We all know the military runs on RUMINT (Rumor Intelligence) which is often not true. This happens quite frequently when discussing frequent flyer miles as most people can’t believe you would be able to do all that I do for free. To be fair, there was a time in the 80’s and 90’s that the Government claimed that the miles were theirs, but as they had no way to enforce or monitor their use, they finally gave up that line around the year 2000.
As a young officer, I found a good technique when someone would say something was not allowed, was to say “show me the reg”. The regulation in this case is the Joint Travel Regulation (JTR) which is the bible for all travel for both military and
civilian personnel in DoD.
The Joint Federal Travel Regulation (JFTR): http://www.defensetravel.dod.mil/site/travelreg.cfm
This site is also the location for the Joint Travel Reg for DoD civilians and dependents.
Here is the language straight from the JTR regarding frequent flyer program, including hotels, for accumulating benefots and upgrades:
U1200 NON-REIMBURSABLE EXPENSES
1. A traveler on official business traveling at GOV’T expense on agency (APP A1)
funds may keep promotional material (including frequent traveler benefits such as points or miles,
upgrades, or access to carrier clubs or facilities) for personal use.
The promotional material must be obtained under the same terms as those offered
to the general public and must be at no additional GOV’T cost. Examples include
vendor-provided complimentary upgrades to rooms or transportation
accommodations and upgrades ‘purchased’ using frequent traveler benefits and/or
personal unreimbursed funds.
That should make things crystal clear that everything that I am passing along to you is legal and you should take advantage of it. If people were passing out $100 bills on the street, would you take one? Then let me teach you how to get hundreds of dollars worth of free travel.
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.
First of all, consider yourself lucky. Up until a few yearsago, 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 airline 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 GSA carrier.
HOWEVER, that only applies to cities that the GSA put out to bid. So for example,I went to Army 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 as well as cities that are rarely traveled between. So in the above example, how many Soldiers would go ANC-MDT? I was probably the only one who did it for the entire year, therefore GSA is not going to waste their time bidding it. But something like DCA-MDT? Sure, because there are probably Soldiers going there every week on that flight. You can find a list of all city pairs on AKO under My Travel.
Aternatively, you can go to the GSA’s travel site which has great links to City Pairs, Per Diem, and FedRooms Lodging.
Second, and the 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.
Another method is if all the GSA flights do not “fit your operational needs”. That’s in quotes because that if the language you should use. Again, this only applies if it is really true, but it is perfectly legit to say that none of the flights arrive or take off at an allowable time. Somehting that commonly happens to me is that I will go to a conference or class where the instructions say do not plan a flight out until after xxxx hours. If you must fly a good distance back to home station, this can mean that you need to choose a flight that is not listed under GSA. Thankfully, DTS lists those choices too. Be aware that they can often come with a pretty high price tag, so do not feel entitled to choose whatever you want. A good rule of thumb is that if the additional cost of that flight is going to be more than a hotel room, then pass on it. Stay the night and take a flight the next morning. Just make sure you check all this out beforehand and have your orders approved for that extra day.
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…