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Tips for Military Families to Save Money on Travel

military families travel tips

Whether your military family loves travel or finds it a necessity since you’re always moving, there are resources available to defray costs and add value while you’re on the go.  Here are some travel tips for military families about services you may already know about.

You may be aware of services such as SATOTravel, SpaceA, and the USO Lounge, but we learned about some new things along the way.  Hopefully they’re as eye-opening for you as they were for us!

Travel Tips for Military Families to Save Money


CWTSatoTravel is the nation’s leading provider of travel management and fulfillment services to the U.S. Government. Located on military bases, SATO provides discounted travel arrangements for military members and their families. SATO offers you and your military family:

  • Negotiated rates on domestic and international airfare
  • Negotiated rates on hotel stays, both domestically and abroad
  • Travel Insurance
  • The “CWTSato To Go” travel app

Pro Tip: Use CWTSatoTravel and they will handle every planning detail for you including ensuring you take advantage of military benefits and savings offered on your trip.

To learn more about how SATO can save your military family money, and to locate your nearest office, please click here.

Space A Travel

Military members and their families may be eligible for free DoD flights via Space A, short for Space Available. Military flights occur every day, and for efficiency, the flights are filled to capacity. If a surplus exists after seats and cargo are filled, those on standby in various categories are eligible for FREE air travel. Here is how Space A can work for you and your military family.

  • Explore worldwide destinations. The most common destinations are in many parts of the US (including Hawaii and Alaska), Germany, England, Spain, Italy, Japan and South Korea. Less frequent destinations include South and Central America, Africa, and Australia. The best time of the year to travel is while kids are in school, as it is more difficult to find a seat during summer break. Schedules of available flights, days and times are posted online.
  • Establish which category you fall into. If you’re traveling as a family and your servicemember is with you, you are in category three. If your service member is deployed, you can still take advantage of travel as a dependent, you will just be bumped into category four. Full category information is available online.

Space A Categories (these determine order of selection):

  • Category 1 – Emergency Leave
  • Category 2 – Environmental Morale Leave (EML)
  • Category 3 – Ordinary Leave
  • Category 4 – Unaccompanied Dependents on EML
  • Category 5 – Permissive Temporary Duty and Students
  • Category 6 – Retirees
  • Bring required IDs and paperwork (passports, visas, immunizations if applicable). Active duty members can sign up for flights when their leave pass is signed, and dependents traveling unaccompanied will require a signed and dated Space A letter. Keep in mind that you may not secure a flight on your first or even second attempt, but if your travel plans are flexible, this makes a very cost-effective option. Required paperwork is outlined online.
  • Other need-to-know tips. If you score a flight, know that a Patriot Express flight is a traditional commercial option and will have food available. On military cargo flights, you may be in jump seats and have the option of purchasing a box lunch for about $5.00. It is also recommended that if on a military flight, you pack earplugs as the flight can be noisy.

What is EML? This program is designed to provide environmental relief from a duty station which has some “drawbacks” and to offer a source of affordable recreation otherwise not available. A large portion of this travel occurs in the Middle and Far East areas. 

If you’re willing to be patient and jump through some hoops, Space A can get you and your military family where you need to be for next to nothing, saving hundreds or thousands of dollars. Learn more here.

Pro Tip: If your service member is deployed, you can still use Space A Travel!


Long airport layovers (with or without kids) can be tiresome and challenging. It’s easy to spend far too much money on food, sometimes you have to pay for wifi, and all you want is a quiet place to grab a bite to eat and unwind. Good news — USO airport locations provide a relaxing lounge atmosphere for active duty military and their families. Here’s what you need to know.

  • It costs nothing to enter an airport USO lounge. Be sure to bring your valid military ID and simply sign in with one of the volunteers at the front desk.
  • Dependents are granted access without their primary service member, as long as an ID is provided.
  • The USO provides vouchers for free food, and offer coffee, free wifi, television, comfy chairs, outlets to recharge your devices, luggage storage, playrooms with toys and sometimes even sleep rooms for a quick nap (dependent on location).

Instead of roughing it in a food court or paying for an expensive lounge, take your milfam to the nearest airport USO during your next trip. To learn more, click here.

Pro Tip: Dependents may still use the lounge, even if the service member isn’t with them!

As they say, time is money. If you invest just a little bit of time and effort into locating and securing travel discounts and benefits for your military family, it can pay off in a big way. Hopefully, you found at least one of these travel tips for military families helpful. Bon voyage!

For other ways for veteran students or military families to Save Time and Money please go here.