Soldiers spend years in sometimes inhospitable places, hundreds or thousands of miles from their families.
They wake up early, run through grueling drills in the heat and try to avoid explosive devices and enemy fire. When they finish their service, some return home wounded or suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
If you’ve served this country in one of the branches of the armed forces, you — and your family — could probably use a little rest and relaxation.
Good news: A number of organizations and companies provide free or discounted vacations to veterans and service members.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Veterans Holidays
Veterans Holidays, part of hospitality company Wyndham Worldwide, offers veterans resort stays for $349 a week on a space-available basis. That’s just $50 a night for a spacious condo that includes a kitchen, living room and likely a pool and other amenities.
The company can hook veterans up with more than 200,000 resort accommodations in more than 100 countries. All veterans of the U.S. military are eligible for a free membership with Veterans Holidays, which can help make trips to the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, Australia and Asia more affordable.
Though only veterans can make reservations through Veterans Holidays, the company says they are more than welcome to bring guests with them on trips.
2. In Honor of Our Troops
Another organization, In Honor of Our Troops Foundation, offers veterans one free vacation per year and discounted accommodations all the time.
Established in 2004, the nonprofit’s Vacations for Vets program offers veterans, active-duty service members and Department of Defense civilian employees that directly support troops the opportunity to apply for free vacations.
The goal of the program is to provide “rest, recuperation and healing to help military families reconnect and reestablish healthy family relationships,” according to the foundation’s website.
The foundation gives veterans the chance to spend a week in one of nearly 100 locations, including Colorado, Hawaii, California and Mexico. Though accommodations are covered, airfare is not and applicants are required to pay a small, nonrefundable processing fee ($75-$150) to apply.
The foundation asks veterans to apply at least six weeks before their desired vacation dates.
3. Vacations for Warriors
Vacations for Warriors, a Colorado non-profit founded in 2014, provides free vacations for soldiers who are injured during combat. Nearly 50,000 servicemen and women have been physically injured in recent conflicts, according to the Wounded Warrior Project.
The organization recently sent U.S. Army Sgt. Rob Easley and his wife Megan to Hawaii. Easley, who lost both legs and several fingers in Afghanistan, told Vacations for Warriors he was glad to enjoy the “healing powers of the island life.”
Vacations for Warriors operates using donations of cash, transferable airline miles, hotel points and donated timeshare opportunities. The organization also received one million airline miles from American Airlines to be able to send veterans and their families to vacation destinations.
4. Disney Resorts and Theme Parks
The happiest place on earth offers veterans and military service members some sweet deals.
This year, military personnel can get a four-day “park hopper” ticket, which allows them to jump between Orlando parks, for just $196. That’s a savings of nearly $200 from the $396 regular price ticket. Visit Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom in one trip!
All active or retired members of the military and their spouses are eligible for this deep discount. Military personnel can purchase up to six discounted tickets to share with family and friends.
Disney also offers veterans and military personnel 30% to 40% off rooms at dozens of resorts, including the All-Star Music Resort, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Beach Club Resort, the Polynesian Village Resort and many others. Rooms and dates are limited, so it’s helpful to be flexible with your vacation plans to get the best deal.
Disney also has a special military-only resort called Shades of Green, which offers rooms to military personnel for $89 to $113 per night. The resort also offers deals of up to 40% off throughout the year. Staying at Shades of Green can also help you get discounted tickets to Universal Orlando, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and other attractions.
5. Travel Companies
Though many airlines and cruise companies offer military rates, they don’t advertise them online. It’s best to call and ask directly about their discounts.
Many offer discounts to members of Veterans Advantage, which provides veterans with deals, insurance and financial services for a small monthly fee ($3 to $5).
Here’s a small sampling of travel companies that offer discounts to veterans and military personnel:
- United Airlines offers a 5% discount to military veterans, active duty service members and their families in the U.S. and Canada.
- JetBlue also offers a 5% discount for veterans and a special military fare for active-duty personnel not traveling on orders. JetBlue also waives baggage fees for active-duty personnel and dependents.
- Amtrak offers a 15% discount to veterans and family members traveling by train.
- Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruises offer special military prices, but you’ll need to call to ask about potential travel dates to get the best deal.
6. “Space A” Flights
If you’re an active-duty or retired military service member, and you have some flexibility with your travel dates, you can participate in “Space A,” or space available, flights.
Here’s how it works: If you’re eligible, you can sign up at various military terminals. When a seat on a Department of Defense flight becomes available, you’ll be notified. Terminals typically post flight schedules just 72 hours in advance, so you have to be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice.
Space A travelers typically pay a very small fee levied by the military terminal, but otherwise, these flights are free.
Kristin Mickelson, a Navy veteran whose husband is also in the Navy, saved $8,000 on two round-trip flights from Norfolk, Virginia, to Seattle, Washington, with her family of four.
Keep in mind, this is a lot like traveling standby on a commercial airline. You may be stuck waiting around for a flight to and from your desired destination. Sometimes, you’re flying on a cargo plane, which can mean you’re traveling without many of the comforts of commercial flights.
“When traveling Space A, we try to have a ‘what will be will be’ attitude,” Mickelson wrote for MilitarySpouse.com. “We work out today’s problems today and leave tomorrow’s problems to solve tomorrow. I was amazed at how much more fun we had on vacation when I wasn’t continuously worrying about ‘the schedule.’”
Your Turn: Did you know there were so many ways for veterans to save on vacation? Did we miss one? Please share it in the comments.
Sarah Kuta is an education reporter in Boulder, Colorado, with a penchant for weekend thrifting, furniture refurbishment and good deals. Find her on Twitter: @sarahkuta.