $22 million.

Posted by glenn | One Comment

This post is going to describe one of the key linkages between travel and taxes for the military, namely how military Reservists can deduct most of their travels even while earning all those miles.

The tax deduction for military Reservists is one of the IRS’ top ten deductions most commonly not taken.  It is a pretty generous benefit that was significantly expanded after 9/11.  To sum it up, it says “If you travel overnight more than 100 miles away from your tax home to a meeting or training camp, you may claim an above-the-line deduction for transportation, lodging, and meals attributable to those trips.”

While this may not be very applicable to the E-2 who is assigned (by law) to a unit within 50 miles of his or her home, it is very common for both enlisted and officers to travel significantly due to a scarcity of higher level positions or to stay within their MOS or rating.  This travel can often be a great source of frequent flyer miles or hotel points and you might as well also make the most of it by taking the cost off of your taxes as well.  What makes the latest version of the law particularly attractive is the “above-the-line” part.  Normally, we can all deduct legitimate business-related expenses, but they mean nothing unless they exceed 2% of your AGI (adjusted gross income).  This is a tough limit to exceed and many active duty deductions such as uniforms, professional society dues, etc. don’t add up to enough to exceed this limit and thus gain you no benefit.

With the current law, a Reservist can deduct the full amount of their airfare, hotel, car rental, taxis, parking fees, tolls, and 50% of their meals, just like a normal business expense.  However, it is entered on Form 1040, line 24 and actually reduces your AGI which can be beneficial in avoiding other tax deduction limitations.  As always, the IRS will trust whatever number you put down unless they decide to audit you, so keep records of all your expenses.  For meals, you can use the M&IE rate for the local per diem.  You can find that rate at this GSA link, http://www.gsa.gov/portal/category/21287.  Note that they changed their home page this year, so old link you may have won’t work.

DISCLAIMER:  As usual, consult your tax professional for all real tax advice.  The information expressed above is my understanding of the current law and cannot be used in any stupid letter rants you may write to the IRS.

Sorry that I can’t give a similar benefit to the active duty or federal employees out there, but on the other hand, I expect most of your travel is paid for by Uncle Sam, so be happy, since all the above costs for Reservists come out of their own pockets.

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You would think that after all the brouhaha several years ago concerning baggage fees for military members traveling on orders that all the airlines adopted the same rules.  However, I have found that is not true particularly for dependents and personal travel.

Let’s take a look at what American, and now US Air, have for their rules:

1st, 2nd and 3rd checked bag fees waived

  • Confirmed First and Business Class customers
  • AAdvantage Executive Platinum*
  • oneworld Emerald*
  • Active U.S. military with ID and dependents traveling with them on orders (1st – 5th bags free of charge)
  • Active U.S. military with ID on personal travel

 

So you should have plenty of room for all your bags unless you have a large family.  However, your dependents traveling on personal travel with you are out of luck with no allowance.

How about Delta?  Here is thier verbiage:

If you are: 1) active duty U.S. military personnel on orders to or from duty stations and dependents traveling with them; or 2) active U.S. military dependents traveling on relocation orders, you may check the following at no charge:

Up to four bags in Main Cabin on Delta and in all cabins on Delta Connection flights.

Up to five bags in Delta One™, First and Business Class on Delta aircraft only.

Additionally, active military personnel traveling on personal business on Delta and Delta Connection operated flights may check two bags up to 50 lbs (23 kg) and 62 linear inches (158 cm) at no charge.

So this is even more restrictive in that when on personal travel, military personnel, but not their dependents, are allowed only two bags.

Lastly, let’s take a look at United:

U.S. military exemptions

  • Active U.S. military personnel and their accompanying dependents, not traveling on official business, receive waived service charges for up to three checked bags at 70 pounds (32 kg) each.
  • Active U.S. military personnel and their dependents traveling in United Economy on official business receive waived service charges for up to four checked bags at 70 pounds (32 kg) each.
  • Active U.S. military personnel and their dependents traveling in United Global FirstSM, United BusinessFirst®, United First® or United Business® on official business receive waived service charges for up to five checked bags at 70 pounds (32 kg) each.
  • Dependents traveling with active U.S. military personnel are also exempt as long as they are traveling in the same reservation. This exemption will not apply to group reservations including ten or more customers.

This is by far the most generous with three bags being allowed for each of your dependents even when on personal travel.  Pretty nice.  Something to consider on your next vacation.

 

Posted by glenn | One Comment

Signed up for a $300 bump voucher last Saturday due to “weight and balance issues”.  Ultimately, the pilot decided he could still take off with my fat ass on the plane, so I got nothing.  Still worth signing up for – you never know!

Here’s what we said about the subject in 2011:

If an airplane has 100 seats, the airlines will actually sell more than that, say 105, based upon a statistical analysis of the number
of people that actually make the flight. That is, they know there will always be some people that are late or cancel at the last minute, but they don’t want the plane flying with only 95 people so they “oversell” the number of seats. Occasionally, the statistics will not work out and more than 100 people will actually show up for the flight. When this happens, they will try to offer you compensation to voluntarily give up your seat in exchange for a voucher for either a free future flight or $150-$400 off a future flight (known as voluntary denied boarding or VDB).  In frequent flyer speak this is called getting “bumped”.   If they get no volunteers, the will use a system to involuntarily pull someone off the flight (known as involuntary denied boarding or IDB).  This rarely happens though and usually means the last person to check in has to go.

Again, we must go to the reg for what the government allows when traveling officially.  When you are traveling on your own dime, you can work whatever deal you want and don’t be afraid to bargain.

Here is what the JTR says about denied boarding, in typical government obscure language they call it “Seat relinquishing”:

C.Seat Relinquishing

1.Voluntary. A traveler may keep payments from a carrier for voluntarily vacating a transportation seat.  However, no additional expenses (per diem or reimbursable) may be paid as a result of the traveler’s delay.

Additionaltravel expenses incurred as a result of voluntarily giving up a seat are the traveler’s financial responsibility.

 *2.  Involuntarily. If a traveler is involuntarily denied boarding on a flight, compensation for the denied seat belongs to the GOV’T (59 Comp. Gen. 203 (1980)). The traveler must request that the carrier shows the “Treasurer of the United States” as payee on the compensation check and forward the payment according to Service directives.

See the key difference?
If you take a VDB YOU get to keep the benefits, if IDB then Uncle Sam gets them (and you get to do the paperwork).  So if you ever get into a situation where they look like they will make you take an IDB, volunteer!  One important note as shown in the bold italicized text, If the airline asks you to take a VDB the next day, you cannot charge the government for the hotel costs, extra day’s pay or per diem.  Not to worry, most of the time, the airline will give you a VDB voucher and put you on the next available flight on that same day.  However, don’t use this delay as an excuse of why you reported late.  I have had many times where a VDB was offered, but I just didn’t have the latitude to accept a delay.

Remember to train your spouse and others about these rules.  It took me a little while, but now she jumps up at the first mention of “Are there any volunteers…” and received free vouchers.

One more thing to note when doing a VDB is that you can bargain.  If it’s going to cause an overnight stay, demand a hotel room as part of accepting the deal.  You can ask for other things too such as a free upgrade on the next flight.  All they must give you is the dollar value (usually determined by the amount of time you will be delayed) of the voucher, everything else is up to you.  Some advocate waiting until after the plane has left to do your bargaining, but I think you are in a weaker position then.  I say get the deal you want up front by
asking first, all they can say is no.  Sometimes they will get no volunteers and keep upping the offer until someone accepts.  Another war story:  I was on a US Airways flight heading from PHX (Phoenix) to ANC (Anchorage) on the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend and they asked
for volunteers.  They started at $200, no takers, then $400 still none as there was only one flight a day meaning a 24 hour wait.  Finally, almost everyone was boarded when the Gate Agent (GA) came on and said they would offer a free international ticket to anywhere US Airways flies.  That was enough to get a couple of volunteers who jumped quickly at that offer.  Why didn’t I take advantage of that?  I was heading home to Alaska after demob at Ft. Bragg.  Nothing was worth keeping me from my family for another day!

My friend Rene from Delta Points has another post about bumping that you should also check out.

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When AR 670-1 was published a year ago, it created a lot of controversy.  Most controversy focused on tattoos and women’s hairstyles, but there was another change in that air travel in ACUs was no longer authorized.  You could wear your Army Service Uniform (our Blues) if you wanted, but who wants to travel in that?!  Very uncomfortable and way too much metal for getting through the airport.  Still sometimes you had to.  Recruiters are famous for having to do that.

Airport Uniform

My understanding behind the rule was that Army leadership wanted to present a better image to the public the way Marines do.  You will never see a Marine in their duty uniform doing anything not on base.  They can’t even stop to get milk on the way home without changing out of their duty uniform!  If you see Marines in the airport, they always look sharp and dressed in Class A’s or more often Class B’s (someone correct me here if I am using the wrong terms).  I certainly can understand the intent.

Just as the Army revisited the tattoo and hairstyles policy and relaxed both a little, they have now seen the light and, as of 18 March, will now allow travel in ACUs.  Now this is not some great victory, but I for one am in favor of the change.  No one likes to travel in uniform, it is just not comfortable and it is still a hassle to get through security (some of my boots have shanks and some don’t and it is hard for me to remember which).  However, there are many times where I am going to visit one of my units (like yesterday) where I am short on time and need to get from the plane and to the unit ASAP.  Same with running to catch the plane.  It is a real hassle to have to change in the airport restroom.

The photo attached is 1SG Albert Marle, an NCO from the Virginia National Guard who was in an unfortunate incident where the FA refused to hang up his jacket in the closet when he requested.  This ultimately led up to US Airways issuing him an apology.  You can read the Army Times story here.

Am I now going to use this new rule all the time?  No, but it is nice to have the option.  And Marines?  Stay classy, it’s how you get the best recruits.

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

We’ve been writing this blog for about three and a half years now.  Realizing that many of you have not been reading us that long, I thought I would dredge up some of our older posts that are still timely.  Hope you enjoy!

Most military members are aware of at least some of the military-run resorts that are set up to offer military families as first-class hotel at a discounted rate.  The four resorts are:

Shades of Green at Disneyworld

Hale Koa in Waikiki, HI

Dragon Hill Lodge in Seoul, Korea

Edelweiss in Garmisch, Germany (the German Alps)

All of these are fantastic to stay at, I particularly enjoyed staying at Edelweiss during my first R&R from Iraq.

However, there are several lesser known military resorts that I find many people are totally unaware of and thus never taken advantage of.  Here are a few:

Pililaau

Pililaau Army Recreation Center
Pokai Bay, Hawaii
Pililaau Army Recreation Center (PARC) located on the Pokai Bay and is one of the best beach facilities on the island. It captures the essence of “old Hawaii” with beachfront property surrounded by rustic farms and homes. PARC is located just 35 miles from Waikiki and 18 miles from Schofield Barracks, on the beautiful Leeward Coast. The gentle waves and white sand beaches delight swimmers, snorkelers and scuba enthusiasts.

PARC is comprised of 39 beachfront cabins, one distinguished visitor cabin, an equipment rental center, club facility and cove pavilion area for group outings. All cabins are air conditioned, with ceiling fans, cable TV and telephone. The kitchens are equipped with cooking utensils, tableware, dishes and linen, a private sundeck and barbecue grill.

I love this one as it is a nice quiet way to enjoy Hawaii and sits near my favorite beach on Oahu.  A real get away as opposed to the excitement of Waikiki.

Kilauea

Kilauea Military Camp
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii Island
(808)967-8333 • www.kmc-volcano.com
Located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Kilauea Military Camp (KMC)
sits amidst spectacular scenery, natural wonders, and cultural treasures
including the marvels of the active Kilauea Volcano. Hawaii Volcanoes National
Park is Hawaii’s number one visitor attraction in the state featuring one of the
most active volcano on earth. It has also been designated as a World Heritage
Site (one of 20 in the United States) by the United Nations Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as well as an International
Biosphere Reserve.
This one can’t be beat – cabins next to a volcano?  How great is that?
Seward Lingcod%20Fisherwoman
Seward Military Resort
Seward, Alaska
(907) 224-2659 • www.sewardresort.com
The Seward Military Resort is offering a very affordable package from March 31st to May 13th!  Package includes Lodging, Gray Whale Tour and admission to the Alaska SeaLife Center.  An amazing price starting as low as $99 per person!
If you are a fisherman, this one is the best.  They will not only arrange a halibut charter, but when you get back they will cut your catch into one pound packages, vacuum seal and freeze them for you!  Anchorage is only two hours away and the visits to the glaciers and nature are fantastic.
Take advantage of these other resorts as well as the main ones.  They are all a well deserved perk of being in the military.  Note that many of these facilities are now managed by IHG so you can get points in the Holiday Inn program as well as a great vacation.

Posted by glenn | One Comment

There are many ways to save on rental cars, and many, many blog posts on how to save money when renting cars. There are many valid methods out there, but this is the way I save the most money.

 

First off, I applied and was approved for the Discover It card. I did this mainly because the Discover shopping portal is incredibly lucrative, both in portal multipliers but also in payouts, and you need the credit card to access the cashback portal. If you use CashBackMonitor, and you should for all online purchases, the Discover portal is almost always at the top of portal multipliers. For instance, I purchase from Staples a lot for reselling, as I get 5x Ultimate Rewards when using my Chase Ink. Staples is almosts always 5% cash back when going through the Discover portal.

 

On the other side is payouts. (HT to FrequentMiler) You can redeem for pure cash back through the portal, but there are more lucrative payouts, such as for rental cars. You can currently get half price rental certificates for Alamo and Executive Rentals (which are both owned by the same company). They are only available in one denomination ($20 for a $40 certificate), but multiple certificates can be used for one rental; however you need to call in to use more than one, and not every Alamo agent is receptive to it. If you get one that doesn’t let you, just HUCA (hang up, call again).

 

When I have my certificates, and I’m booking online, I always make sure to go through a portal (usually TopCashBack has the best cash-back rates for Alamo, make sure to check on CashBackMonitor). Make sure to join Alamo Insiders, which is their free loyalty program and often has better rental rates. Also make sure to put your favorite airline’s loyalty program number to pick up airline miles as well.

 

Then when paying for the balance of the rental (usually only taxes), I use my Chase Ink Visa, for two reasons. First, it offers primary collision liability insurance, which few credit cards do and which saves on insurance increases should you get into an accident. Secondly, if your card is enrolled in Visa SavingsEdge, you can get 4% cash back on Alamo rentals. I find that Alamo rentals are very easy, usually being checked out at a kiosk instead of needing to wait for a person.

 -Andy

Using this strategy, I’ve saved a ton of money on rentals. What are some of your strategies for getting cheap or free rentals?

 

Posted by glenn | 3 Comments

A lot of places actually offer military deals, but don’t advertise them forcing you to ask.  I think both parties feel embarrassed when the answer comes back “no” so I am very glad when they advertise or promote the fact that they have a deal for the 1% of us who serve our country.  Here are some I found tonight:

Aira Hotel in Vegas - 10% off with Promo Code ZMILTRT.  A really nice relatively new hotel in the middle of the Strip.

Disneyworld Hotels - Up to 40% off.  Spouses of Service Members can use this without the SM being present!

Hilton Hawaiian Village Offers Mother’s Day Special - Only $159/ night from 8-14 May.  This is about a 25% discount off the regular rate.

Southern California Theme Park Discounts - Conveniently listed together on this Anihiem County Website.

USAA Travel – I am pretty suspicious of most military travel sites, but I trust USAA.

United and JetBlue Airfare - 5% off with Veteran’s Advantage.  Not free, but a ton of discounts on travel that more than pay back the membership fee for me every year.  A lot more than just airfare, but I have written about it before here and here.

Let everyone know if you have found a good military discount out there so we can all benefit.

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