Have you ever wondered whether those sites advertising military discount airfares are really accurate?  I personally dismissed them along with other specials, such as bereavement fares, many years ago when an American agent actually told me that they are discounts off the full fare and usually you can find a better discount on your own.

Sitting home sick this weekend gave me the time to actually do some extensive research on the topic.  I ran through multiple scenarios over multiple time frames for two of these discount travel sites, www.militarytravel.com and www.militaryfares.com, and also compared the military leisure travel page on www.continental.com which can be reached here.  My control group was the ITA software at http://matrix.itasoftware.com/.  Note that you cannot book tickets at this site, but it is great for comparing all fares available.  FYI, this site was purchased by Google last year so that may change in the near future.

I came up with three scenarios for comparing prices:

-Emergency travel with less than a week’s notice

-Short term window of opportunity such as a last trip before deploying

-Long term such as planned leave

I then came up with three city pairs to compare these scenarios against.  I made them non-hub to non-hub; hub to non-hub; and hub to hub.  To not prejudice it too much I made sure multiple airlines served each route competitively.  I chose the following:

Honolulu (HNL) to Philadelphia (PHL)

Seattle (SEA) to Reno (RNO)

Atlanta (ATL) to San Francisco (SFO)

The trips were all assumed to be a week long.  The searches were all conducted on Sunday, 19 Feb. within a three hour period to avoid changes in fares between searches.

Let’s first look at Continental’s  Military Fares Page.  The first number listed is the one when searching for a fare on the regular page and the number after the slash is the military discount fare.

Flight Dates       HNL-PHL                SEA-RNO                     ATL-SFO

2/22-29             $855/ $829              $278/ $278                 $492/$482

3/22-29             $969/ $969              $267/ $278                 $396/ $396

7/22-29              $1078/ $1078          $331/ $331                  $609/ $609

Results:  No appreciable difference except for the one HNL-PHL flight.  Notice that the two times that it did make a difference were flights booked with less than a week’s notice.  It also surprised me that the last minute fares were not much higher (or even lower) than the fares with a month’s notice.

Now, let’s examine the first of the specialty sites that search for military discounts, www.militarytravel.com.  One thing that I really like about this site is that it gives you the normal fare and the discount for booking at a military rate and notes if there is no discount.  Again, the number before the slash is the regular rate quoted and the number after is the military rate.  I also note the airline selected.

Flight Dates       HNL-PHL                SEA-RNO                     ATL-SFO

2/22-29             UA $1279/$834      AS $358/$224         AA $334/$334

3/22-29             CO $987/$987        AS $205/$205         DL $423/$386

7/22-29              US $1014/ $1014    DL $325/$277          FL $431/$431

Results:  They are claiming some pretty good discounts but only for last minute travel.  However, when you compare it to the rates quoted from CO, they really don’t seem like much of a discount at all.  BTW, FL is the abbreviation for Air Trans.

Next, we’ll try www.militaryfares.com.  This site does not show how much of a military discount you get, so compare it to the Continental results above for right now.  I also note the airline selected for lowest fare.

Flight Dates       HNL-PHL                SEA-RNO                     ATL-SFO

2/22-29             UA $872                    AS $261                        US $431

3/22-29             CO $899                    AS $223                        F9 $360

7/22-29              US $1041                  DL $296                        FL $452

Results:  With the single exception of the 3/22-29 HNL-PHL flight, there are no real bargains here either.  You may note that although both of the military discount sites say they are getting the military rate, the prices are somewhat different for the same airline.  Typically, sites such as these are not “live” with the airlines published fares, but have captured them at a specific time and then use these for pricing.  You would likely get a more accurate price by dealing with the airlines’ websites or something dynamic like ITA.

And with that lead in, let’s examine ITA.  Again, I regard this as my control group.  I normally do to ITA to look at a given trip first and see where the fares are best and for what dates, before proceeding to a specific airline site.

Flight Dates       HNL-PHL                 SEA-RNO                     ATL-SFO

2/22-29             UA/DL $795            DL/AS $278                US $423

3/22-29             CO $885                   AS $205                     AA $334

7/22-29             AS $979                   AS $305                      FL $431

Results: Ding, ding, ding, I think we have our winner.  ITA came out lowest or equal on six of the nine fares examined.  Notable, however, is that www.militarytravel.com came out the best on the other three with a fare at least 10% lower than any other site.

The truth:  Most of the military discount sites are not worth wasting your time on unless the trip is last minute.  Even then, I would not count on them.  My advice is to check on ITA first.  Find the best rate and then call the airline to see if they have a lower military rate for that particular flight.  Booking directly with the airline will also give you better ability to make changes than if you book through another travel site.  As a last piece of advice, if you do need to travel at the last minute, redeem miles for a free ticket.  That avoids the high cost and gives you great flexibility to cancel or change at little to no cost.


Posted by glenn | 4 Comments

4 responses to “The Truth About Military Discount Fares”

  1. Talia Cashett says:

    #InOurGeneration ppl save up they money all summer to get a wool pelle and think they cold

  2. Mac says:

    I have traveled quite a bit throughout my military career, from space-a flights to commercial. Discount fares have gotten to the point where the airlines basically get the change fee up front. I have found that the best way to find cheap military flights is to book directly with a military travel agency that understands exactly what you’re looking for and take advantage of military travel loans.

  3. gerald says:

    i suspected as much. thanks for the research.

  4. I think that reigns true for all multi-national airlines, specifically when it comes to travel withing Europe. However if for example you book a flight with British Airways FROM Munich to Cape Town via London Heathrow, your checked baggage will be included on the entire journey, including the portion from Munich to Heathrow.

    Sadly all airlines have now included free baggage for inter-European travel.

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