I did a post last February where I simply asked my readers to tee up whatever questions they might have regarding frequent flying, military discounts, TSA, etc. I received pretty good responses so I am now making it an official Frebruary tradition and again soliciting your questions on basically anything. So fire away and I will try to give you quick responses although I am glad to research a topic for you.

This seemed a good topic for this week as I watch us go driving over the fiscal cliff next week and not even leaving skid marks at the top. It will be a very quiet year if Congress doesn’t act soon…

Posted by glenn | 6 Comments

6 Responses to “Ask the Colonel”

  1. Alan Fowler says:

    Here’s a few questions on my mind (in no particular order)…

    1. Do any of the airlines offer discounted opportunities to purchase into first class?

    2. When calculating how many miles/ points we’ll get on a government-purchased plane ticket, what class of fare is it generally?

    3. Is there any key to getting approval to fly your favorite mileage-earning airline, when DTS shows a cheaper or more efficient itinerary?

    4. In airports that don’t have TSA Pre-Check, are there any ways that military can get expedited through the lines?

    • glenn says:

      @Alan – Thanks, here are my answers (in no particular order):

      2. Contrary to popular belief, Government tickets are typically booked into the cheapest available fare class at time of booking. The difference is that the GSA agreement stipulates that all Government purchased fares are changable and refundable whereas if you buy the same fare class it may not be. This usually means that you will earn the normal amount of miles, both RDM and EQM. Occassionally, you will get lucky and the ticket will be in Y class. This will net you 150% of the EQMs on a lot of the airlines and 125-150% of the RDMs. Last minute fares are the mostlikely to get booked into Y class, but I just had a flight from HNL – IAD in Jan in Y Class and I booked it three months out.

      3. You have to be a good custodian of the taxpayers money and fly the cheapest fare UNLESS the flight does not meet operational requirements. For instance, if you are at a class or conference and they tell you “don’t book a flight later than 1600″, then you have the right to choose a more expensive flight that is after 1600. Hopefully, that gets you on an airline you like, but I always advise you to have a backup FF program and count those miles even if they are not your favorite airline.

      4. Depends on the airport. The best bet is to become an elite flyer (usually Gold or above) and use the special lane. Otherwise, you may find some airports in military towns to be friendly and allow you to expedite the line. In my experience, this only happens if you are in uniform, but let me know if you run into a place that allows you to cut ahead in civvies.

      1. OK, I left the long answer for last. Yes, there is a discounted first class as well as a discounted business class. The airline fare class varies by airline, but in general look for “A” fares for discoutned first class. Here is a paragraph that explains the fare classes on UA for example:

      There are presently almost two dozen revenue buckets at United, namely F & A (first class); J, C, D & Z (business class); and Y, B, E, M, U, H, Q, V, W, T, S, K, L & G (economy/coach class).
      I got this from the Frequently Flying blog and recommend that you read the whole post for a full explanation (http://boardingarea.com/frequentlyflying/2011/05/04/airfare-pricing-buckets-airline-fare-basis-codes-revealed/).

  2. Alan Fowler says:

    Great, Colonel – thanks.
    Here’s a few more questions that came to mind (which, like the above, can hopefully help others).
    1. Paid UGs Revisited. As a follow-up to my first question above, one you have a government ticket, can you purchase into first class? For example, if I’m flying from Norfolk to San Diego, do airlines have opportunities to upgrade, even if I have to pay for it out of pocket?
    2. DTS & Extending Travel. What are the rules regarding changes the dates of our flights beyond our duty needs? I’ve heard of military travelers changing the dates of our plane tickets to allow us to stay in a city longer. For example, let’s say you were stationed in Norfolk, and you were ordered to training in San Diego, taking place on a Mon to Fri. While you would need to depart Norfolk on Sun and return from San Diego on, say, Sat, you could set up our government ticket to return on Sun, giving you an extra liberty day in San Diego. You would cover any additional hotel costs out of pocket, and, of course, you wouldn’t get a per diem. Are there any rules on that?
    3. DTS, Gov’t Tickets, & Mileage Runs. What are the rules re changing your government ticket? At one point I was under the impression that the tickets are changeable without penalty or fare increase, thus, you could, for example, fly home early, if the opportunity arose, without having to pay anything out of pocket. Also, if is there any penalty if you change a segment that is a longer routing. For example, let’s say you’re scheduled to fly home from San Diego – DFW – Norfolk, but to earn extra miles, you’re interested in San Diego – MIA – IAD – Norfolk. (I’m just making up routes.) Could you do that without costing yourself or the taxpayer additional money?

    • glenn says:

      @Alan –
      1. Yes, you can pay out of pocket for an upgrade the same way that you can use an upgrade certificate or other means to move to the front of the plane as long as it does not cost the Government anything.
      2. I have seen many instances of leave taken in conjunction with travel, but it depends on the command. The JTR allows it as long as there is no cost to the Government. It does need to be approved ahead of time however. Whatever your commander approves is usually OK.
      3. You can change your ticket without penalty, but you need to go through the official travel agent (usually Carlson-Wagonlit) to do not do it on your own. There should be no problem at all flying home early if the mission is completed early. As for adding an extra leg, you can do whatever DTS allows. This rarely means that a leg can be added for no cost, but it is possible. I have seen quite a few instances where the cost of the non-stop and a one-stop itinerary are the same. If the one stop is within 500 miles of the origin or destination, you’ll pick up some extra EQM.

  3. Ari K says:

    JFTR-type question…can a squadron commander impose travel requirements more restrictive than the JFTR?

    I’m AF aircrew and recently took a trip that overnighted at Nellis AFB, NV on the way to Elmendorf AFB, AK. We invoked the “one night” rule to stay off-base, since the JFTR establishes that lodging is not available during one-night enroute TDYs. The problem was that we didn’t get a paper non-availability letter from on-base lodging (rooms were available…but crappy). Bottom line, our maintainers got stuck with a bill by their squadron commander because they didn’t have a paper non-a (local requirement more restrictive than the JFTR, in this case).

    Is this legit and is this a battle a lowly Captain can win? My maintainers aren’t pissed and I’ve already made it up to them in beer…they preferred the Vegas accommodation anyway.

    • glenn says:

      @Ari – Yep, not getting a statement of non-availability is a cardinal sin. I have seen personnel go through enormous hoops to try and get one after the fact. I have seen it fairly commonly required that without one, there is no payment for your voucher.

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