Getting out of town for the long weekend by going down to Williamsburg, Virginia.  The wife wanted steak for dinner and we saw an Outback restaurant that she wanted to go to.  Walking in to the establishment, I saw this poster.

Anything to do with the military has my attention.  I asked the waitress and she gave me some made-up answer.  However, to her credit, she asked the bartender who corrected her.  She came back to me and said she lied to me.  Sam Adams has created a deal with Outback for a pay-it-forward free beer deal.  Buy a $5.95 Same Adams and they will hand you a beer shaped card to write an inspirational message to the Soldier.  The card is then placed up on the bar and a fellow veteran can come along and cash in the card for a free beer.

Here is the card I bought.  Looks like the others have been cashed in.

So if you are headed to Outback, take advantage and look for a free beer.  Or if you are a leader like me, who appreciates everything military members do every day, pay $5.95 to buy them a well-deserved beer!

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

Disclaimer:  The following editorial is my personal opinion and does not represent the official position of the U.S. Government or military.

There has been a lot of blogger hate about the upcoming ban on anything larger than a phone for ten Middle East/ North African cities.  Frankly, people that use their laptops all the time are justly the most upset, however, this doesn’t represent the typical traveler.  At least my observations are that people use their devices 90% for entertainment, not work  (including me).  They can go back to using the seatback IFE and it won’t be the end of the world.  There is such a thing as sacrificing for the greater good.

The bottom line is that people with a lot more information than us have determined that this was a real threat and we need to do all we can to prevent a terrorist incident.  I have seen several bloggers state that the threat is “non-specific” and therefore we should not take these steps.  If the threat was specific, we would have the host country arrest the individual or introduce him or her to an up close and personal demonstration of American technology.  Terrorism is typically a non-specific threat which is the entire reason we have security checkpoint, body scanner, and x-ray machines, including for luggage.

We have seen successful airplane bombings recently with the downing of the Russian airliner over the Sinai and the attempted downing of the Somali airliner that could have succeeded if the bomber knew enough to get a seat next to a structural member instead of the aluminum skin.  In both instances, it was found that the bomber had help from the local ground staff or security.  So we hear that Al Qaeda is working on a manually-detonated electronics-based bomb.  Why would we poo-poo this report and not act?  You really want to wait until hundreds of people die in a bombing and then act?  This is like the neighborhood that complains about a dangerous crosswalk, but the city only takes action and installs a light after someone is killed.

Courtesy of the U.S. Army, I am an explosives expert.  Some bloggers have written that they don’t understand why an iPhone is OK since it is essentially a mini-computer.  Or how they could put three phones together and they would be as powerful as a laptop.  They must be thinking that somehow the computer inside is going to take over the plane in some sci-fi movie-like incident.  The terrorists are looking for volume to hide powerful explosives like C-4 or Semtex.  That is why the focus is on battery compartments.  In the past the security folks could simply ask you to power up a laptop to demonstrate the battery was in place.  This is conjecture, but what if Al Qaeda was found to be working on a way where part of the battery was left in place to power up the laptop for five minutes, but the rest of that space was an explosive?  A pound or two is plenty of power to cut a structural member if placed correctly. And back to the question on three iPhones together?  You can’t put a rubber band around three firecrackers and think it is the same as an M-80.  Just not how explosives and expanding gases work.

Others have said they don’t understand why a laptop in the hold is OK, but not in the cabin.  Well besides saying that the threat was a manually-detonated device, the terrorist would have no idea where their laptop would end up in the hold.  Explosive force diminishes by the square of the distance it is away from the area to be impacted.  Thus if a bomb is 1 foot away from the aircraft surface and exerts a certain explosive force, a bomb 2 feet away would have 1/4 of that force.  You cannot randomly hope for the location of a small explosive.  Remember we are only talking about a pound of explosive, not the whole suitcase-full that brought down Pan AM 103.

The wife and I are planning a future trip that will take us through one of these cities and I was debating if we should still take it,  but really I can do without my laptop for one trip.  I would much rather feel secure that we are trying to defeat a terrorist attempt.  The terrorist threat will be the likely cause of reduced air traffic on these carriers, not the fact that they can’t use their laptop.  Frankly, I would be much more concerned with my electronics being stolen or damaged in luggage than worry that I will only have IFE.

Just one man’s opinion, but I felt I needed to make a counter-argument that I did not see anyone else making except in main stream media.

Glenn

Posted by glenn | 18 Comments

I saw on DTS, that they are going to make changes to the Joint Travel Regulation (JTR) which is the bible by which all our travel and payments are based.  It was recently highlighted in this newsletter from the Defense Travel Office.  Nothing in the JTR changes significantly, according to them, but the volumes (one for military and the other for Govt civilians) are streamlined and better organized.  Both will be effective 1 April 17.  To keep up with the latest Travel Reg changes and see if they affect you, check out this site.

Here are some of the key changes in my view:

  • Encourage more use of restricted airfares.  These are the that normal people buy for vacation and involve a change fee if your plans get altered.  More importantly, if you get this type of ticket, it requires ticketing within 24 hours, unlike the typical GSA fares.  Saves the Govt a lot of money to use these, but beware of the restrictions if you go this route.  Here are their suggested tips for using restricted airfare:

restricted-ticket

  • Update and simplify the myriad of allowances that are now part of travel.  Personally, I hope that means not having over a dozen different Per Diem for most states.  Foreign locations can be even worse in trying to determine which Per Diem applies to your location.
  • Gets rid of the term Commercial Travel Office (CTO) in favor of Travel Management Company (TMC).  Not understanding the benefit here, but get used to the change.

In addition to the above, the Integrated Lodging Program Pilot (ILPP) has expanded again and covers some new large areas such as San Antonio and Quantico.  I am not sure why this is still a “pilot” program as it is covering about half my travel these days.  I have found that most of the time it still directs me to use commercial lodging rather than the IHG-run military hotel on post/base.  But that can change with even a one day shift in orders as I found on my upcoming trip to Ft. Hood.  Just go with the flow here, but as with GSA fares, change the hotel they mandate if you have good reason to.  Earning points is NOT a good reason…

Posted by glenn | No Comments

Traveling creates experiences and memories that you will remember for the rest of your life. These moments are what make life more meaningful, especially if spent with your loved ones. It’s not all a walk in the park though. Aside from the cost of travel that you need to consider, there’s also the common problem of many travelers, which is the preparation of the things to bring.

This is one of the most stressful parts because you need to make sure that you got everything you need, including your documents, cards, cash, clothes, shoes, etc. However, there are ways on how to resolve these concerns, making your travel preparation a more convenient one. To avoid missing anything, take note of all the items you need to bring several days or even weeks before your travel.

Do the packing days before, instead of the night before. With this, you will not feel pressured because of the time crunch. Plus, this will give you more time to search for the items you need or purchase them if you don’t have them at home.

You don’t want to lose your way on your destination. So, save Google maps for offline access. With this, you can still use it and find your away around even if there’s no Internet connection.

We have created an infographic that shows more practical tips to make not just your travel hassle free, but the preparation as well.

Check out the amazing image below and get everything ready for your trip like a pro:

7 Travel Hacks You Need to Know Before You Go

Do visit us at http://personalincome.org/ for more interesting finds about different careers and salaries, work productivity, as well as those about budgeting and finances.
Hope all of you enjoyed this guest post by Sarah. Please visit her site if you liked it.

Posted by glenn | No Comments

Congrats to four winners – Chris Pepin, Christopher C., Janet, and Nick.  I have emailed each of your a code for a free pass to the Alaska Lounge.  They expire 12/31 so use them on your next trip and post a note in the comments or send me an email on your experience there.  Have fun printing pancakes!

Posted by glenn | One Comment

I was checking out some military-specific travel apps over the weekend, and there are some pretty cool and useful ones out there. I have an iPhone 5, so in this article I’ll be highlighting ones available in the Apple app store, but at some point I’ll highlight Android apps. Some are available on both platforms, and I’ll do my best to highlight those. All the below apps are currently free in the app store, except the last one.

Without further adieu, and in no particular order, on to the list:

Allstays military camp site and RV app list covers a little over 200 military campgrounds, FamCamps and RV parks in the United States of America, so if you’re a family that likes to camp and be outdoors, this would be a great app for you. It’s available on either iOS or Android. Here is a video of the app, which lets you find Campgrounds, RV Parks and related services with or without internet, and extensive map filters let you view only what you want to see. I haven’t yet used this one other than navigating through it, but it has 4.5/5 stars. My son is now 3, so hopefully starting this summer we’ll be going camping.

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Base Directory app is a well designed app, that gives you a mobile, offline directory of most service’s bases throughout the USA, and also includes USOs. You can check out this link, which is the internet version of this app, and see if you find it worthwhile. Not every base is on there, but most of the major domestic ones are, with amenities and phone numbers.

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American military museums is an app that shows over 390 military museums and museum ships featuring the most famous and popular exhibits in all the major cities, towns and ports of the United States. Per the website, “This app lists Military Museums from all branches of the military: The Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. The App will help you find the best exhibits, featuring information on the most popular of over 390 Military Museums in all the major cities and towns of the USA.” Some of the highlights include:

  • USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park

  • Fort Apache

  • General Patton Memorial

  • San Diego Aerospace

  • USS Midway

  • Fort McHenry

  • US Naval Academy

  • USS Constitution

  • Strategic Air Command

  • White Sands Missile Range

  • Gettysburg National Military Park

  • Museum of the Confederacy

I’ve been to Gettysburg many times, and highly recommend it to anyone, so I think this app would be cool for checking out some places that you wouldn’t have normally gone.

museum.jpeg

MyBaseGuide is an app for both iOS and Android, that’s similar to the above base directory app. According to the website “Whether you’re relocating, TDY or just “on the go”, our mobile app allows you to easily locate information on any one of the one hundred twenty military installations in CONUS, Hawaii and Alaska. The main purpose of MyBaseGuide is to provide military personnel with useful information for a smooth relocation”. I’ve not used this one, but looks very intuitive and easy to use. baseguide.jpeg

One app that intrigues me is the military space A app ($3,99), which lets you register, from the app, for any upcoming space A flights. It also provides local info such as billeting, car rental, dining, BX/PX/NEX info, links to air terminals’ pages, USOs, and more. Per the app, “Take-a-Hop’s MilSpaceA app allows authorized U.S. government users to register for Department of Defense (DoD) military space-available travel. It is the exclusive app for all DoD travelers wanting a quick, easy, reliable, and authorized means to sign up for Space-A at primary DoD departure terminals.” I’ve only personally ever tried to catch Space A flights out of Bahrain, and was never succesful; they were always full. I remember thinking at the time how inefficient it was to have to show up at the terminal to register, and if you could do it over an app, how great would that be? This app has 5/5 stars and good reviews, so it might be worth checking out.

spaceA.jpeg

I want to hear from you all, did I miss any other good apps? Do you have any experience with any of the above?

Posted by glenn | No Comments

(by Andy) I tend to be somewhat of a travel gear geek, and am always on the lookout for items that make travel more enjoyable. I also highly value my sleep, especially with one (soon to be two) young children running around. As such, I’ve been trying out several different sleep masks over the years, but they all had one thing in common that made them intolerable to me, and that was that when I would wear it for more than an hour, my vision was all blurry from eyeball deformation. It would often take several hours until my vision was back to normal (this is more common in those, like myself, who’ve gotten LASIK).

sleep mask

My wife then found this mask for me, and my life was changed – the Earth Therapeutics REM sleep mask! (non-affiliate link) I’ve been wearing this now for a little while, and my sleep is much more sound, including on planes, and I get no blurry vision when I take it off. My wife says it looks like a mini-bra – the mask is contoured out from your face, so you still can have eyelid movement. Also, crucially, this mask blocks out all light – it is pitch black when I wear it.

I am in love!

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

(from Andy) As you know, I’m all about hotel and airline miles & points. As fun as accumulating these points is though, what is more fun obviously it redeeming those points for free travel! It can be a huge hassle, though, sifting through at least three different search programs, for the three different alliances, and that doesn’t even include outliers like Southwest or Jetblue. It can also be tricky internationally, because there is no search engine that shows all flight options within that certain alliance (well ok, maybe ANA does, but it’s search engine is pretty clunky).

Also, for hotel searches, awardmapper is a great option, but I wish at the same time it’d show availability and compare it to cash costs, to find out what your best option is. Why can’t there be a website that can compile all this information at once?

Enter Pointimize, a new-ish travel search engine that has been around for a little while offering hotel options, comparing points vs cash, and has recently introduced a beta version of flight searches as well. It’s very customisable, with the ability to import your awardwallet information, and to also set your own valuations of how much you think each hotel or airline mile is worth per cent. (of note, not all programs work with awardwallet, like United, so you might have to put those miles in manually). When you log in, you’re given the options to search for hotels or flights, with a pretty clean, simple landing page:

FireShot Capture 24 - Pointimize - https___www.pointimize.com_hotel

I did a hypothetical search for a hotel for 3 nights in Las Vegas in September, and this is what the search looks like:

Pointimize hotels

It goes over the major US-based hotel loyalty programs, like Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, Club Carlson, IHG, and SPG. For airlines, the new flight feature uses the 9 most-used loyalty programs in North America, as follows:

American Airlines (AAdvantage)

United Airlines (MileagePlus)

Alaska Air (Mileage Plan)

Hawaiian Airlines (HawaiianMiles)

Air Canada (Aeroplan)

British Airways (Executive Club)

Iberia Airlines (Iberia Plus)

ANA (ANA Mileage Club)

Virgin Atlantic (Flying Club)

Very cool and very powerful. For the flight feature, I put in a hypothetical flight search from Osaka (KIX) to LAX, and here were the results:

Pointimize_

Very cool, it gives out the flights with both points and cash options available, to see if a possible super-low cash fare would be a better value to you than using points would be. I will definitely be using this going forward! Of note, you cannot book directly through the website; for awards it directs to that chain or airlines website, and for cash it’ll direct you to an OTA.

There were a couple glitches I noted – there’s no tab to change your search within the results page, or at least any I could find; you have to go back to the homepage. Also, when clicking on the Pointimize logo at the top left of the page, to go back to the homepage, it errors out to a 404 error page. Also, I wish you could filter out which alliances you want to show or not, similar to what google flights does; for instance, I searched for Las Vegas to Okinawa, and the first couple hundred results were all Star Alliance, and I couldn’t filter out if I just wanted Oneworld options. A couple bugs, but again, the flight search is still in beta.

One of the founders of Pointimize, Adu Wu, has given us four complimentary invite codes so y’all can start using the flight search option. The first four people to comment on this post will be emailed an invite code within a week.

Enjoy!

 

Posted by glenn | 13 Comments

(from Andy) A couple weeks ago I headed back to my stomping grounds, Philly, as I was in the States 2 weeks for a TAD and wanted to hang out with my youngest brother. I had two $200 Hyatt gift cards from a previous promotion that were burning a hole in my pocket. I’d tried to use them previously on our trip to Saigon, but they’re only available to use in the US or Canada. Also, Frequent Miler had his GCs hacked, twice, so I didn’t want to linger with them. I decided to try out the Hyatt Bellevue, as I’d played in a basketball league at it’s huge gym during residency, but I’d never actually stayed there. Also, it’s in a perfect location in Philly, just south of City Hall on Broad St and about midway between Rittenhouse Square and Washington Square, two Philly hotspots. I was able to book my two nights there with the military rate, $160, and was able to get a late 4pm checkout.

Originally built in 1904 and called the Bellevue-Stratford, per wikipedia, “Over two years in the making and costing over $8,000,000 (in 1904 dollars), the Bellevue-Stratford was described at the time as the most luxurious hotel in the nation and perhaps the most spectacular hotel building in the world. It initially had 1,090 guest rooms, the most magnificent ballroom in the United States, delicate lighting fixtures designed by Thomas Edison, stained and leaded glass embellishments in the form of transoms and Venetian windows and sky-lights by Alfred Godwin, and the most celebrated marble and hand-worked iron elliptical staircase in the city.” Cool.

The facade today is not all that impressive:

hyatt entrance

After navigating through ground-level shops, the lobby is concealed in a small and dark vestibule in the Southwest corner. The lovely young lady at check-in thanked me for my Diamond status, and upgraded me to a deluxe room, which didn’t look too different from a base-level room, at least on the website. I then discovered probably my biggest gripe with this hotel: the awful elevators. There are only two elevators for the whole hotel, which encompasses the top half of the Bellevue building, and they take FOREVER. Especially when there are weddings and wedding parties, for which the Bellevue is well-known. It often took 10-15 minutes for the elevators to show up, which to me is unacceptable for a chain as highly regarded as Hyatt.

Once I eventually got to my room, my reaction was, “meh”. It was a large layout, and the bed and everything was comfortable, but the furnishings were dated, the wifi was slow, and the awful window shutters did not keep out any light at all. Sorry for the picture, but I was tired and had to take a nap before I shot this pic:

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The bathroom was tiny, and not particularly luxurious…maybe in 1904:

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At least the closet was large:

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Diamonds get free breakfast, which took place at XIX, on the nineteenth floor. It offered gorgeous views over the city:

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Breakfast was good, not great, but to me any free food is good. I didn’t show pics of the gym for privacy reasons, but it is enormous and phenomenal, probably one of the best hotel gyms I have ever seen, so if you’re a workout phanatic then this is your place.

Overall I was not very impressed; I guess I’m just used to Hyatt having phenomenal properties, but this place was extremely outdated and with the elevators, not convenient. My biggest gripe, especially after some late nights out with my brother, were the cheap wooden window shutters which offered no morning light-blocking at all. I will likely not stay here again unless they undergo renovation.

Posted by glenn | 6 Comments

(Andy here) My family and I decided to spend July 4th weekend in Osaka and Kyoto, because of all the restrictions placed on Okinawa. It’s only a 1.5 hr flight from Oki, so it’s easily accessible. I looked at awardmapper and decided to compare the hotels on there to popular hotel review sites. One of the best reviewed hotels in the city is the Marriott Osaka Miyako, both for it’s awesome location, it’s phenomenal service, and it’s amazing views looking out over the city. We flew into Itami (ITM), whereas most people will fly into Kansai (KIX). From the airport, there is an awesome limo service that takes you to several locations throughout the city, and one is one block away from the Marriott! Just ask the information desk, and they’ll let you know, or you can check on google maps or their website.

I booked us four nights. I initially wanted to do all four nights on points, but the last night wasn’t available on points. Fortunately, Marriott has a cash + points option, which let me book three nights on points and the last with cash. It was 35k points per night, and the single paid night was around $350.

Our view flying into Osaka:

IMG_1468

The hotel is right across the street, or under the street if you’re going through the shopping mall, from Tennoji station, which is one of the main waypoints connecting the city’s subway and JR (train) system. This was another reason this hotel was perfect for getting around Osaka (Japanese taxis are EXPENSIVE). When you arrive at the building, which is I think the 2nd tallest building in Osaka, you take the elevator up to the 19th floor to the main lobby, which has several bars and eating areas and a beautiful check-in area:

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The view from up there is amazing:

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They took our luggage and had us go up to the 38th floor to the Marriott Club, as I’m a Marriott Gold (thank you Chase Ritz Carlton!) for check-in. (I didn’t take pics for privacy reasons as it was quite packed). While we were checking in we got complimentary libations (Blanton’s Bourbon??? Heck yeah!) They upgraded us to a deluxe room, which doesn’t look that much different from a regular room, at least on the website. One unfortunate thing that I didn’t discern before checking the room – a rollaway bed for our son costs between $40-50 per night…ouch! Entering our room:

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Again, the view was amazing! Unfortunately I couldn’t get a glare-free picture on my iphone of the view, so you’ll have to imagine. The beds were two singles plus the rollaway:

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The beds were very comfortable, and despite the city being brutally hot that week, the AC kept the room feeling very nice.

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Tons of bottled water was provided, with more in the club, and my personal favorite, a Nespresso machine was available with complimentary capsules:

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The bathroom was spacious and well-appointed:

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There was a sliding door that could block off the bathroom if you wanted, but it could be opened to appreciate the view:

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Bathroom amenities were Thann:

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The bathtub and shower were in the same room, a feature which is the norm in Japan. Hot and cold water were immediate:

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And, my favorite, a Toto washlet:

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Osaka has some AMAZING restaurants, including many Michelin-starred ones. Unfortunately, almost none of them allow children under 12, so after talking to the concierge, an English-speaking babysitter was arranged so we could go to one of the only ones we could get reservations to, Gaku, which was phenomenal. She cost about $80 for 3 hours, not terrible.

We also booked some tours on Voyagin, including a day-long tour of several sites in Kyoto and Nara. Although Kyoto was beautiful, the highlight to me and my family was Nara – both the deers which you can feed and pet, and the amazing Buddha temple, with the world’s largest wooden Buddha. Also take one day to hit Spaworld Osaka, which is incredibly relaxing.

Overall a very cool trip – I think I like Osaka better than Tokyo. When we return, we’re definitely going to stay at the Marriott again!

Posted by glenn | 3 Comments

So you read this blog because you want to fly for free? Have I got a deal for you and it costs NO MILES!  Simply put, the USAF travels all over the globe and if they have extra room on the flight, you can go for free.  Well, they do insist you pay for the box lunch provided, but we’re talking like $10.  Probably more now as it has been a while since my wife and I flew SPACE-A.

You may think it is sacrilegious for a frequent flyer to advocate using Space A travel, but it does have its uses – primarily that it is almost free to use.  It is a great service to use if you are young and don’t have much money or you are retired and have more time than money.  I remember using it on my honeymoon to travel all over Europe.  We flew from Travis AFB (I was stationed at Ft. Ord at the time) taking two days to finally reach Frankfurt. We spent a few days each at Frankfurt, Naples, and Mildenhall, England using them as bases to take day trips to various adventures along the Rhine or to Pompei.  We did run into the main problem when you take Space A.  That being that we ended up only able to get a hop from Mildenhall to South Carolina and couldn’t get out of there back to California, so we ended up buying commercial tickets to get home before my leave was up.

SPACE-A travel has a lot of rules and categories that determine priority.  Here’s something that you may not know – DoD civilians are eligible under certain circumstances.  Also civilian dependents for certain reasons.

For those of you who are adventurous, the official Space A site is here.  Of there is an app for Space-A (like everything else) that you can find at Takeahop.  Both iPhone and Android versions are available and greatly simplifies things so that you don’t have to hang around the Space-A terminal all day long.  Armed Forces Crossroads is also an awesome resource for finding bases and flight information.

However, there is a great site that simplifies everything.  Created by and called John D.’s Military Space-A Travel Pages, this boils everything you need to know down to an easy to follow dialogue including typical routes and phone numbers to call.  Here are some common things John lists to increase your chances of success in getting the flight you want.

  • number of flights to your destination
  • number of Space-A seats on those flights
  • number of people ahead of you trying for the flight
  • number of seats you need (1 is better than 6!)
  • seniority of your signup date in your particular category
  • time of year (summer and non-school periods are the worst)
  • amount of time you’re prepared to tolerate (i.e. burning leave) waiting for a flight in the terminal (and not at Burger King!)
  • amount of legs (different flights) you’re willing to take to get from A to B
  • type of aircraft you’re willing to fly on
  • weight of your baggage (under 30lbs enables you to compete for more types of aircraft)
  • your willingness to take a flight to a less popular location e.g. McConnell versus Dover

Your chances will improve the more you know the rules, methods and timing of sign-up, perseverance, patience and timing or travel.

So good luck and good hunting to those of you out there who want to try this great military benefit.  Frequent flyer miles still play a role here.  An ideal use for miles is, if you get stuck like we did on your return, you can use miles for a one way flight back home!

Posted by glenn | One Comment

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