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Vacation discounts

Making your military-discounted trip feel like it's full price

Many local and national tour companies offer military discounts ??" don’t forget to ask for yours. Photo courtesy Clipper Vacations

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Coupons. Percentages off. Hard dates and proof of ID - military families have all been there. And why not? When companies are offering up discounts (sometimes huge ones), why not take full advantage, right? You get to save cash while having a good time.

However, there are so many factors that go into planning a military family's vacation. There's finding time for leave (and getting it approved), booking rooms or packages that are discounted, and there's always the twinge of knowing that - last minute - it could all come to a screeching halt. After all, in the government's world, you never know when you or a loved one will get called into work.

Thankfully, there are ways to put these stressors behind you. To take full advantage of discounts, and to create a full-fun vacation ... but without paying full price. Consider it the best of both worlds, a combo that can be hard to come by in military life.

How to make your trip feel full-priced

Let's get started with military discounts. There are plenty of sites that offer them, as well as offices who will help you obtain. For resources on how to save, contact your local branch offices, including the MWR - they will have brochures and lists on the best places to save, or get to Googling.

You can also check out resort websites, which will list if they provide a discount with military ID. Or, just call and ask. Oftentimes you can get an even better deal by interacting with a person versus online.

Finally, check out Military Benefits ( where discounts are listed by the category. Sign up for email alerts and keep pages flagged for future trips while you're at it.

Feeling full-priced

One of the most obvious answers is to look for the best deals. Not necessarily the deepest discounts, per say, but the best experiences. Many resorts and locations will provide deals for military families ... that won't affect their trip. Look for brands that create a static discount, a free night with a weeklong stay for ID holders, etc. Not deals that create special timelines. This will keep you from making any potential scarifies on when or where you can travel.

Another step to enjoying your trip to the fullest is taking on activities you enjoy. Choose the restaurants you and your family like best, head to the activities you've been wanting to try, and so on. As long as you're truly doing what you like (and eating where you want), the discounts shouldn't matter; they're only an added bonus.

First, plan cuisines while looking for locations with sales; activities can be planned by looking at a list that only includes military-friendly stops. There are likely enough to choose from that you won't be left hanging.

On a similar note, choose the vacation spot you want to visit. Your trip shouldn't be based on what came the cheapest, instead, it should be a spot you and yours have been itching to conquer. Again, with enough folks offering military discounts, you should find a locale that easily fits the bill.

More on savings

In your planning stages, you can easily cut down costs ... a process that will help you spend more on what matters. For instance, if you want to stay in a suite, pack snacks versus shopping at gas stations to balance the budget. Or if you're flying instead of driving, find a friend who can drive and drop you off, so there's no need to pay parking fees by the day. You can also plan a five-day vacation instead of a full week. Even if you have the same time off work, use your remaining days to rest and recover before heading back to the grind. It's a move that can shave the trip's bill by hundreds, too.

Additionally, plan for hard travel dates. Nothing can cause stress to your upcoming trip like being on the hook for fitting into someone else's schedule. While you can save some serious cash (sometimes even getting there for free), there are no guarantees with a by-the-seat-of-your-pants setups. Tempting as they might sound, save yourself the trouble and the stress and book hard plans instead.

Each of these - and plenty more - can help you save funds, but won't take away from the vacation itself or give you that "budget trip" feel.

Lastly, enjoy your time

As a military family, you know more than anyone that trips can be few and far between. Sometimes, it's rare to get time together with the whole family. Take away chores and everyday responsibilities, and those days become even more precious. Be sure to make the most of these interactions ... rather than stressing about savings while doing it.

With so many available options, there's no denying that you can easily find ways to save on your family vacation. However, that doesn't mean it needs to feel like a budget trip, either. Remember these encouraging steps for ways to have fun and to take advantage of available discounts, no matter what might be your destination of choice.

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