About five years ago, the military finally caught up with the way the corporate world had planned their travel needs and establish the Defense Travel System (DTS).  This computerized system allows users to pop in their desired cities and dates of travel and it lists flights that the traveler may select.  Upon approval, the tickets are then booked electronically and tickets issued a few days before travel begins.   I am in Korea as I write this and when a room full of a hundred military personnel was asked if everyone was using DTS, only one soldier said he wasn’t, so it is pretty universal by now.

First of all, consider yourself lucky. Up until a few years ago, when you needed a flight you simply called SATO or Carlson-Wagonlit and they gave you whatever flight they selected. Now with the Defense Travel Service on-line, you have a way to steer your carrier selection. When you go into DTS, it will automatically come up with a list of GSA carriers and various choices for the dates you selected. Between any two cities, there can be only one carrier.

HOWEVER, that only applies to cities that the GSA put out to bid. So for example, this summer I will go to War College ANC – MDT (Harrisburg, PA). There is no GSA city pair between those two destinations so you will be given a variety of choices. You still have to choose one that is reasonably low, but at least you have a choice. So if no GSA city pair you have a lot of latitude. In my experience, overseas flights are less likely to have a city pair established. You can find a list of all city pairs on AKO under My Travel.

Second, and more likely possibility, is that there is a GSA fare between your home airport and where you need to go. Again, the GSA fare will come up first. Notice that the GSA fare for that city pair amount will appear in the upper right corner and write that down. Now go to the next tab on that same screen. It should say ALT-GSA. It will display other airline fares going to the same city pair. If the cost for that fare is less than the GSA fare, you are justified in selecting that flight. You will need to put that down in the justification box when you finally get to the audit section of DTS.  Saving the military money is always great justification, especially as budgets get tighter in the coming years.

Bottom line on all this is that you can game the system to your benefit, but only if it also benefits the government.  After all those are your tax dollars too and we need to be always mindful of that fact.  And please, if your Ops Officer tells you something different than what I have told you here, don’t say “but the Colonel said this would work”.  It is better not to fight it and just try for the flight you want on the next TDY trip. I was on Cobra Gold in Thailand one time and so many people went to bug the “4” on getting a specific flight home so they could get FF miles on a specific airline that he exploded and told everyone to fly home on Mil Air and we all got nothing.  Know when to pick your fights…

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