In this article, we break down the Military Star Card and everything it has to offer. You usually get hooked when you are at the PX, BX, or MCX and want to save 10% on a TV or computer. At the moment, you may think you are getting a good deal when it comes to credit cards. I mean, saving $150 is pretty sweet on a $1,500 purchase. There are much better options out there! For example, when you learn about the opportunity to get 60,000 bonus points that are valued at $900 in reward travel with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, then you will quickly realize the 10% savings isn’t that great of a credit card offer. Or, consider the Captial One(R) Venture(R) Rewards Credit Card. Both of these are much better options and they wave the annual fee for active duty military.
Has anyone ever told you that the Military Star Card is your best choice for a credit card? We will give you a hint–no–not even close. There are several options that will actually give you a ton of benefits.
Okay: You can get a 10% discount for first-day purchases. How is it as a long-term investment, though? Should you use it to build up your credit?
We’re not out to skewer anybody, but our first loyalty is to you, the reader. That’s why we’re out to answer these questions as honestly as we can for your sake. We’ll be taking a look at the good, the bad, and the in-between. The decision, from there, will be up to you.
Let’s start with the basics. The Military Star Card is a product of the Exchange Credit Service (ECS). This is in partnership with the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES), who manages it. It comes with a private-label credit line and no annual fees. It also allows you a percentage off of services on-base at certain exchange-operated businesses. To ECS and AAFES’ credit (in terms of reputation), it’s pretty straightforward. We also like that there are no hidden fees to speak of.
Across all branches of service, there are over 1.5 million Military Star Card holders. Some estimates say that in 2017 alone, the card generated $445 million in value. The ECS, like AAFES, contributes a significant portion of its earnings to Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) programs. They provided nearly $640 million to them recently over a 10-year period. We may not have figures for exactly how much of those funds the Military Star Card generated. However, it’s probably safe to assume that its revenue factors in somewhere.
Marketed to armed forces personnel as a “one card solution” for anything you need to buy on the base, it has obvious perceived curb appeal. That’s a good thing, since it can only be used in stores that are exchange-operated. That is a very important point when you start to weigh the benefits of this card verse a card such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred. The Military Star Card can only be used for shopping on base whereas the Chase Sapphire Preferred can be used anywhere.
While you’re within range though, the perceived convenience is definitely tempting. AAFES released an accompanying app for smart devices, MILITARY STAR Mobile, in November of 2018. Cardholders can use it to view their account status, receive push notifications, review transactions, make payments, and more. But, isn’t this something the other banks like American Express, Chase, USAA, or even Capital One has been doing for about 10+ years now?
You don’t have to be active duty to apply, though. Dependents are eligible, too. Successful applicants can gain 2 points per $1 spent shopping at exchange facilities or armed forces Recreation Center resort hotels. Additionally, you can earn points at exchange food courts, mall vendors, and express locations. When you’re online, the same applies: You can rack them up at sites like shopmyexchange.com, myNavyExchange.com, and shopCGX.com, too. After approval, the points start accumulating that same day. If you rack up 2,000 of them, you’re awarded a $20 MILITARY STAR Rewards Card. That works out, roughly to a 2% purchase reward (or a $1 of value for every $50 spent).
Again, compare this to the Chase Sapphire Preferred where you earn 2x points for every $1 spent on travel and dining. When you add the additional value of the Chase Ultimate Rewards, this equates to around $2 for spending the same amount. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it is double! Now add in the flexibility in being able to redeem it for almost anything from airfare, hotels, and even turn it into cash (we don’t recommend this), then the Military Star Card rewards are awful if you compare it to what credit cards are available on the market right now.
We can’t recommend going into debt for them, but in theory, you can earn as many of those rewards cards as you want each year. Points are a little different, though. They can’t be redeemed for cash, credited to your account, used to purchase gift or e-gift cards, or applied to previous purchases. You’re not allowed to sell rewards, either—and you can blow the card agreement by trying (which means losing all unused and unexpired points). As long as you color within the lines though, your points won’t expire. As long as you keep making a purchase using the card at least once a year. Compare that to the Chase Sapphire Preferred, where your points never expire.
We’d recommend using caution against running late or going over, however. Either of these can hurt your credit score. Also, since AAFES is the Army and Air Force Exchange, your supervisor will likely be informed if you start missing payments. They do expect you to pay for your purchases and they have been known to have wages garnished from those who let things go too far.
Look, you are into a lot of trouble if you start getting behind on any credit card. That is why we recommend you only check out credit cards if you can handle them responsibly. You must pay them off each month to really take advantage of the benefits. It wouldn’t be honest to tell you about the few things we like without mentioning all of the less impressive stuff. We wouldn’t be looking out for you by sugarcoating any rough spots, so we’re not going to. In no particular order, we’ll discuss things that—might not necessarily be deal-breakers, but—you should know about before you sign up.
We never recommend deliberately defaulting on a credit card anyway (because it’s dishonest, among other things). For starters, however, it bears saying this again: If you default on a Military Star Card, you will dig yourself into a truly deep hole. Again, not something we recommend! Otherwise, AAFES’ legal team has the deck stacked to make sure that you will pay back every dime you owe.
In a nutshell, they’re a business run by Uncle Sam’s family. So stiffing them means, indirectly, stiffing the U.S. federal government. We’re not highlighting this as though it were a shortcoming on the part AAFES or the United States. Nevertheless, if you drop the ball as a Military Star Cardmember, you could come to consider the relationship as a serious drawback. Don’t say that we didn’t warn you.
There’s also the issue of losing the card when you get out. Once you separate from the military—as of the publication of this post—that’s it. The account is terminated with no option to renew or continue it as a civilian. While we can understand why AAFES would want to handle things this way from a business perspective, it’s not great for someone looking to (re)build their credit score.
If you’re wondering why, the answer lies in the fact that the big credit bureaus prefer to see people keep their accounts open as long as possible. Where the rubber meets the road, this establishes a positive track record. The longer you keep a card—always making your payments on time, paying more than your monthly minimum when you can—the more your credit rating will improve over time.
The opposite happens, predictably, when you close/lose an account. It’s not like you’ll get punished for closing a card you don’t need. But, all that good history you’ve established is essentially lost. If your credit was good or excellent beforehand, that’s not a big deal. If you barely qualified for the card in the first place, however, you’ll be back where you started, crappy-score-wise. You’re not super-glued in place down there, but the clock does reset.
AAFES doesn’t charge cardholders an annual fee or a late fee, but we never said they don’t charge any fees. Like any other credit card, the Military Star Card does have an annual percentage rate. An October 2016 CreditCards.com report describes it as the lowest flat rate among its retail-branded competitors. Word on the street is that it’s 12.24-25%.
If you had a balance of $1,000 for example (and it’s all from regular purchases), your minimum monthly payment will be about $28 (or $27.77, rounded up). Any interest fees will be $0.50 or higher. That interest is avoidable by just paying your balance off 100% by the due date every month. However, it’s still something to think about before you apply. The due date will run at least 25 days after each billing cycle’s end.
If you buy things under the Military Clothing Plan, 12.5% of your unpaid balance is going to be your minimum payment. There is also a returned payment fee of $25. If you don’t pay the full amount of a total minimum payment that’s due within 60 days of its due date, you’ll have a penalty rate of 20.24%.
That rate spike isn’t permanent, but you’ll have to make 6 consecutive payments on time before they’ll remove it. Half a year is a long time to carry a burden like that on your budget. It almost goes without saying that you’ll be much better off not letting things deteriorate to the point of having to do that.
You really don’t want a mass of debt awaiting you once you’re out, either. Any outstanding balance on your account after your separation from service will be considered your responsibility. Even if your credit score dips when the card account is terminated, you will still be expected to pay any outstanding debts from it.
The rewards program isn’t all there is to see when it comes to the AAFES’ card’s perks. Cardholders receive continuing military discounts, like 10% off food court fare and $.05 off every gallon of gasoline purchased. Shipping is free, too if you choose standard at shopmyexchange.com or mynavyexchange.com. We’ve already mentioned the first-day discount, which nets you 10% off purchases on the day that you’re approved. They’ll show up later as a credit on your first billing statement.
The Military Star Card’s Annual Percentage Rate can be more agreeable than other credit cards’ APRs, too. Your credit score doesn’t affect it. So, if you’ve made a financial mistake in the past, you don’t have to keep paying for it now. You will have to pass a credit check to get approved. Meaning that if you have at least an average credit rating when you apply, you’ll likely be approved. Once you’re accepted, however—even if you barely squeaked by the qualification phase—your score won’t affect your interest rate. AAFES’ card has one rate for all cardholders, regardless of their FICO score.
Whenever you need new uniforms and equipment, you can buy them from exchange-affiliated stores at 0% APR, too. You can’t do this anywhere else; military item purchases from other vendors aren’t eligible. Keep it within the system, however, and you can get up to $500 worth of eligible clothing, interest-free.
Sometimes interest charges get reduced on a temporary basis for personnel who are active duty or deployed, as well. When you return from your deployment, however, they return to the rates that were in effect when you left. It’s nice while it lasts, though. Either you or designated representative for you will need to provide a copy of your activation or deployment orders by fax, email, or physical mail to qualify. However, the American Express Platinum and Chase Sapphire Reserve have this same benefit. Nolan, MilitaryTravelPro’s founder, has had a 4% APR on his Chase Sapphire Reserve since he has had the card because of the SCRA benefits.
We can’t say that we’re looking out for your best interests if we don’t mention an alternative card or two. The market, thankfully, is still free to date, so there’s a fair amount of other credit cards worth your consideration. Obviously we can’t choose which credit card you should apply for. Once we’ve shown you some of the Military Star Card’s competition though, we hope that you’ll be able to make a better decision!
You should probably have a look at the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, if only for comparison. This was once primarily as a tool for travelers looking for a simple point system. But now, it appeals to a broader range of applicants. It’s the one-two punch of point transfers and also has great reviews.
If you travel by commercial air much, on or off the job, this card could definitely come in handy. It’s pretty nice to be able to book the flight you’re after… but then simply erase the charge, if you need to cancel or reschedule. The built-in flexibility is going to maximize your ability to leverage airline reward transfers to get the most from your points.
It comes with a pretty nice welcome bonus, too. You will receive the 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 within 3 months of account approval. While we’d never advocate going into debt just to get rewards (because it only digs you into a hole, in the long-run), if you’d be spending that much anyway, that’s not a shabby deal. It basically comes out to around $500 in travel fees, free. Some cardholders may prefer to transfer their points in order to get a total value closer to $700, but that would be up to you. If you want to check to see if this is still the most current offers, simply click here.
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card has never had a reputation for over-complication. Its simplicity is what makes it a strong contender now. With basically no limits, you can earn a flat 2x miles on every purchase. Essentially, that’s 2% or so you’d get back toward your travel costs.
It gets better, though. Cardholders can get 10x miles on purchases made through Hotels.com/venture whenever they book a stay and then pay with their Venture Rewards. That’s compatible with the existing Hotels.com loyalty program, too. When you purchase 10 nights, you can tack on a free night, which comes out to a return of 10% or so. This ultimately comes out to a 20% ROI when you use both together.
The purchase-erasing redemption option lets you redeem points at a rate of $.01 each toward your eligible travel costs charged within the last 3 months (or 90 days). There’s no minimum amount, either. If you want, you can lose the price of the taxes for your domestic U.S. award tickets (usually $5-$6) by redeeming 550-575 points to cover it.
If a Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card sounds like a good choice, we’d recommend doing your homework. You definitely want to study their transfer partners to learn how you can get your best value. You could probably expect a transfer ratio around 2:1.5 (with the exception of Singapore KrisFlyer and Emirates Skywards). When you get overseas, there won’t be any foreign transaction fees waiting for you, so this might be a decent vacation choice.
That’s not all this card has to offer, but to keep this fair, we’d better take a look at potential downsides, too. Remember the numerous transfer partners mentioned above? None of them are large U.S. airlines, because these cards are best for international travel. The card’s APR doesn’t seem amazingly competitive, either when compared to its peers. If you’re not just out to travel, but out to book airline rewards travel, it’s probably not your best choice.
If you’re likely to carry a balance regularly, that’ll be strike two. We never recommend doing that with any card. But, you could get into a huge mess fast if you fall behind on a Venture Rewards. If your monthly expenses, like groceries—or even charity donations—run above average, that might be strike three: You don’t have to look far to find competing cards with better points rates for those.
While we can’t choose for you, we can say that if we were in your shoes, we’d take a serious look at the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Don’t forget, they waive the $95 fee for active-duty servicemembers! You also get the sweet 2x points on global dining and travel (in addition to a point-per-dollar rate for every other kind of purchase). We wrote an entire article on this here.
The sign-up bonus is 60,000 points. This occurs after you spend $4000 within your first 3 months as a cardholder. If you’d normally spend that much anyway, that’s hard to beat. Redeem it through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal and it adds up to $750 in travel fees, ready to roll.
If you find out that you could get a better deal from a specific hotel or airline rewards program, can you switch? You can transfer those babies at a rate of 1:1. To say the least, that’s not something every other card issuer will let you do.
We really don’t recommend falling behind on your payments. With that said, however, the Chase Sapphire Preferred’s lack of a penalty APR means that fumbling the ball won’t hurt you as bad as it would with another card. Your interest won’t skyrocket if you miss a deadline.
If you fly mainly just a handful of times each year but wind up spending a lot on daily transportation, it could come in handy there, too. Cardmembers will receive 5 points for every $1 spent on Lyft rides until March of 2022. You can also bag a couple of points for every $1 spent on a variety of travel expenses. These include fares for taxis and buses, bridge and highway tolls, train tickets, ferry passes, and parking fees. Also, this includes campground fees too!
The Chase Sapphire Preferred has a nice array of travel partners, as well: United Airlines, Southwest, JetBlue and Hyatt are all on the list. These are all just the tip of the iceberg where this card’s perks begin, but since we’re running out of space, let’s jump to the possible drawbacks: This card isn’t perfect, but they’re noticeably few compared to most of its peers. Some could say the $95 annual fee is one, but the welcome bonus should more than make up for it during your first year.
Others might consider the 2x points rewards rate for travel and dining (with the $1:1 rate for all other purchases worldwide) a middle-of-the-road offering. The caveat to this one is the fact that the Chase Sapphire Preferred’s travel category is pretty broad. Its purchase options include hotels, airlines, car rental agencies, discounted travel sites, timeshares, taxis, cruise lines, parking lots, and more.
Look, we love good old AAFES! We’ve just heard of active duty personnel finding out that they could save 10% on a one-time purchase—and then leaping before they’d looked. It’s nice to be able to save that $150 on a TV, PC, PlayStation, or Xbox.
With the Chase Sapphire Preferred, however, a cardholder could get what amounts to $900 in bonus points (60,000) when they redeemed them for travel at the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. We want to make sure we cover all of your bases because the final decision is your business! Choose wisely.
In this article, we dig into Marvel Avenger offerings at Disney resorts. It may be a great vacation idea for military service members! As of 2020, Avengers Campus is open at Disneyland, so we’re asking before your kids do: have booked a visit yet? With great military discounts at lodging resorts, this is a great family trip that you can take during your next block leave!
Fans of Marvel Comics, animated Marvel movies and TV shows and Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe probably won’t want to leave, once they’ve arrived. Like most productions of el reino del ratón, it’s been in the works for a long time, so the wow factor for first-timers should be high.
A Disney Parks blog post from Marvel Global Portfolio Creative Executive Scot Drake made the first official announcement to the world:
“There was an idea. To bring together a group of remarkable people, to see if they could become something more.
It was called the Avengers Initiative.
That original idea has now evolved into a brand-new global Avengers Initiative. One that brings us—the next generation of remarkable people—together. To find our power and become something more. To see if we can work alongside the Avengers so we may all become stronger together.
The Stark Expo in Hong Kong was to be a first step: A world exposition whose theme of ‘A Better Tomorrow Today,’ was meant to inspire and motivate through technological innovation. However, shortly after it opened, the Expo was attacked by the forces of Hydra. When even more powerful forces threatened the entire planet, the Avengers realized that the Earth needs more heroes.
So today, to better defend the planet, the Avengers are setting up new Headquarters and technology sharing exchanges around the globe to empower and inspire all potential recruits willing to step up and become heroes.
In California and Paris, Tony Stark is retrofitting two of his father’s Stark Industries sites into new hubs for training and innovation. Through partnerships with S.H.I.E.L.D., Pym Technologies, Masters of the Mystic Arts and the new Worldwide Engineering Brigade, The Avengers and their allies will forge new global campuses to champion the next generation of heroes. Who’s ready to answer the call?”
If you’re not getting dogpiled by little people in Hulk- and Avengers-themed PJs demanding that you take them, parents, rest assured that you will be.
Your children will probably want to go as well. But in the meantime, you should probably start locking the door at night: Those pajama-clad neighbors shouldn’t be wandering in.
Eons ago, as the universe was still cooling, a pulp magazine publisher named Martin Goodman started the company we now know as Marvel Comics in 1939. Looking to capitalize on the growing popularity of superhero comic books, Goodman launched Timely Comics. The first comic book produced by Timely was Marvel Comics #1, published that October: it featured the Sub-Mariner and (a strangely orange-werewolf-looking cover rendition of) the Human Torch.
By 1941—during what’s often called the “Golden Age” of comics—Timely Comics introduced the world to Captain America. Echoing the sentiments of most Americans, cap is depicted as punching Hitler across a room. Timely’s characters were often portrayed as fighting the Nazis and the Japanese even before the United States officially entered World War II. The classic comics lineup of characters known and beloved today as the Avengers; Tony Stark (AKA Iron Man), The Hulk, Black Widow, Thor, Hawkeye, Vision, and Ant-man would emerge decades later.
The amazing fantasy world is known today as the Marvel universe was unveiled by Goodman in 1961, when he commissioned writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby to create the Fantastic Four. With the release of Fantastic Four #1, Lee and Kirby took things in a bold new, more modern direction. Instead of following sometimes laughably overpowered comics tropes, in November of 1961, they introduced readers to superheroes who had real-world problems and issues. Instead of focusing 100% on how a perfect super character would just happen to beat another bad guy (that everybody knew that he would), these heroes had rent to pay, character flaws… and sometimes even personality conflicts with each other.
Marvel Comics exploded faster and further in the early 1960’s, introducing a seemingly never-ending flood of new heroes, villains, and realistic supporting characters. Before long, Spider-Man was swinging overhead, the Incredible Hulk was a smashing success and the X-Men began their rise to popularity. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Numerous cheesy or just-plain-embarrassing attempts preceded the dawning of what we now know as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Areas of YouTube are a sort of graveyard memorial to the craptacular creations filmed in the 70’s and 80’s, alone. The lamest of them were outmoded in an instant, however, with the release of “IronMan” in 2008. Recast as Tony Stark, former Hollywood (rehab) headline star Robert Downey, Jr. was catapulted back into tinsel town’s big leagues by his charismatic breakout performance. Just as fans rooted for Tony Stark to beat his sometimes disastrous alcoholism in the comics, it was good seeing Downey get back on the horse(in and out of character), too.
The world was captivated. The Walt Disney Company announced a deal to acquire Marvel Entertainment for $4.24 billion, the shareholders voted on December 31, 2009, and the Disney-Marvel merger was approved. The Net was rife with mocking caricatures of Mickey-Mouse-logo-wearing Marvel superheroes heralding what some Marvel Comics fans assumed to be the doom of superhero films. Others insisted that it would be a good thing, but nobody really knew how it would pan out.
By the time “The Avengers” premiered in 2012, it was clear that Marvel movies were becoming every bit the juggernaut that the comics were famous for being. Talk of Marvel’s plans for an entire cinematic universe began to be taken much more seriously (and eagerly). Now, 3 more Avengers movies—and multiple Marvel character-centered films—later, with who knows how many films currently in the works, a theme park seems like the next logical step.
Similar to what Disney has done with Star Wars in developing their Galaxy’s Edge theme park lands, Avengers Campus involves immersion and roleplaying. Downey fans will be delighted to learn that a multimedia version of his Iron Man factors insignificantly.
“The idea is that Tony Stark has come to the D23 Expo to showcase the Global Avengers Initiative, which is the Avengers Campus in Disneyland California—and the campus in Disneyland Paris, as well as his partnerships with the Worldwide Engineering Brigade and Pym Technologies,” said Caroline May, Walt Disney Imagineering’s Creative Director.
Avengers Campusat Disney California Adventure occupies the area that previously housed A Bug’s Land, which closed on September 5, 2018. Disney announced at the 2017 D23 Expo that the Guardians of the Galaxy would be joined by Spider-Man and the Avengers as part of the new immersive Superhero area at the park. According to Disney, this is just phase one of their superhero-themed area. A 1994 contract with Universal Parks & Resorts prevents the Walt Disney Company from using the “Marvel” name in the area name or attractions. We don’t expect to see many tears over it, though.
The Spider-Man ride sits on the former site of the“Tough to Be a Bug!” attraction.“Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout!” fits in well alongside “Tony Stark’s Worldwide Engineering Brigade,” which features Spider-Man in a brand-new suit. The Collector’s Warehouse retail shop has also been added as a part of Hollywood Land. Slated future additions include “Doctor Strange: Journey Into The Mystic Arts,” another Spidey attraction, and another Avengers attraction. Hungry visitors should be able to dine at the Pym Test Kitchen restaurant, as well.
Disney’s official hotels trounce their off-premises counterparts with proximity to their parks that are unbeatable, but this convenience doesn’t come cheap. Military personnel can get discounts of 30-40% off, but if your budget still won’t cover it, we’ve been there and we’ve got you: While staying at a regular motel can mean more time spent driving and then parking yourself (as well as longer walks), it should reduce the bite on your wallet.
There’s also a third option if you’re headed east: Shades of Green is an Armed Forces Recreation Center (AFRC) in Orlando (within the Walt Disney World complex). They offer affordable room rates and discounted tickets for all Disney venues. They also have complimentary bus transportation to the parks and ticket center (in addition to offering the Extra Magic Hours perk).
It’s no sin if you’re not a Marvel fan, either. Even starry-eyed folk who grew up on the comics may need a breather after a while. That’s why we suggest considering the 3- and 4-day park hopper deals. These packages facilitate a buffet approach to the Magic Kingdom, the Animal Kingdom, Blizzard Beach, and more. You can visit one area, hit another… and then go back and forth from Avengers Campus as much as the mood strikes.
Shades of Green sells park hopper packages, though we don’t recommend waiting until you’ve gotten there to buy them. The same deals can also be purchased at your military installation’s ticket office. One word of warning, though: these tickets can’t be used in combination with another promotion or discount. You’re also limited to six tickets and they’re not valid on certain blackout dates, so it’s a good idea to check your desired destination’s schedule before making any purchases.
It’s finally open, so if you haven’t made the plans, you’ll probably be asked soon: When are you going to Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge?
You can’t farm on Tatooine forever. You might as well start deciding which coast you’ll hit to check it out. Whether you’re a fan of the original Star Wars trilogy, the prequels, or the latter interpretations, Disney’s inviting tourists from around the world to visit the happiest Death Star on Earth.
Yeah, we know: some of you are busy, tired and don’t particularly give a Sith. If you have “younglings,” however, the clock is ticking. That’s why we’ve put together a look at what you can expect and your best options in planning for it. You don’t have to wear your hair in donut buns or breathe through scuba gear. They’ll be just as excited if you’re in flip flops—and you’ll get groped less by tourists.
Those of us whose Mousketeers have outgrown their eared caps can tell you: it happens in a blink, so make those memories happen while you can! One minute they’re in a stroller, the next you’re making room checks during school hours for contraband. That’s not to say that you have to spend Disney-vacation-level funds to make lifelong grins (at all)—we just suggest doing so if you can, while they’re young.
To lessen the pain of hyperspace travel in your bank account, el reino del ratón does offer military discounts. To their credit, it’s an annual thing that they do (and at least one thing of which Walt would certainly be proud). It’s probably worth looking into their park hopper package deals that offer passes to the other parks like the Magic Kingdom, as well, but we’ll get more into specifics later. Our bigger point is that there’s more to Galaxy’s Edge, in California or Florida than plastic lightsabers and ride ques snaking in and out of the sun.
Granted, it’s Disney: you’re going to be surrounded by toy vendors, cosplay shops, Star-Wars-themed restaurants and more—all at the absolute top of their shrewdly-crafted marketing game. It is very possible to get through it all (and even have fun) without selling a truck or mortgaging a house, though. Planning, preparation, and patience—the three Ps—can help keep you sane, even when everybody’s hollering and you’re tempted to go full-on Anakin.
It’s all supposed to “interactive storytelling;” a big live-action game in a sense, so at the very worst, it’s a chance to get off-base for a little while and relax. The same inner child that once led some to join the military probably hasn’t entirely forgotten what it was like to wonder at Star Wars’ cinematic world in theaters and on screens at home. Think of this as a chance to let him or her out for some fresh air while wandering a lavish real-life recreation of our beloved mental playground.
C’mon, whaddaya’ say—humor us, and give it a shot? We swear (Mandalorian’s honor): we just want to help you make the best of all these deals in order to provide maximum fun for you, whoever copilots your Falcon and any Jawas that you’d bring along.
The parks opened in 2019: Disneyland’s version came first, in May followed by its Orlando counterpart that August.
Nope: there haven’t been any Florida-man-dressed-as-Ahsoka headlines yet. Give it time.
Unless you’ve grown up in a cave somewhere off the grid, you’re probably aware that George Lucas’ initial outing into the series premiered in 1977. We’re fans here, too—so we’re not knocking it—but it’s been increasingly more difficult to escape the Star Wars movie phenomenon throughout the West since then. Nobody outside the film crew had a clue what was going in Tunisia when Episode IV, the first film of the soon-to-be blockbuster sci-fi series was being filmed. Now, a few decades later, you almost can’t buy a camel on the outskirts of a remote dune without running into a kid in a B-88 t-shirt.
It’s multiple clothing lines, it’s periodically a breakfast cereal, it’s a universe of toys, it’s the basis of a “religion,” it’s become a sort of sport, it’s a universe of video games, it’s a dimension of Lego toys… It’s one of the most successfully mass-marketed franchises in the history of Western civilization. Sound clips from the original trilogy were omnipresent among Web pages in the 1990’s, as the Internet first rose to popularity—and now YouTube is stuffed with video clips from every one of the films that should’ve been released.
And then there are the parodies: from Spaceballs to Sesame Street to Net celebrities to stop motion Lego animators, riffing on the saga is almost endless nerd comedy gold. On its own, Star Wars has spawned an infamously craptacular holiday special, various documentaries (including an adequate one on “The Science of Star Wars” sponsored by IBM), cartoons, 3D-animated cartoons, a movie based on the 3D-animated cartoons, and a perpetual series of show-length Lego Star Wars commercials.
By the middle of November, TV channels will start advertising Star Wars marathons to air throughout the holidays. Only Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series seems capable of rivaling it as a popular entertainment staple for family gatherings. We’re hoping that Anakin’s chestnuts roasting over Mustafar-themed grills won’t be a revered Christmas tradition by 2040, but here are definitely days when it seems plausible.
Don’t get us wrong: we’re definitely capitalism fans around here (even if it does go troubling places at times). We don’t begrudge people who’ve worked hard to become a success the fruits of their labors at all. It’s just strange, if you’re old enough, to look back on the massive social/cultural/emotional tsunami that has risen from what began as a single movie when bell bottoms were trendy. If your first step into the launching bay was Episode I “The Phantom Menace,” you may get what we’re describing, too: Star Wars has become as intrinsic to our culture as tales of Hercules were to ancient residents of the Mediterranean.
In-kind of the same way that Disneyworld began as an investment in backwoods swampland, Star Wars began as a $3.5 million movie that some of those involved with its making believed would never do well enough to merit a single sequel. Now Mickey stands with one gigantic, iconic yellow shoe on the East Coast (in Orlando) and one on the West Coast (in Anaheim). Skywalker, meanwhile, is a household surname that most children know before they’re out of grade school—and it’s been that way for a couple of generations. That’s why Galaxy’s Edge is an idea that on one hand seems like something whose time has come. On the other hand, it’s also a notion that may inspire concerns of disappointment among elder fans, considering how high of a bar we all have set in our hearts and minds. If anybody is able to get closest to making our daydreams tangibly real though, maybe Disney, at their best, is the ideal candidate.
Both Disneyland and Disneyworld’s versions of Galaxy’s Edge involve some driving, plane tickets or both to get to for a majority of visitors. They may not be “a galaxy far, far away,” but they can take a little patience to get to. Once you arrive, though, a unique Star-Wars-themed experience awaits. Straying off course from the route to the parks—especially into Los Angeles or Miami—can add to the feeling that a tourist has left Earth, too at times. That’s another day’s discussion entirely, though.
For some of us, Empire (Episode V) is the untouchable best of the movies. For others, it’s “The Force Awakens” (Episode VII). Some—might not admit it publically (for understandable reasons), but they—may favor “Attack of the Clones” (Episode II). With “The Clone Wars” still stream-able on Netflix, there’s probably more than a few who’d contend that the 3D-animated shows are the absolute best of the watchable franchise. We’re not here to judge you. Our point’s simply that there’s pretty much something for everybody who’s even halfway interested in the fictional galaxy’s goings-on.
To further immerse you in the story, Galaxy’s Edge even has a phone app that can enhance your experience by turning the park into a giant video game. Okay: technically it’s kind of a sub-app called “Star Wars Datapad” nestled within Disney’s Play Disney Parks app, but it’s free. It ties into the story behind Galaxy’s Edge by providing background, but it also includes Outpost Control, an immersive-themed game that essentially treats the entire area as its massive board.
Datapad even invites guests to adopt the role of his or her own character within the world. It’s a newer kind of interactive storytelling than some may be used to, but it’s nowhere near as deep-commitment-dependent as a role-playing video game. In fact, you’re free to drop a given puzzle if/when you get tired of it. You can ally with the First Order or the Resistance, developing your profile as you go through by completing missions for your chosen faction.
Outpost Control players/guests are (voluntarily) tasked with small, simple quests like reconnecting virtual wires or tuning in radio waves. These goals are native to specific physical locations and time-limited in order to give you an added sense of realism. Successfully tapping into a data panel and installing either First Order or Resistance surveillance will cause the panel to display your team’s corresponding color (red or blue). The winning team of a match is then displayed, showing its allies. The whole thing lacks a start or an end, but that’s deliberate: the intent is for you to jump in where ever you like and to play for as long as a little as you choose.
In theory, you could team up as a family or couple or, if everybody has their own phone, have a free-for-all. Costumed staff roleplay along, encouraging the fun, so at worst, it could make for a nice change of pace from the same old, same old. At the end of the day, regardless of who wins, dads can still say, “I am your father… so hush or you ain’t getting that Hanana Carbonite shake.”
As sole owners of Star Wars’ intellectual properties and franchise, the Walt Disney Company has the series’ direction in a tractor beam for the foreseeable future. For better (than “The Last Jedi”) or worse (than “Solo”), that means that the house o’ mouse will be setting the tone and calling the shots. They own the rights to decades’ worth of licensed novels set in that galaxy, which they’ve both publicly announced abandoning—and then adapted, in parts, into the plots of Rey’s movies.
In the long turn, this means that we could see some interesting things happen. How much further “woke” the new overtly political themes get, how many more liberties will be taken with the canon established by George Lucas (like the nature of the Force), and who’s going to be walking onscreen from the “Expanded Universe” of novels is anybody’s guess. The Disney behemoth is like a hive under the surface of Genosis, always bustling behind the scenes. Everything’s planned ahead to the point that just as one event’s lights are brought low, another is being mass-prepped to premiere.
“The Mandalorian,” Star Wars first-ever live-action; nonanimated TV series premiered in November of 2019. The jury may still be out on its quality or longevity, but if it draws in enough subscribers to Disney+ (the Mickster’s Netflix-competing streaming service), it seems likely that another show(s) will be developed. Set between events following the end of Episode VI, “Return of the Jedi” and the beginning of Episode VII “The Force Awakens,” “The Mandalorian” follows the adventures of a member of bounty hunters Jango and Boba Fett’s race.
This show looks good, but if they should decide to start a Star-Wars-only streaming service in time, the well could theoretically run dry eventually. We’re not saying that we expect to see tales of Glunu, Jar Jar’s retro-created Toydarian dry cleaner, but you never know. The only other alternative may be reboots of the nine movies… and then reboots of the reboots… and then a reboot of the holiday special reboot… and then reboots of rebooted reboots…
We’ve read suggestions that—considering how dog and cat owners have to clean unpleasant messes out of south-of-the-tail fur they’re stuck in at times—Chewbacca’s chair aboard the Millennium Falcon would seriously reek in real life. Hopefully, between the movies and TV, Disney won’t empty their Star Wars creative storehouses to the point of having to build a show around this fact. Nevertheless, we did say that there are interesting times ahead.
All kidding aside, we know that Walt’s park planning/production/staffing folk are the hard-working cream of the crop—and that our best shot at enjoying the coolest physical rendition of a galaxy far, far away possible has to be their handiwork. Galaxy’s Edge looks pretty good, right out of the gate. With time, there’s probably even better stuff to look forward to.
In the meantime, let’s talk travel tips: Disney hotels rival their off-premises counterparts with proximity to their parks that are deliberately exclusive, but you can wind up paying a premium price for it. Members of our military can get 30-40% off discounts, but if your funds are still too tight for that, (we’ve been there and) there are alternatives. Staying at a Mickey-less motel can mean driving/parking yourself and longer walks, but it’s always an option.
Thankfully there’s a third option, if you’re headed east, that may be the better of both: Shades of Green is an Armed Forces Recreation Center (AFRC) in Orlando (within Walt Disney World) that offers affordable room rates and discounted tickets for all Mickey-related venues. They also have complimentary bus transportation to the parks and ticket center—as well as the Extra Magic Hours perk. Off-season stays during nontraditional vacation months like January can sometimes be a way to catch further bargains, too.
Non-Star Wars fans, we’re not ignoring you: we may not be there personally, but everybody’s different in one way or another. Even die-hard Jedi/Sith may need a break after a while. That’s why we’ve suggested the 3- and 4-day park hopper deals: they’re a buffet approach to the Animal Kingdom, Blizzard Beach, the Magic Kingdom, and more. When you get tired of one area, you can visit another—and then crisscross back and forth, if you want, to your heart’s content.
Park hopper tickets can be purchased on-base at your military installation’s ticket office. Shades of Green sells them, too. Unfortunately, you can’t use these tickets in combination with another promotion or discount. You’re also limited to six tickets and they’re not valid on certain blackout dates, so you’ll want to check your desired destination’s schedule before making your purchase.
Galaxy’s Edge was adding Rise of the Resistance, a new attraction to Disney World in December of 2019 and Disneyland in January of 2020. Rumor had it that the 8-seat ride would take guests into the middle of a battle between the First Order (Stormtroopers included) and their opposition.
Could a prepaid card or prepaid credit card be right for you?
They can kind of be the best of both worlds, if you know what you’re doing. At a glance, they look like any other plastic charge card, but if you—or a beloved dependent—sometimes goes overboard with the run-of-the-mill variety, they could present the best of both worlds: They’re accepted wherever standard cards are welcomed, but they have a hard limit based upon however much money you’ve prepaid it up to. They could still be used for impulse purchases, but (while we don’t recommend alcoholism) they can significantly lower your risk of getting the bill for a 12-foot-high TV just as a cruel hangover departs.
Kind of like one of those prepaid phones you might buy for an aging relative, they’re only good until you reach the limit you’ve set. After that, it’s basically locked until you load more funds. They’re kind of credit cards that aren’t credit cards; they have the same general function, but they don’t involve a ballooning line of debt. In a sense, they’re more like debit cards than regular old unsecured (or even secured) credit cards. The only possible downside is that some can carry high fees. Rewards programs are rare, too—but on the upside, they normally don’t affect your credit profile or FICO score.
If they sounded like a good fit until we mentioned the fees, don’t let that scare you off: Those are extreme cases in which somebody didn’t do their homework. Just shop around and you can find prepaid credit cards with lower fees and even other benefits. Many of them work like substitute checking accounts, but others do offer rewards programs. If it helps, think of them as a substitute for carrying large amounts of cash. They are secured cards issued by a financial institution (and secured with a prepayment.) Prepaid cards are not linked to a bank checking account or a credit union’s share draft account.
If you need an alternative to paying cash—or, if you’re unable to qualify for a credit card, they can be just what the doctor ordered. They can’t help your credit scores, but you can still enjoy the convenience and structure of using a card to make purchases. If you’re trying to get better self-disciplined against rash; impulse buys (but you don’t want the world to know), they look close enough like a regular credit card that nobody’s likely to know the difference when you use them. As we said, they don’t affect your credit score: They won’t contribute to raising yours, but they can’t get it lowered, either. Most of them are also good for keeping track of purchases. They involve a form of registration that requires collecting data like your name, your address, your zip code, and your phone number. Whether you prefer a specific network or you’re eager to minimize your fees, there is probably a prepaid card that fits your budget like a glove. If you give one a try, you might find it to be a simpler, more affordable means of keeping on top of your money.
Not everyone who chooses to use a prepaid credit card is struggling with overspending and debt: Some people just like to use them to keep organized, more than anything else. Some folk, who used to be stuck in a debt nightmare, like them as a sort of firewall to prevent themselves from sliding back into that mess.
It’s a sad fact that credit card debt is common in the U.S. today. The average national annual percentage rate (APR) on regular credit cards in September of 2019 was 17.54%. Among those who missed a payment, the average penalty interest rate was 28.45%. As many as 83% of U.S. adults hold at least one card, but overall, most own three. Credit cards are tools; mindless objects with no will of their own that can be used for good or evil as much as anything else. We’d never advocate anyone flushing their finances with one. We’re just not condemning them as though they were minted in Hell’s fires, either.
With that caveat, if you’re on active duty or a reservist, it’s important to remember that how you manage your wallet can directly affect your career. For multiple reasons, Uncle Sam doesn’t like service people being/going into debt. If you have ambitions of gaining or increasing a security clearance, heads-up: The higher-ups will pull a credit report on you as part of your application. This is a standard procedure. You can also lose what clearance you have (and worse) if your CO gets a letter of indebtedness and it’s determined that you can’t pay it off.
We’re not trying to freak you out. We just want you to easily understand why you; America’s heroes, have to keep as debt-free as absolutely possible. That’s why a prepaid card could prove to be a blessing. It’s as useful and flexible as a garden-variety credit card, but it won’t let you spend money you don’t have (and might not see after paying bills, even on payday). We don’t want to be your mom—nor can we give you financial advice—but some of us have held massive credit card debt in the past and we wouldn’t wish that on anybody. We’re hyping prepaids here because they can help you start getting out of that situation (hopefully before the worst happens) and keep you climbing the ranks.
They’re an excellent idea for those whose credit has never dipped, too. If you recognize that potential for an awful misstep(s) sometimes when you’re tempted, to be blunt, you’re wise to be paying attention. Again: We wouldn’t be in this business if we thought credit cards were inherently evil. With that said, few things other than drugs or crime can turn a military career headed for the stars 180°; into a straight-down, soon-to-crater trajectory like mounting debt. It’s possible to give one to a spouse or family member as a gentle, loving means of preventing their spending habits from wreaking chaos, too. We’d just recommend doing so without phrasing it as frankly as we have here (because tact’s a friend that’ll seldom leave you sleeping on the couch).
We normally try to present items in no particular order; giving preference to no one, but—because we always like to give a shout out to vet-and-active-duty-friendly businesses—we’ll take a look at Navy Federal Credit Union’s Go Rewards card first. We like that it has no hidden fees, no activation fee, no monthly fees, and no purchase fee. The only real drawback (if you want to call it that) to this one is that its rewards aren’t big enough to compete with regular credit cards. Since we’re talking about cards that keep guardrails up so you don’t go sailing off the cliff here, however, that hardly seems like an issue. It’s got what it takes under the hood where it counts and that’s what makes it an easy recommendation for us.
To sign up for their Go Rewards card, you’ll need a Navy Federal Credit Union membership. Only active duty, retired military service members and their families can get qualify to get one, but all three should find it reasonable, if not excellent for everyday use. Once you’ve ordered, received and activated your card, you have the option of adding one companion cardholder for a significant other, your senior parent, a caregiver, a nanny, or someone else. You can have up to five cards. This means that you could keep the budget better organized by designating one for groceries, one for household items, and another for weekend/holiday stuff. You can read more about the specifics here.
Next up we have the American Express Serve® Cash Back card. This prepaid lets you earn 1% cashback. That 1% is then applied to your account—and can be used for future purchases (every time that you buy something). This may not compete with the top cash-back regular credit cards, but we think it’s not too shabby for a prepaid. There is a monthly fee of $7.95 (unless you live in New York, Texas or Vermont), but spend a minimum of $795 on the card each month and you’ll earn enough cash back to make up for it. Better still, once you’ve made that up, any additional earnings are pure gravy.
We should mention that cash reloads can cost up to $3.95, depending on which retailer you use. Fortunately you have the option of loading money onto your card via direct deposit or through a bank transfer for free, however, so it’s not really hard to avoid those. In a bind, if you need cash, there’s no fee for withdrawing money from one of the 32,000 ATMs in the MoneyPass ATM network. If you run by an ATM that’s outside of the network, you’ll be charged a $2.50 fee per transaction by American Express (and whatever fee the ATM operator charges). We like the direct deposit, fraud protection and subaccounts (but FYI, purchases made on a subaccount don’t generate cashback).
For saving, money, we also like the Mango Prepaid Mastercard®. This card’s savings account has an annual percentage yield (APY) of up to 6% on balances as high as $2,500. There’s a 0.10% APY on higher balances. Other prepaid cards also allow you to set money aside in a separate savings account, but it’s rare to find a card that’ll reward you more for doing so than this one. To get the 6% APY, you’ll have to make at least $1,500 in “signature purchases” every month with a balance of at least $25 in your savings account at the month’s end. “Signature” purchases are transactions that you don’t use your PIN for (to authorize the sale).
While there is a $5 monthly fee, you can waive it if you receive at least $800 in direct deposits monthly. Domestic ATM withdrawals will cost you $3, in addition to any fee(s) an ATM operator charges. Planning ahead and loading the card from home should keep this to a minimum (if not prevent it altogether), though. Bonus: For every friend you refer who enrolls, activates an account and receives a recurring direct deposit, you can get $10. More information on this card can be found here.
We’ll round out this little survey of prepaids with MOVO®’s Digital Prepaid Visa® Card. Fraud protection for debit cards isn’t always as tough as most credit card security, but this MOVO Visa has extra safeguards. It allows you to create virtual cards tied to your main account that can be used wherever Visa is accepted. These temporary card numbers make it easier to pay safely. You can also add your card information to Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Google Pay. Yes: You’ll still get a physical card in the mail to use for in-store shopping. It usually comes seven to 10 days after your account is approved.
You can load it for free via direct deposit, from your bank account or with cash at participating retailers (though some retailers may charge its own fee on the transaction. You can also load from PayPal withdrawals, Venmo balances, mobile check deposits (although there’s a 3rd-party fee for instant processing), and crypto-facilitated transfers. You can convert cryptocurrencies like bitcoin to cash in a Movo account by using a blockchain-based MovoCoin (a free, one-time secondary virtual card with its own card number). There’s a fee of 2% and $2 per transaction to do that, though.
We like that the MOVO® Visa® card doesn’t have a monthly fee. The drawback to this may be that if you go more than three months without activity, a $4.95 inactivity fee is charged (every month) until you resume activity or close the account. Withdrawals from the 6,000 ATMs comprising the Visa Plus Alliance network won’t cost you anything, but you’ll pay at least $2 at other ATMs (plus whatever fee the non-network ATM operator charges). To get started, you’ll just need to download the Movo app from either the Apple or Google Play app store. There’s an option to sign up from within it.
In terms of reasserting yourself and establishing better spending habits, yes, you can use a prepaid credit card to contribute toward putting the brakes on, at least. If you have your impulse spending under control, it’s always wise to start building barriers for keeping it from crashing back through your finances all over again. Prepaid credit cards aren’t necessarily ladders for climbing out of the hole, but like quick-dry concrete, they can stop you from splurging and digging any deeper.
That initial step can prove itself invaluable in the long run, as a growing number of folks are learning. A study has suggested that 85% of adults are actively looking to get their spending habits under control and their budgets back in order. Like some of them, you may want to consider pairing a prepaid debit card (or two) with a traditional bank account to add an extra layer of the organization—as well as anti-impulse-spending security—to your finances.
Prepaid cards can almost literally be lifesavers. Nevertheless, if you’re looking at rebuilding your credit score, a secured credit card is probably a better option. You have to make a deposit when you apply for a secured credit card, but they are 100% actual credit cards; they can get the reckless back into trouble fast, so please proceed with caution. You definitely should wait until you’re absolutely sure that you can trust yourself with a full-on credit card account before starting this step.
It might be tempting to try to use a prepaid card for pre-authorization and security deposits, but we don’t recommend it.
While it may be very possible, you may not like the outcome: If you offer a card for the deposit on services like a hotel room, a car rental, or an in-flight purchase, the company involved may lock funds on the card for the duration of the stay/rental/et cetera. When this happens, you can’t use it (for anything else) until after the final bill has cleared.
As we’ve said, if your money act has always been together, you still might want to consider getting a prepaid card (and no: we’re not getting anything for saying so). The shrewdest of budgeters can still be surprised by situations that come suddenly, making the temptation to risk long-term debt through short-term card payments stronger than they’d previously believed it could get. At their worst—even if you doubt that you could ever find yourself in that boat—prepaids can help you keep money much better organized. They can help curb the spending of less discerning loved ones, too.
If an unforeseeably dark personal financial day comes and (yes—even you) find yourself pondering throwing it all away on plastic binges, having a prepaid set aside could help you tide yourself over until the urges pass. Would Odysseus have lashed himself to the mast with a prepaid card tucked within his to gain order to resist the siren’s incessant urges to “charge Pay-Per-View?” It’s hard to say… But the famously wise fictional hero probably would’ve given it some serious thought, at least.
Could you use a getaway from base life—that won’t break your bank account?
Believe it or not, even today, it’s possible for U.S. military personnel to vacation on a shoestring budget. We’re not saying you’ll be seeing the Riviera from the back of a Rolls Royce, but it really is doable. The secret is not blowing half your budget on where you sleep. Even if you use sites like Hotels.com, commercial lodging ain’t cheap nowadays.
So what’s a man or woman in uniform to do? Where can you and your family stay that won’t wreck your wallet? The answer is “Uncle Sam’s place.”
No—we don’t mean the local barracks: we’re talking about Armed Forces Recreation Centers (AFRCs). They’re joint-service facilities that are operated by the Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Programs. Located all over the globe, they can be found everywhere from oceanfront retreats to big cities to mountain-top getaways and popular resort towns. As a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, you and your family are eligible to stay at a place that rivals most commercial hotels and motels but costs a fraction as much to stay overnight in. Military retirees, National Guard and Reserve members—as well as Department of Defense civilians quality, too.
These are full-service resort hotels. The room rates are based on your rank, pay grade, duty status, room size, and/or the room location. They have fitness areas and business centers. They can easily accommodate families, individual travelers, and larger groups. They also host weddings, reunions and organizational meetings, too. It’s not hard to understand why some of them fill up fast, so we recommend making your reservations as far in advance as you can.
We’re going to take a look at a few of them, but the number of outstanding destinations that have AFRC is longer than we have space to cover here. That’s why you should look for yourself to see where the nearest ones are to the place(s) that you’d like to get away to. You might even find out that there’s one (or more) within driving distance of a place you’ve always wanted—but never thought you’d be able—to go.
Keep in mind: Some AFRCs give priority to active-duty military members on orders (rather than to leisure travelers). The rules can vary widely by lodging facility and service branch, too. Some places may allow pets, but those policies vary, so you should probably make sure that cold-nosed guests are welcome before you book a stay. Although their mailing addresses can often be found on their brochures or websites, it’s a good idea to ask for a GPS-friendly address when you make your reservation. Especially if you’re driving from the airport, this should help you find it more easily.
We can’t recommend using the money you save on a limousine to get around while you’re there, but you should at least be able to relax and enjoy yourself. Every day that you’ve shown up in-uniform is a day on which you’ve earned it.
Every branch has a department that should be able to give you handy information for vacation planning. Before taking any other steps, it’s usually worth your time to get in touch with your local office: The U.S. Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation is the G9 Division overseeing programs and services for soldiers and their families. Marines will want to reach out to Marine Corps Community Services for AFRC-related information. Sailors can contact Navy Gateway Inns and Suites to learn what they can. Airmen should check in with Air Force Services and Guardians should look up Coast Guard Morale, Well-Being, and Recreation to get their latest. Nobody sane plans a vacation because they’re in the market for wasted time and frustration. That’s why we’re hyping doing a little research before you commit to trip your plans.
Before we go any further, just so that we can say that we’ve covered it, there are some nice on-base lodging options available at various locations around the country. We are not knocking those places—or the good folk who run them—at all, but here and now, we’re primarily looking off-base; toward getaway destinations for those who could use a day or more away from all things work-related. We’ve been there and done that, so we get it—and we want to help. As a result, we’re focusing on places a little further off the beaten path (than 30 yards from the commissary).
Edelweiss Lodge and Resort in Germany’s Bavarian region offers breathtaking Alpine views, outdoor fun in the unforgettable areas, biergartens (beer gardens; outdoor areas in where beer and food are served) and European castles. There’s so much to see and do that most visitors don’t stay in their rooms much (unless they caught a bug on the flight over). When you need a breather, you retire into comfortable accommodations with a one-of-a-kind view. Children 17 years old and younger can stay free of charge with you.
Most families have at least one member who craves a Net connection like a fish needs water, so they’re covered, too: free WIFI is included, complements of Stars and Stripes. Pup owners will be pleased to know that dog-friendly accommodations are available, too. If you have some kind of Julie Andrews/Heidi fantasy—we’re not sure we’d like to hear about it, but—it’s Germany we’re talking about, so there’s probably someplace where you can swirl around among the flowers, singing or yodeling to your heart’s content.
Skiers and sightseers should have a lot of fun, as well. Edelweiss is located 56 miles from Munich and 34 miles from Innsbruck. It doesn’t get anymore Alpine than that (not in Deutschland, anyway). You can hit the slopes, snap gigs of pictures along a tour and a whole lot more. The nearby Zugspitze, a 9,718-feet-tall mountain, is the country’s highest elevation. Its peak offers a 360° panoramic view that includes mountain peaks in four countries. It’s also home to three glaciers.
Closer to home, in Hawaii, Hale Koa Hotel is a retreat for military members and their families on the shores of Waikiki Beach. With or without snorkeling gear, we’re talking wall-to-wall, sand, surf and palms. You’re not gonna’ find a better value on Waikiki Beach for your money, room-wise, either. Each one is roughly the same size, sleeps up to four adults and has full in-room amenities. The biggest difference between the rooms is the views. You can request a good view, but their room locations and bedding configurations center around availability, which’s why they’re assigned at check-in.
If you can’t see much out the window, you’ll still be in Hawaii! Beaches some folk would kill to visit are within easy walking distance. The shore isn’t rough, so the place is a swimmers’ paradise. There’s also a reef not far from the shoreline. That helps break up the surf, so reef fish and turtles often swim in to visit snorkelers. Koa Beach Service is the on-site beach concierge, almost like room service on the sand—at special military-discounted rates. Closer to the hotel, Koa Oasis is “a perfect spot for refreshing snacks and cool cocktails and drinks.”
We should probably mention that Hale Koa Hotel is a smoke-free hotel, too—including their lanai (or balconies) and their common areas. We’re not pointing this out to pick on smokers. It’s just best if everyone knows about this in advance. Ideally, we want everyone who goes enjoying their best time possible. Hawaii is not entirely smoke-free, for the record (if you don’t mind a little sulfur with it): Mauna Loa and Kilauea and both among the most active volcanoes in the world.
If your family’s succumbed to Disney-itis, don’t despair: a trip to Disney World doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Shades of Green is another AFRC in Orlando that’s a part of the Walt Disney World complex. It offers discounted tickets for all Mickey-related venues and affordable room rates. To spare you the hassle that parking can become (especially at closing time), they have complimentary buses running to and from the parks and ticket center. You can also get the Extra Magic Hours perk, which can up the enjoyment factor by letting you enter/stay while those who don’t have it can’t.
You might or might not want to consider an off-season stay during nontraditional vacation months like January, too: these can sometimes mean further bargains that aren’t offered during peak tourism seasons. You may want to save that money for when you’re hauled in a tractor beam over to Galaxy’s Edge, Disney’s Star Wars area. Even the littlest of Jedis can tire of the same old same old after a while, so we suggest getting the 3- or 4-day park hopper deals: these are basically open passes to the Magic Kingdom, the Animal Kingdom, Blizzard Beach, and more. You can visit one area, hit a second when you feel like it, and then crisscross back and forth from a third if you want. It’s kind of a Disney park buffet.
You can buy park hopper tickets on-base at your military installation’s ticket office, but Shades of Green sells them, too. You can’t use these tickets in combination with any other promotion or discounts, but they’re still not too bad. You’re also limited to six tickets (which are not valid on certain blockout dates), so you’ll want to check your desired destination’s schedule out and then make your purchase; not vice versa.
When you’re looking for an inexpensive getaway, you can’t beat the great outdoors. Did you know that Uncle Sam offers free national park admissions for active-duty military personnel?
The continental U.S. is dotted with numerous beautiful places to hike, picnic, camp, fish, bicycle… Whether you’re vacationing with family, grabbing a weekend getaway as a couple or looking for a little time alone to reflect, there’s something for you. They’re usually with a drive from most duty stations, but there’s always Space-A if you’d need to fly to get the ones that interest you most.
Even in our phone-obsessed, technology-tethered era, there’s still a lot to be said for the eye-catching colors of peak fall foliage, the majestic snows of winter, the new blooms of spring and—of course—summer’s greenery. That’s why most wallpaper sites offer extensive nature sections. There’s still nothing like the positive sensory overload of singing birds, the sound of rustling pines, a breeze over your skin and the sights of a real-life forest, though. Even with today’s top-of-the-line augmented reality (AR) gear, imitations just can’t compete.
Parents should also note that when our parents spoke of getting out to breathe the fresh air, they knew what they were talking about. It turns out that regular exposure to the out-of-doors has proven beneficial effects on children as they are developing. We can’t make vitamin D without exposure to sunlight (even though yes: too much sunlight can cause cancer). Unstructured play time in natural environments is also good for the growth of executive function, which is the cognitive category under which problem-solving and other forms of creativity fall under.
We can’t seal them in bubble wrap for life. Risk-taking is also a facet of development that the outdoors all but screams for. None of us wants to have to rush Junior to the ER, but he or she needs to test their wings in a non-central-air-conditioned environment once in a while (and it’s possible to keep an eye on them without being obvious about it). Real-life challenges will be much less daunting for adults who’ve explored their strengths and weaknesses as children.
It’s one thing to appreciate the appealing woodland textures of a video game, but it’s another entirely to get out there for ourselves like we’re designed to. We’re not supposed to operate indoors 24/7. At its very best, life inside leads to dried-out skin and other maladies regular trips outside can prevent. Some reports even suggest that problems with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), diminished learning abilities, lowered creativity, and poor mental and emotional health can result from never going outside.
Nobody ever dies uttering, “if only I’d stared more at those cubicle walls” or “all those chances to snore in front of the TV—wasted!”
We’re all here a very short time (in the grander span of things). If we don’t get out and see the wild while we can, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves when we’re too old, physically to do it.
Annual passes are available here at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) store. For the general public, they’re sold for $80 as America the Beautiful passes, but for active-duty military personnel and dependents, volunteers (who’ve served 250 hours within the current year) and 4th graders, they’re free! Most members of the U.S. Reserves and National Guard qualify, as well. You just have to present proper identification like a Common Access Card, Uniformed Services ID Card, or DoD Form 1173 card to get yours. They are obtained in-person from federal recreation sites that charge entrance or standard amenity fees.
To be specific, qualified free annual pass applicants include current members of the United States Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and National Guard (and their dependents, provided that they have a current DD Form 1173 ID). U.S. Military Cadets and U.S. Active Reservists (even if not presently deployed) are also eligible. You guys are at the cool kids’ table—because you deserve to be.
Sorry foreign military members (even if you’re stationed in the U.S. and have a CAC card), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) employees, Public Health Service (PHS) members, Inactive U.S. Reservists, Civilian military contractors, Civilian military employees, and U.S. military retirees: it’s nothing personal, but you’re not included on this one. Veterans, unfortunately, you don’t qualify either, but if you are 62 or older, you are eligible for a SeniorPass. If you have a permanent disability, you probably also qualify for an AccessPass (which’s free for a lifetime).
The Annual Military Passcovers entrance into Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service sites that charge entrance fees (and amenity fees) at Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation sites. It will also admit you and any accompanying passengers in a private (non-commercial) vehicle at per-vehicle fee areas. At sites that charge an entrance fee per person, you and up to an additional three adults are good to go.
At Federal recreation sites that don’t have an entrance station(s), you need to display your pass or show proof of pass ownership to compliance officers. This is done one of two ways: The first is with a hanging version of your pass, which can either be displayed on your rearview mirror (using a free hangtag) or on your dashboard with the signature side visible. If you own an open-topped vehicle (like a jeep or motorcycle), the second way’s probably best. This just means obtaining a free decal to attach to your vehicle for proof of payment at sites that don’t have a staffed entrance station.
If you ride a bicycle onto a federal recreation site that charges an entrance fee, generally speaking, you’re covered there: a pass owner and up to three other bicyclists can enter for free. It’s a good idea to do your homework before you roll out, though. We’d check with the recreation site that you plan to visit since there can be differences in the way that a pass is honored between different sites.
The down side is that if you’ve already paid for an annual pass—and you qualify—but you didn’t know that you could get one for free until you read this, that money’s done went: Refunds aren’t issued. Ditto if you get to a site, realize you’ve forgotten your pass and wind up paying an entrance or use fee. Try not to leave yours behind. It’s also worth noting that not all public lands sites issue passes (many, but not 100%). It’s a good idea to read the complete listing of sites that issue and accept the interagency Military Annual Pass, in a PDF file here.
The Pass doesn’t cover expanded amenity fees for things like camping, boat launching, parking, special tours, special permits or ferries. Some facilities and activities on federal recreation lands are managed by private concessionaires. These companies charge for their services as any civilian business does, so the pass doesn’t apply toward their services. If you go in waving yours and demanding a corn dog, we never knew you.
The big Ys, Yellowstone, and Yosemite, should both be high on your gotta’-see list. Established on March 1, 1872, Yellowstone stretches from Idaho to Montana to Wyoming. Its massive size seems appropriate for the firstborn among America’s national parks. The geysers, including Old Faithful, have sometimes been viewable on Webcams, but that’s nothing like seeing eruptions happen live and in-person. If you’ve ever wanted to see what the U.S. looked like before the Industrial Revolution, wildlife included, this is a great place to look at. Rumor has it that Yogi Bear’s animated home park, “Jellystone,” received more than a little inspiration for its appearance from the spectacular landscapes of Yellowstone.
Animal show/channel fans won’t want to miss the once-in-a-lifetime excitement of hearing real wolves howl. They’re most active at dawn and dusk. A 2015 estimate says that there were over 528 wolves within the area at that time and their home range within the park is 185–310 square miles (300– 500 km2). They typically range from 4 to 6 feet from their noses to their tail tips, but don’t worry: even the big ones aren’t bad. They’re definitely not puppies to be fed or petted, but their primary prey is hooved animals. About 90% of their winter diet is elk and in summer they mostly eat more deer and smaller mammals.
Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls, mountains and a certain rootin’ tootin’ cartoon character whose name derives from it. You can find grand meadows, deep valleys, a vast wilderness area, ancient giant sequoias, and a lot more within its nearly 1,200 square miles. First protected in 1864, it offers RV campsites (though no hookups of any kind—presumably to preserve the environment and visitor immersion), group campsites and even horse campsites. Camping spots have to be reserved in advance and reservations are first-come-first-served, so we definitely recommend booking as far ahead of time as you can.
If more of a Pacific island environment sounds better, Hawaii is home to some wondrous natural national treasures. Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail, for instance, is a 175-mile corridor and trail network of cultural and historical significance established in 2000. It traverses hundreds of ancient Hawaiian settlement sites and over 200 a hupua’a (traditional land divisions). Hilo is home to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, which protects some of the most unique biological, geological, and cultural landscapes in the world. Its borders extend from sea level to the summit of Mauna Loa (13,677 feet) and encompass the summit of Kilauea (4,091 feet), too. Mauna Loa and Kilauea are two of the world’s most active volcanoes.
We’re only scratching the surface here in terms of what your country has to offer in terms of striking natural beauty. That’s putting it pretty mildly. There are many more places that belong on this list every bit as much, but we simply didn’t have time and space to include details on them all.
When in doubt, contact a site directly if you have any questions about pass acceptance and fees. The Forest Service (whose site is here), the National Park Service (whose site is here), the Fish and Wildlife Service (whose site is here), the BureauofLandManagement (whose site is here), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (whose site is here), and the Bureau of Reclamation (whose site is here) honor the Annual Pass at sites where Entrance or Standard Amenity Fee(s) are charged.
There are parks and campgrounds nationwide that show their appreciation for military personnel by offering two complimentary nights’ stays. Together they’re a part of Tents for Troops, a pay-it-forward program that allows RV parks, campgrounds, RV manufactures, RV dealers, industry associations, industry suppliers, and media outlets to show their gratitude. Some parks may offer RV units or park models for military guests, as well.
Another patriotic, military-friendly site campers should check out is Jellystone Parks (the Website for a chain of real-life campgrounds named after Yogi’s cartoon home). Each place is individually owned, but the cooler ones (who’ll give you discounts) are here. Many of them host “Hero Weekends” with special activities and offers to military and first-responders.
You may not think “camping” when you hear the word “Disney,” but their Armed Forces Salute program offers deals on park tickets and up to 40% off stays at their Resorts. Most people don’t realize, though that Disney’s camping grounds are included in the deal. Disney’s Fort Wilderness in Florida offers 750 acres of pine and cypress forest with deer, rabbits, ducks, and armadillos roaming the area.
For deals on everything from fuel to roadside assistance, insurance, food, and much more, check out the GoodSam Club. They make it possible for campers and RV enthusiasts to save money at over 2000 different locations around the U.S. Veterans and active-duty military personnel can receive a free membership (that normally costs $27-$60), too.
If you have to fly to the park or campground of choice, have you considered chartering a private plane? We know: You’re thinking, “That’s for rich people! I don’t have that kind of mon-…” but just wait (because here’s where it gets cool): All you need is a group of travelers to split the fee with. They can be friends, people from your unit, neighbors, business associates… as long as they aren’t folk you’d mind being stuck in a small aircraft with, you’ll be good to go. As long as you’ve agreed about the day/time to be back for the return flight, everybody can go in a different direction once you’ve landed.
We’re not knocking Space-A or regular commercial flights, but let’s be honest: there’s just no comparing those means of air travel with flying in this kind of style and comfort. If you’re all military/vets, sometimes you might even get a discount on the whole thing (so it can’t hurt to ask, anyway).
When you get to the park, please remember that the best philosophy is to “take nothing but pictures and leave only footprints behind.” This is the decent thing to do for the sake of visitors who’ll come after you—but it can genuinely save the lives of local wildlife, too: Critters like bears (or even large raccoons) that get overly used to handouts or finding careless trash can become beggars, nuisances or worse. The least behaved (or among bears, the most intimidating-looking, even if they’re generally harmless) often have to be shot.
Let’s show our state parks some love before we wrap up, too: many of them offer natural wonders much closer to home. With appreciation for places as famous as Death Valley, sometimes you just don’t have the time for or interest in a weeklong excursion. We’ve been there and done that, which’s why we’re pointing out the fact that many, many state parks within a day’s driving distance of a given duty station offer discounts for active-duty military personnel and veterans who bring their ID.
Everywhere from Alaska to Florida and Maine to Hawaii has a surprising amount of freaking gorgeous state parks. They encompass more than 18 million acres and whether you’re a hobby fisherman, a skier, or just somebody wanting to find a quiet place to enjoy nature, there’s probably a state park that offers your perfect, memorable day off. Most state parks offer their own day and annual passes, as well as licenses for hunting, fishing, and boating.
Some may require special passes depending on the activities that you plan on doing there, like primitive camping or RV stays. That’s not tough to research ahead of time, though. Florida, for example, has over 150 state parks from which to take your pick. They include beaches and trails including the Tallahassee-St.MarksHistoricRailroadTrail, which’s great for biking, hiking and horseback riding. Active duty military, National Guard, reservists and veterans all get a 25% discount off of all Florida state parks’ entrance fees.
For generations, life in Maryland has encompassed the ocean. Multiple Maryland state parks offer a chance to experience the rich marine wildlife and restful sea views, including Janes Island State Park, where visitors can crab and fish to their heart’s content. If you present a valid military ID all Maryland state park daily fees are waived.
If you’d like fewer waves and more peaches, Georgia’s state parks include Fort Yargo, which has a 260-acre lake, multiple RV sites, and lakefront yurts. Active duty and retired military who are also Georgia residents can get a 25% discount off of the daily or annual parks pass. You’ll just need your current military or retiree ID when you make your purchase.
For more information to plan with, a directory of state parks around the continental U.S. can be seen here.
Sometimes you’ve gotta’ get somewhere and there’s a lot of miles between you and there—way more than the dollar bills in your wallet: Is getting free military flights through Space-A worth it?
The short answer seems to be “definitely if you’re willing to wait for it.” Space-Available flights, AKA Space-A, can save service members and immediate family members, military retirees and some disabled veterans vital funds by providing national and international air travel opportunities for nada (or next to it). That’s right, free military flights. Sometimes a reservist(s) or a member of the National Guard and their family members can also qualify to fly without an active-duty sponsor, but that’s not common.
I’ll be upfront: it’s not necessarily a good fit for everybody. The environment’s not always what most would consider first-class by civilian commercial flight standards. If you’re expecting an in-flight movie, you’ll have to bring your own. You can wind up riding (with a seatbelt) in a space that’s used for cargo most days, but you’ll get where you want to go—and the price is hard, if not impossible to beat.
Space-A used to be known as Military Airlift Command or MAC flights back in the day, but for patient wannabe travelers, they can still be lifesavers, regardless of what you choose to call them. There is a degree of risk that you could wind up stranded involved, depending upon how quickly MAC may need to reprioritize flights. That’s not usually a dead end, though. The keys, more than anything, are staying well-informed and keeping your plans flexible.
If you can deal with the occasional unpredictability, Space-A travel is a resource you almost can’t afford not to make use of. Eligible categories include emergency leave unfunded travel (1); accompanied environmental and morale leave (2); ordinary leave, house hunting permissive temporary duty, relatives, medal of honor holders and foreign military (3); unaccompanied environmental and morale leave (4); students, temporary duty, dependents, post-deployment/mobilization respite absence (5); and retired, dependents, Reserve Officer Training Corps, and Civil Engineer Corps members (6).
The first step is simply to sign up for it. The best place for that is Air Mobility Command’s Website, where you can find a ton of useful information for prospective fliers (and the email Space-A mailing list to join for staying optimally up-to-date). Think long-term and sign up for all flights at all potential terminals (arrival and departure) as many as 60 days ahead of your expected travel date. Many retirees and their dependents do this around 50-55 days out because those who have been on the list for longer get to board ahead of others in the same category.
The next major step is to wait, keeping as informed as you can to avoid bad surprises. When the big day arrives, you show up to the terminal bags-in-hand, with your paperwork signed, having parked your car (and corralled any dependents). Make sure that you arrive at least an hour before your prospective flight’s passenger roll call. You’ll want to check the terminal’s online schedule regularly even once you’re there too since flight plans and the roll call can change suddenly.
When it’s finally boarding time, passengers will load according to their travel category (not according to rank). If your requested flight still has some space, terminal staff will help you board and get ready for takeoff. Hopefully it’s unlikely, but if you should get bumped, don’t worry: you will still have sign-up time seniority (despite the fact that your category doesn’t change) for future Space-A flights. Just ask a terminal attendant in order to be considered for all flights headed where you want to go. Throughout this process, keep one thing in mind–if free military flights were easy, everyone would do it!
As long as you don’t behave like it’s Fleet Week (and you’re halfway through a bar crawl) at the terminal, you should be okay. There are a couple of other considerations, though.
1) Try to avoid flying during school breaks and on drill weekends. Many families predictably schedule their vacations around breaks and (big surprise) drill time is normally a flights-are-full time. It’s worth the effort to call ahead to the terminal’s base. You can ask if the local Guard or reserve unit will be drilling on your target weekend. Checking the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) school calendar for seasonal breaks can’t hurt, either.
2) Don’t set your heart on a traditional civilian flight. It happens—it just doesn’t happen regularly enough to bank on. The government will sometimes contract with civilian airlines for troop movement, making a Patriot Express flight available for Space-A (which will charge you, on average, $20-$35 to get aboard). The rest of the time there’s a good chance that your sky chariot will be something like a C-130; big enough to transport vehicles in and louder (even on the inside) than any commercial airline cabin you’ve ever been in.
You may have a little more legroom, too: civilian airlines are forever trying to cram more and more paying customers into cabins of the same size with each new design, but Uncle Sam’s rides typically keep the same specs, generation after generation.
3) Don’t plan to return on a Space-A flight if you have a schedule to keep! Since Space-A flights are unpredictable, you need to be prepared to buy a return ticket on the other end.
Hopefully we did not scare you off from the idea after reading the information above. If flying Space-A was known to be fatal, millions of people wouldn’t use it every year. What it lacks in amenities it makes up pretty nicely for with the price and—if you’re open to seeing your ride in a military transport plane as a new experience—the cool factor.
There are a few things that you can do to maximize your benefit from and enjoyment of the flight. The first one is simply being thorough: as you near your desired travel date, call the terminal and double-check your status on the list, giving the attendant the day and time that you signed up. Taking notes of the conversation in order to have a paper trail can help avoid potential miscommunication later, too.
Regardless of where you stand in regard to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook can be an invaluable source of information at times. To keep as far ahead of the game as possible, you may want to monitor military passenger terminals’ pages. This doesn’t mean checking every one daily; it just means reviewing them now and then as they show up on your feed. An established habit of this comes in handy when it’s time to plan a trip. This is a great way to know what frequent destinations your local military flights travel to!
This is gonna’ sound crazy, but hear me out: Sometimes the shortest distance to an object is a not-entirely-straight line. It can help to be open to flying Space-A most of the way to your destination without going directly there. If, for instance, you’re headed to Europe from North America, it’s worth considering a flight to a base in a country that’s close to where you want to go… and then taking civilian transport the rest of the way.
Speaking of civilian transport, before your departure date nears, it’s a good idea to look into getting an international driver’s license. The reason why is that a U.S. driver’s license won’t always allow you to rent a car when you’re overseas. There are sites out there purporting to offer them when they’re really scams, so be careful. One legitimate source is AAA.
I should warn you: when you’re flying on the government’s dime, be ready for abrupt unforeseen climate encounters. For example, if you’re psyched to hit the beaches of Florida, good for you… but if the plane you’re on gets rerouted for an emergency in Alaska, you’ll be happiest if you brought something warmer than beachwear. Space-A’s primary mission is to fulfill our military’s needs—ahead of individual passengers’ desires. Nobody gets special treatment.
Pro Tip: While you’re at it, bringing along a pillow, small sleeping bag, blankets (and even a yoga mat) can pay off big time if there’s any chance that you’ll want to sleep during a long flight. Most crews will allow you and your family to spread out once you reach cruising altitude.
Additionally, some crews can provide military-issue earplugs, but you might prefer to bring your own or some headphones with noise-canceling capability. Another advantage of having warmer clothes along, even if you’re going someplace warm and don’t get rerouted, is in case the flight itself just gets cold. Even when it’s summer on the ground below, cabin temps can drop significantly at higher altitudes.
It’s an older-than-dirt saying that “your attitude determines your latitude,” but it applies here, too: staying flexible (and planning ahead in order to be able to stay flexible) can keep your stress lower and make the trip better for everyone around you. Try to see alternate routes and delays as an adventure instead of hassles. So you want to see Rome but you have a layover in Greece first? Take some phone pictures and embrace the opportunity to sightsee! Lots of people spend entire their lives dreaming of going to either of your stops (and never will).
Last but not least, if your travel plans don’t seem compatible with the wait for a Space-A flight, you may want to do a TSA Precheck in order to shorten your time going through commercial airports. You can bypass some long security lines that way, keep your shoes on, hold onto your laptop, and so on. If you have family members under the age of 12, they can pass through the sped-up screening with you. Just use your Department of Defense ID as your known traveler number when printing your ticket at the airline counter.
To see other awesome military discounts and hacks, make sure you check out our other articles here.
Ahoy landlubbers! Are you ready to set sail on a kickin’ vacation cruise?
If you need the wind in your hair and smell of surf in your nostrils ASAP, we know how that goes, so we’ve got you covered. Many cruise lines cater to our nation’s finest with military discounts, so we’ll be taking a look at who’s got offers worth the time to check out. Whether you’re looking to escape cold, clouds and snow—or just put your feet up in general, we’re out to help you find good deals, have (hopefully) great times and avoid some hassles that may pop up for other vacationers.
These luxury liners definitely aren’t prison barges; you’re free to roam as you see fit, but there are a few small basic rules (mostly for safety) that we’ll be covering, too. Most of it boils down to “use common sense” and “if you need a crack pipe, don’t buy a ticket,” but we’ll get more specific in a little bit. There’s so much to see and do that we’ll also be surveying how to maximize your enjoyment by preparing beforehand (without having to schlep a pack mule’s worth of crap around in a bag for the whole trip).
We’re not saying that we’ll have you confining the captain to quarters and manning the wheel before all is said and done, but whether it’s sunny or rainy on-deck, we want you to have it made in the shade and relax.No matter where you live in North America, if there’s not a port nearby, there’s probably one within a day’s travel. Exotic destinations, good food, and gorgeous views await you—but keep in mind: like most things in life, it’s as much or more about how you spend the journey than whether or not an island has WIFI when you get there.
Before we go into planning your cruise, let’s briefly cover paying for it. Carnival offers an array of military discounts worth looking over. You’ll want to check their calendar to find their best bargain fares by date according to stateroom types, departure ports or destinations. After that, you just select the date for the day’s top sailing rates. Princess Cruises offers a benefits program of their own to current and former members of our armed forces. Prove your eligibility and you can receive up to $250 in onboard spending money for free.
Without further ado, let’s move on to the main event: Some of you love the sound of a cruise, but you’ve never been on one. That’s not a problem—we’ll just need to prep you about taking care of some stuff in advance. You don’t have to do any of what follows, of course, but some of these babies could mean the difference between enjoying a great cruise and killing the longest week/weekend of your life.
For starters, take a look at your ports beforehand. We definitely don’t recommend waiting until the day that you arrive at a place and play blind tourist: if you don’t research them (at least a little) first, you could end up overwhelmed and without the slightest idea of what to do for the next eight hours in-port. Most cruise lines seldom go beyond handing out a map of a town’s jewelry stores (or other vendors they may have special business agreements with). Even if you’ve booked a several hour-long activity, you could still find yourself having to kill several more hours afterward. That’s why it always pays to learn what you can before you’re there.
When embarkation day comes, play tour guide for yourself (especially you’ve never been aboard a ship). You’re going to need to be able to make your way around a15-deck mega-ship amid over 3,000 fellow passengers once you’re underway. That’s why you want to look over deck plans, ship review sand message boards on the Web to see what’s where before it’s time to set sail. If you know where restaurants and lounges are beforehand, you’ll be maxing and relaxing from day one—and watching everybody else wander like a zombie.
Pack wisely, too. Sudden downpours are not unheard of, especially in the Caribbean. Unless things get dangerously stormy, shore excursions will run on time, wet or dry. Nobody will force you to go to, but there won’t be do-overs, either. A waterproof poncho or lightweight jacket shouldn’t take a minute to pack before you leave home. Trust us: it beats being one of those folk sporting a garbage bag poncho after the bottom drops out (because they’re usually brand new bags, but it’s not a good look for anybody).
The next one is “try to bring along a filtered water bottle.” Once you’ve boarded the ship, the only water you’ll have access to is either bottled (and $6 a pop) or from the tap. Tap water is cheaper, but you’ll either have to wait in line to get it from the bar or in your room to keep filling the tiny glasses provided for the faucet in your room. In a nutshell, if you want to be able to sip water comfortably as needed, you’d best bring your own. Hydration’s always a must-do, but it’s even more important when you’re lying around in the sun all day. That importance doubles if you’re munching salty foods and drinking alcohol. While we’re not allowed to bring any water onto airplanes or cruise vessels, you can always pack the bottle, empty—and then fill it up once you’re past security.
A portable cell phone charger can be a lifesaver, too. Cruise ships (and most Caribbean islands), don’t have phone charging stations everywhere. It’s a safe bet that there would be long lines to use one if there were. If you use your phone to take pictures (like most of the rest of West today), you don’t want your phone dying just before you need it. Granted, you can always charge in your room—but what if the phone dies when you’re 30 minutes away from the ship? Nobody with good sense wants to have to backtrack so far just for that.
Even if you plan to be straight up chillin’ in a lounge chair 24/7, don’t forget to bring exercise clothes and sneakers.
Why? Because it’s a cruise: while the ship’s at sea, you’re going to have eons of time on your hands. Believe it or not, even folk who normally just want to loaf the whole time get restless after a while. Especially if you notice some nice workout facilities on board, you could wind up wishing that you had brought your gear at some point. It wouldn’t be smart to start growing a gut if you’re due back on the base when you get home, either.
Thankfully they’re not endless, but there are a few don’t-dos that we’d recommend avoiding.
The first one is hitting the buffet on the day that you first board the ship. Some people say that debarkation day is the worst day of a cruise, but for others, embarkation day can run a close second. Most people get up early, commute a while to the port, and then spend lots of time thumb-twiddling in a Spartan terminal. All these hours before the cruise tends to make most people hungry. That’s why the lines for the buffet will be long and chaotic (while everybody’s loudly discussing how little they know their way around). Instead of the pool grill or buffet, consider heading to a dining room. Things are bound to be peaceful and more relaxing there.
Cruise lines have universally banned smoking in cabins. Many have banned smoking on private balconies, too. Most cruise ships require smokers to take a hike in order to get their morning nicotine fix. We’re not beating up on you, smokers. It’s just that cigarettes are a fire hazard and ships have caught fire from them too many times. Some folk consider them a public nuisance, too. That’s why cruise lines want cigarette use limited onboard. You’ll need to head for a designated area of an upper deck (or specified lounge)in order to light up.
For those who didn’t get the message between the lines in the paragraph above, don’t light flames onboard the ship: No candles and no incense unless you want to wind up in serious trouble. While you’re at it, don’t iron your clothes or try to cook on a smuggled-in hot plate (which’s a terrible idea, anyway) either. High heat sources can be just as much of a fire hazard on a boat as a match or lighter. You’re on vacation, anyway: why bring any work with you that you don’t absolutely have to?
Don’t misunderstand us, though: you should be fine with a curling/flat iron or a hair dryer (as long as you don’t go crazy and try to cook with them). If you’re desperate for the atmosphere in your room, battery-operated tea candles can add a little visual atmosphere without endangering anyone, too.
Here’s one thing that most newcomers might not know to avoid: Never plug your hair dryer into the bathroom shaving outlet! There is only one outlet in your bathroom, but it’s for shaving only. The voltage isn’t right for a hair dryer, so you could blow a fuse by trying it out. If you don’t want to irritate your shipboard neighbors, dry your hair by the desk in your cabin. You don’t want to be known as the jerk that shorted out everyone’s lights for the rest of the trip.
Discretion is your friend: if you have an argument (or get romantic) with someone, everyone is going to hear it. Cruise ship cabin walls are thin enough to allow sounds to travel right through connecting and hallway doors. That’s why watching movies out loud at full volume in the wee hours of the morning won’t make you any friends, either. Always keep the balcony in mind, while you’re at it. Unless you close the curtains, you can very easily be seen (by crewmembers, other passengers and sometimes dock workers) as well as heard. It’s probably best to avoid leaving the bathroom without clothes on for the duration of the trip.
If you’d rather not sleep near people who hate you, you also want to avoid over-spraying perfume. Shipboard ventilation systems are nothing to write home about, especially in windowless cabins. There’s no official rule about this, but going light on the cologne—and maybe applying that tiny amount in the bathroom with the door closed—could spare you from losing potential friends. By the same token, a modest spray of air freshener in the bathroom, post-use, will keep everyone happier.
Don’t give in to the temptation to leave a balcony door open. We understand the lure of having the sounds of wind and waves lull you to sleep, but warm air coming in will cause your cabin’s AC to work harder and wasted energy on the ship. It can cause smoke alarms to go off inexplicably, too (despite the absence of fire and smoke), which cruise lines frown on as much as running up their electric bills. Lastly, if you open your cabin door while the balcony entrance is open, you’ll create a wind tunnel inside the cabin, sending all your dining reservations and any other loose papers notices flying.
We shouldn’t even have to say this—but we’ll assume it’s for the benefit of someone who’ll be sailing with you: Don’t steal towels, bathrobes, or other things from your cabin. These things are cabin amenities to be used; not freebies for taking home. The towels may be soft and that bathrobe may be a perfect fit, but it’s not yours for keeps. Ditto in regards to that coffee table book about the ship. It should all be outside your luggage when you zip it up.
Getting sticky-fingered can also diminish any discounts you’ve gotten: When the staff inventories your room and finds out that items have gone missing, they will charge you an inflated price. There’s no shame in wanting a souvenir from your trip, but your money is better spent buying something new in the gift shop if you think about it. Would you really want used linens that have been touched by hundreds of passengers before you? We’ll pass on the robe, too—because you never know what stains have had to be repeatedly—and diligently—washed out of it. Remember the buffet we mentioned? You can do the math.
If you use your cabin’s safe, make sure to check it before you leave the ship. It’s there in order for you to store your passport, cell phone, extra cash, and credit cards, but when the trip’s over, your odds of seeing any of these that you’ve left behind will be slim for days. It doesn’t matter if you missed something stuck in a corner/back or completely forget to check it at all: you don’t want to wind up cursing at an airport because—you’ve just realized that—your photo ID has just set sail for another Caribbean vacation without you. Everyone has to decide for themselves, but if you’re chronically forgetful, consider storing your valuable stuff in the suitcase under your bed.
Chances are that if you have younger children, somebody’s going to try to talk you into sailing with Walt. Disney’s Cruise Line offers military discounts, but not all the time. You’ll want to check periodically because these deals come and go. New sailings are posted every Monday, but to get your best deal, you can sign up for their email notices, too. Discounted military cruise rates are usually announced between 30 and 60 days out from each individual sailing.
You’ll have to pay off the full fare price within 70 days of the sailing date for most itineraries. Disney won’t allow you to convert a full fare to a military rate. The good news is that if you’ve already reserved and paid in full at the regular rates but you’d like to switch to the military rate, you can: you’ll just have to put the new (full) military fare on your credit card—and then cancel the original reservation and wait for a refund. Assuming that you have enough room on your credit card for it, you should be good to go.
Since most military-discounted rates are offered after the paid-in-full date has passed, you will only get a partial refund if you cancel a paid-in-full cruise. It’s usually 75% or less, but it varies with the time frame. While doing this can save you money, it’s obviously not as simple as canceling and rebooking. You can still save some money overall, even with the penalties. Since you’ll be canceling your original booking, however, you will lose everything in the transition: bye-bye stateroom choice, shore excursion reservations, dining reservations, and so on.
When you pay for the new booking upfront, you’ll have done so without the refund applied to your credit card for your old booking. That’ll have to come later. Normally Disney sets aside fifty staterooms of all categories for the military rates. The only exceptions are for the suites and lowest categories.
Has your credit score ever suddenly dropped—for no obvious reason?
The night I drafted this post, I was working late from home and started down an unlit tile-floored hall at night… Only to slip and very nearly topple backward into a large puddle of dog accident: Similar situation. Everything was fine and I’d actually been in a good mood up to that point. Sometimes circumstances beyond our control happen without warning, leaving us stripping off our favorite around-the-house pants for emergency use in mopping up a huge mess (to keep anyone from tracking critter splash everywhere else).
Puppy pee—like a credit score dip—happens. It’s never fun, but the good news is that both are survivable. Cargo pants wash (in hot water) and scores can be raised again. Neither can be done instantaneously, but they’re not the end of the world, either. Both, thankfully, are entirely fixable. When you habitually check your credit score (or you’ve signed up for credit score alerts), you can sort of become accustomed to credit score changes—and how they ebb and flow. As exciting as it can be to get an increase in your credit score, it can be just as alarming or discouragingto learn that it’s dipped, even if you knew to expect it sooner or later.
It can be difficult to pinpoint an exact reason for a drop because the credit score calculation system is pretty complex.Everyone’s credit score is based on information in their credit report. As a result, if your score drops out of the blue, it’s often because of a change to the information in your credit report. Unfortunately it doesn’t always have to be a big change for your credit score to descend, either. That’s why we’re going to look at a few possible reasons why someone’s credit score may drop.
Sometimes there’s a clear explanation and sometimes there isn’t. The most common reasons aren’t that difficult to guess at. If you know that a payment was more than 30 days overdue, there’s your answer, right there: Payment histories are the single biggest factor in determining a credit score. Credit card (and loan) payments that run more than 30 days late are always reported to the credit bureaus. The bureaus, in turn,make this reflectin your credit score. Anytime that a payment runs this far past when it was due, once that tardiness is noted on your credit report, your credit score, in all likelihood, is going to run lower.
It might be tempting to joke and say, “well that’s it, then: I just can’t pay anymore, period. That’ll fix it,” but don’t. That could only make things much worse. God forbid, but if you were brain damaged one day to the point of wanting to hurt your credit score (and maximize the damage), letting an unpaid account go to a collection agency would probably be your single best/worst move.
Falling behind on the payments to your non-credit accounts, like a phone or ISP bill, can get you a bad credit rep, too. The balance owed can be sent to a collection agency—and it’s a standard industry practice to include that data on your credit report. Wheneverthat collection shows up on the report, you could set a watch by the drop you’re soon to see in your score.
Sometimes, in a weird way, it drops for a reason that could ultimately be positive for you, long-term: Whenever they calculate credit scores, FICO categorizes people into different groups, known as scorecards. Your credit profile is compared to those of other people’s within your current scorecard. This is how theydetermine your credit score. It doesn’t sound like it should make sense the first time that you hear it, but your score mayactually go to the bottom of a different scorecard if any negative information falls off your credit report.
If it helps, think of this like going from one baseballleague up to another, slightly higher, level. You’re in an overallbetterleague, but you’re starting near the near the bottom of that new league’s rankings (where everybody begins).The downside of thisis that it’s pretty much outside of your control. The upside is that—as long as you keep paying your bills on time and keep your debt low—your credit score will improve. Just hang in there and keep swinging for the fences.
Have you made any expensive purchases lately? That could be a factor, too. Your credit utilization ratio; how much of your available credit is being usedis another major factor in how your credit score gets figured. A lot of people wind up surprised about this one, but if you make a big purchase on your credit card one month, you may see a credit score drop as a result.This can happen even if you pay the balance off in full on your due date because credit card companiesusually report card balances as of the last day of the billing cycle.
This means that the balance on your card statement becomes the balance that appears on your credit report. Relax, though: You can counter for the impact of high balances like this. You just have to pay down the amountASAP, avoid making charging anything else, and wait. That’s how you recoup those lost credit score points.
If one of your credit limits has been lowered, we have a possible culprit there, too.A lowered credit limit has the same effect as charging an expensive item does. Any time that you have a balance on a credit card with a low credit limit, your credit utilization goes up.This makes your credit score go down as a result.
Have you applied for a new credit account anytime recently?This can trigger dips, as well.Whenever you enter a new application for credit into the system, the generated inquiry is added to your credit report. Inquiries make up 10% of your overall credit score, so yes: applying for a new card can affect your credit score.While applying for new lines of credit will temporarily hurt your score, the increased credit limit is actually a good thing that can help raise it in the long run. If you don’t increase your spending, your utilization ratio will drop, which will likely help your credit score.Thankfully new applications only affect you for a year, too. As long as thatis the only inquiry thatyou make, your credit score should begin to recover, regaining ground in 12 months. When the dust settles, those hard inquiries will eventually roll off your report entirely, leaving you with an older, more diverse set of accounts (so don’t sweat it).
We know how it is: Sometimes you have to close out a card you signed for in youthful haste—because you’ve matured enough to read the fine print and learned that their APR is a killer. This is a wise move in the long run, but this can also affect your score for a time.Be careful, because if you close one out with a balance still on it, you’re looking at a dip in the near future.Sometimes a card issuer cancels a card on their end; by no choice of yours. That has the same effect. As far as your score’s concerned, who cancelled it matters much less than the fact that it the account itself was closed.
Another ultimately good thing that can initially look bad on a credit report is when a past bankruptcy finally falls off. This can happen 7 years after you declared it or 10 years after (if it was a Chapter 7 bankruptcy). The reason whyyou dip as a result is because you’ve probably been moved to a newer, better scorecard. Like we were talking about earlier, though—even though you’re in a more prestigious league (withpeople who haven’t filed for bankruptcy)—you’re starting out at the bottom. Working your way up here, just as you did in the old league, is certainly doable. You’ll just have to be patient, avoid making late (and when possible, minimum) payments, and so on.
There is one last category of score dippers: New derogatory marks. If you’re seeing a nose dive in your credit score, then you then you may have had one hit your credit report. Derogatory marks can cause a credit score to drop like a rock. Common reasons for their being issued include defaulting on a loan(s) (which gets listed after 120-180 days of non-payment), collections (which we discussed above), bankruptcies, repossessions or foreclosures, civil judgments (meaning a lawsuit that results in your owing a debt to a plaintiff), and tax liens (which the government puts against your housefor failing to pay taxes owed).
Don’t let this last category frighten you, though: While derogatory marks can stay on your credit report up to 7-10 years, their negative effects decrease over time. You might want to get in the habit of checking your credit every few months. This is the best way totry to make sure that there won’t be anything like thisimpacting your score.
Okay, granted, Oakley Standard Issue is not as cool as if General Dynamics sold F16s for $1000 (because that would make for awesome commutes—even if the neighbors hated us), but we’re talking about significant discounts off good looking, professional-grade eyewear. General D isn’t returning our calls in regard to the F16 discount idea. But when they do, we’ll let you know.
Whether you’re interested in shades that can take a beating when the heat’s on or just keeping the sun out of your eyes, you’ll be hard-pressed to do better. Oakley’s been supplying our heroes with protective eyewear for over 25 years. They’re not content to sit around get lazy. Their research and development are always ongoing, with the goal of making the best combat-ready frames and shades around. Take reasonable care of a pair and they’ll take care of you on the battlefield, in the woods, at a ballgame or when you’re just chilling in a lawn chair.
If you’re rolling your eyes, wondering why we’re giving you what sounds like a commercial, the answer is that this is a newsworthy deal: we’re talking about a hundred dollars or more off of what you’d pay for some of their best models from retailers like Amazon.com. Nolan, MilitaryTravelPro’s founder, has personally ordered over seven pairs of sunglasses from Oakley Standard Issue. Regular civilians need not apply, but Oakley’s Standard Issue (SI) Membership program is also open to federal and local law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical services personnel.
Oakley began their partnership with the U.S. Armed Forces in the 1980’s, before the Internet was a thing. The shared goal of their alliance has always been to develop new technologies that improve the performance, safety and comfort of our soldiers and other heroes. The eyewear maker’s inspired research eventually led to the creation of their Oakley Standard Issue line, which (rightly) is renowned both for offering unprecedented optical clarity and for maintaining ultimate-level protection.
At their research and production facility in Foothill Ranch, California, Oakley continues innovating new generations of products to better serve clients in theaters of war and beyond. When a technology that customers need doesn’t exist, they get to work making it into a reality. If Tony Stark were real, his company would probably make the best military-grade sunglasses available (with snarky built-in AIs and nanoparticle-adjusting smart tints). Since he’s not, the folks at Oakley have the best modern options (at Oakley Standard Issue membership deep discounts).
Oakley Standard Issue, or Oakley SI, is a division of Oakley, Inc. that’s specifically dedicated to serving heroes; fulfilling the specific needs of the U.S. Military, our government, our law enforcement, our firefighters and our EMS personnel. It’s this side of the house that offers its Oakley Standard Issue Membership program, which doesn’t just offer direct pricing. It includes some exclusive models and products that you won’t be able to find on the street. These include uniform-approved items, ballistic-rated eye protection (developed to meet or exceed military specifications), APEL- and SOEP-approved gear (with NSN codes), products featuring Military Prizm™ lens technologies (like Prizm™ Shooting and Prizm™ Maritime), special collections like Thin Blue Line and Thin Red Line, and special
Industry-collaboration-productions made in conjunction with Multicam®, Cerakote®, and others. They’ve been at this for decades, so you can expect integrity alongside their innovations.
How much does it cost? Nada: it’s 100% free, provided that you can prove your service. Once you sign up, you’ll gain access to Oakley Standard Issue products and other exclusives we’ve mentioned. Word on the street is that they ship quality goods fast for the money, too. If you’ve been thinking of investing in a pair of military-grade shades, don’t spend a dime until you’ve signed up. Oakley’s been known to offer free shipping on orders over a certain amount (like $75), to boot.
SI memberships are normally active for 12 months from the approval date, but members of the U.S. Military—including active, retired, and veterans—all receive lifetime memberships. The only caveat to the deal is that you can’t use an email address that ends in a .mil or .gov domain to sign up. As long as you avoid those, you should be good to go. Oakley weeds out would-be fakers by using SheerID.com, which matches your name, branch of service and email address to confirm that you qualify. Most military customers are verified instantly, but for the few that aren’t, document reviews can usually be completed within 5 minutes. As soon as they know that you’re you, you can start shopping for both prescription and regular eye gear, accessories, Oakley apparel, ballistic protection glasses for the ol’ gun range…
Applying is pretty straightforward. All you have to do is hit the page at Oakley’s Web site here. Next, you’ll create an Oakleysi.com password—and that’s it: you’re a full-fledged member. You can see all the cool promotions and gear that the private sector can generally only dream of drooling over. Just keep in mind the fact that you can’t share your account, because it’s non-transferable. With that said, once you get their confirmation, you’re all set. Don’t go into debt, but gear up to your heart’s content.
Oakley sunglasses famously feature Iridium-coated lenses to lessen the sun’s glare and provide superior contrast. They’re tough, but like any other product, there are a few rules for care and feeding. If you don’t already know, you’ll need to be careful when handling your Oakleys in order to avoid scratching the Iridium coating because it’s delicate.
It’s an excellent idea to keep them in their own case when you don’t need them. This ensures that you don’t drop them or leave them anywhere else. When they get dirty, be very careful about how you clean them. Water and mild soap are all you need. Be a cloth snob, too: anything other than microfiber is a bad, bad idea (no matter how tempting it can get to wipe them on your shirt in a pinch).
The obvious goal is to keep your sunglasses clean. Oakley sells lens cleaning kits that are both easy to use and affordable. Once you get one, you’ll want to do the daily cleanings with the kit and then store your sunglasses inside the provided Microfiber bag. The kit also includes a mini screwdriver, which you can use to (gently) tighten loose screws on your frame. While this is definitely a handy bonus, make sure that you take care never to strip the screw threads out by overtightening them.
Thankfully all is not lost if you do get a scratch or two, though: it’s very possible to remove scratches safely; without causing any further damage to your lenses. It might take a few minutes, but it beats the heck out of shelling out for new ones. You’ll just want to avoid using cleaning solutions (like Windex) in order to prevent warping the Iridium coating and making the problem worse.
Never try to clean Oakley lenses while they’re dry: that’s begging for additional scratches. You’ll always want to start the scratch removal process by wetting your sunglasses with water before trying any cleaning. Next, using mild soap, a little more water and a soft towel, gently start buffing the scratch(s) out with a circular motion.
If this doesn’t completely do the job, you’re not out of options, so don’t sweat it. You’ll just need to get yourself a mild toothpaste and a cotton ball. Rub the stubborn scratch gently in a circular motion for about 10 seconds and then rinse the lens with water. If it’s still there, repeat the process for 10 more seconds, rinse, and repeat… until the scratch is completely gone.
If it still isn’t gone after multiple attempts, grab some baking soda. You’ll need to make a paste that’s equal parts water and soda. Once you’ve done that, apply the paste to the lenses with a soft cloth and rub the paste into the scratch in a circular motion for a few seconds. The next step (surprise surprise) is rinsing and examination. If it’s still there, keep repeating the past and rinse steps until your lens is scratch-free again.
Once you finish, rinse your sunglasses clean and blot them dry with a soft clean cloth. If you’re boots-on-the-ground without a linen closet handy, you can always use the Microfiber bag that came with your Oakley sunglasses purchase, too. Just keep that baby as clean as you can beforehand—so that it’s crud-free when you need it.
More information on the day-to-day maintenance of and repairs to their sunglasses, Oakley has a pretty decent page here. It has nice diagrams with their instructions on how to remove or install their various kinds of lenses. It also includes details on keeping your goggles in good shape, washing and protecting your Oakley clothing and more.
At MilitaryTravelPro, we are all about Military Discounts like Oakley Standard Issue’s offerings. If you want to see other great discounts that we have found, check out this page.