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The Ultimate Guide to Airline Benefits for Military Families

Over the last eight years, my family and I have been the beneficiary of some incredibly generous military benefits given by U.S.-flagged air carriers. While these typically take the form of free baggage, there are other benefits the smart military family should try and utilize. Today, I’ll cover all the benefits given to service members from each of the major carriers in the U.S.

As far as eligibility to military benefits, each airline has different definitions of who qualifies. Airlines typically break military families into the following categories:

Read the (often vague) fine print available for your selected airline or call the airline before travel day to avoid any eligibility surprises at the check-in counter. Always bring your military ID and have your military dependents bring their ID as well, especially if they are traveling without you. Here’s a list of military benefits and the participating airlines:

Free TSA PreCheck

A surprisingly overlooked benefit, military members and their family members with Department of Defense (DOD) IDs have free access to TSA PreCheck. Simply enter your DOD ID number from your ID card into the Known Traveler Number field on any TSA PreCheck participating airline and you’ll be able to use the expedited security line. Family members aged 12 and younger can go through the PreCheck line with a traveling adult family member who has PreCheck on their boarding pass.

Airfare Discounts

I’ve routinely called carriers over the last eight years in hopes of finding a magical military discount, but usually come up empty. While the legacy carriers United, Delta, and American have what can be referred to as military fares and a military desk, these are tied to General Services Administration (GSA) official government travel fares and rarely offer any discount.

Best Credit Cards for United Airlines

INTRO APR on Purchases
0% (up to 14 months)
INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
0% (up to 14 months)
Regular APR
See Site
Annual Fee
$0
Bonuses & Rewards
    • April 2018: Best United Airlines Rewards and Air Miles Credit Cards
    • Clicking "Apply Now" will take you to the Credit-Land.com website to view card offers
    • Fly on United Airlines or Any Other Airline, Anytime
    • Offers Available for Excellent and Good Credit
    Show More Details
    Hide Details

    Best Credit Cards for Delta Airlines

    INTRO APR on Purchases
    0% (up to 14 months)
    INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
    0% (up to 14 months)
    Regular APR
    See Site
    Annual Fee
    $0
    Bonuses & Rewards
      • April 2018: Best Delta Airlines Rewards and Air Miles Credit Cards
      • Clicking "Apply Now" will take you to the Credit-Land.com website to view card offers
      • Fly on Delta Airlines or Any Other Airline, Anytime
      • Offers Available for Excellent and Good Credit
      Show More Details
      Hide Details

      Best Credit Cards for American Airlines

      INTRO APR on Purchases
      0% (up to 14 months)
      INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
      0% (up to 14 months)
      Regular APR
      See Site
      Annual Fee
      $0
      Bonuses & Rewards
        • April 2018: Best American Airlines Rewards and Air Miles Credit Cards
        • Clicking "Apply Now" will take you to the Credit-Land.com website to view card offers
        • Fly on American Airlines or Any Other Airline, Anytime
        • Offers Available for Excellent and Good Credit
        Show More Details
        Hide Details

        That said, there are a few airlines and methods that can save you money on airfare as a military family:

        Delta Vacations — Not a straight airfare discount, but Delta Vacations will give you between a $50-$300 discount on your vacation booked through their site depending on the total cost of your trip. Based on the spend required, the discount works out to be a modest 2-5% off.

        JetBlue — Members of the Veterans Advantage program (open to all veterans and immediate family members) can save 5% off the prices you’ll find on JetBlue.com. JetBlue also advertises Military Leisure (MIL) Fares, but of the dozen or so times I’ve checked they have not been available or there are cheaper fares on JetBlue.com

        SouthwestSouthwest is the only airline I’ve found to have specific, regularly accessible, significant military fares. My family recently flew Baltimore-Phoenix round trip with Southwest and the military fare saved us $302. Military fares can only be found and booked over the phone, are not available on all flights, may not be cheaper than Wanna Get Away fares, and you must show your military ID at a check-in counter to get a boarding pass. Even better with Southwest, your dependents can fly on military fares even if you are not traveling with them.

        United — As with JetBlue, Veterans Advantage members can save 5% off publicly available airfares found on United.com.

        5 Credit Cards Offering Military Benefits

        We’ve uncovered our favorite airline credit cards offering military benefits like free checked bags, early boarding, and even airfare discounts!

        1
        Chase United MileagePlus® Explorer Card

        INTRO APR on Purchases
        N/A
        INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
        N/A
        Regular APR
        17.49% to 24.49% Variable±
        Annual Fee
        $0 first year, then $95
        Rewards Program
        MileagePlus®
        Bonuses & Rewards
        • 2x Miles on tickets purchased from United
        • 1x Miles on Dining
        • 1x Miles on Gas
        • 1x Miles on All Other Purchases
        • 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months
        • 5,000 bonus miles after you add the first authorized user to your account and make a purchase with your Card during the first 3 months
        • No Foreign Transaction Fee
        • 2 United Club℠ passes each year
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        2
        JetBlue® Plus MasterCard®

        INTRO APR on Purchases
        N/A
        INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
        0% introductory APR for the first twelve billing cycles following each balance transfer that posts to your account within 45 days of account opening
        Regular APR
        17.49% to 26.49% Variable±
        Annual Fee
        $99
        Rewards Program
        TrueBlue
        Bonuses & Rewards
        • 6x Points on JetBlue Purchases
        • 2x Points on Dining and Groceries
        • 1x Points on Gas
        • 1x Points on All Other Purchases
        • 40,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days
        • 5,000 bonus points annually after your account anniversary
        • 10% of your points back every time you redeem
        • No Foreign Transaction Fee
        • % 50% in-flight savings
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        3
        Delta Reserve Credit Card

        INTRO APR on Purchases
        N/A
        INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
        N/A
        Regular APR
        17.24% to 26.24% Variable±
        Annual Fee
        $450
        Rewards Program
        SkyMiles®
        Bonuses & Rewards
        • 2x Miles on Delta Purchases
        • 1x Miles on Dining
        • 1x Miles on Gas
        • 1x Miles on All Other Purchases
        • 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months
        • Up to 30,000 MQMs and up to 30,000 bonus miles after you spend $60,000 in a calendar year
        • 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after your first purchase
        • No Foreign Transaction Fee
        • + Companion Certificate
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        4
        Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

        INTRO APR on Purchases
        N/A
        INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
        N/A
        Regular APR
        17.24% to 24.24% Variable±
        Annual Fee
        $69
        Rewards Program
        Rapid Rewards®
        Bonuses & Rewards
        • 2x Points on Southwest Purchases, Car Rental and Hotels
        • 1x Points on Dining
        • 1x Points on Gas
        • 1x Points on All Other Purchases
        • 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months.
        • 3,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary
        • 3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars
        Show More Details
        Hide Details

        5
        Frontier Airlines World MasterCard®

        INTRO APR on Purchases
        N/A
        INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
        0% introductory APR for the first fifteen billing cycles following each balance transfer that posts to your account within 45 days of account opening
        Regular APR
        17.49% to 26.49% Variable±
        Annual Fee
        $69
        Bonuses & Rewards
        • 2x Miles on purchases at FlyFrontier.com
        • 1x Miles on Dining
        • 1x Miles on Gas
        • 1x Miles on All Other Purchases
        • 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 within the first 90 days and pay the annual fee
        • $100 flight discount voucher after account anniversary when you have spent $2,500 or more in purchases during cardmembership year
        • 3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars
        Show More Details
        Hide Details

        Baggage Allowances

        Alaska Airlines – Active duty and military dependents (dependents must be on travel orders) receive five free checked bags, each weighing up to 70 pounds and less than 63 linear inches.

        American Airlines — Dependents with ID traveling on orders and active U.S. military on official or personal travel receive up to three checked bags for free.

        DeltaIf you are: 1) active duty U.S. military personnel on orders to or from duty stations and dependents traveling with them; or 2) active U.S. military dependents traveling on relocation orders, you may check the following at no charge:

        Each bag may weigh up to 70 pounds and measure up to 80 linear inches. Specialty items such as pets or sporting equipment are not included in the free checked baggage allowance.

        Additionally, active military personnel traveling on personal business on Delta and Delta Connection operated flights may check two bags up to 50 pounds and 62 linear inches at no charge.


        Frontier
        — With perhaps the simplest military baggage policy, Frontier plainly states no baggage fees for active duty military personnel.

        JetBlue — Active duty and military dependents traveling on official orders may check up to five bags at no cost. If you are traveling on leisure, you may check two bags at no cost. Dependents much be on the same PNR or same flight as the military member in order to receive the free checked bags.

        Southwest — Southwest does not charge anyone for the first two bags checked, but there are size and weight restrictions. Military Passengers traveling on active duty or permanent change of station orders will be exempt from the two-piece Baggage limit and will not be subject to excess, oversize, or overweight Baggage charges, provided that none of the pieces of Baggage exceeds 100 pounds in weight and 80 inches in size (L+W+H). In reality, I’ve always received this benefit when traveling for leisure as well.

        United — Officially, U.S. military personnel on official orders may check up to five bags, weighing up to 70 pounds each and measuring 115 linear inches each, at no charge. In practice, even when on leave, I’ve been able to show my leave approval paperwork and given the same free baggage allowance.

        Virgin America — Active Duty Military Guests are permitted to check in up to 10 bags free of charge when traveling on orders and up to five bags free of charge when traveling for leisure. Military family and dependents with travel orders and current ID may check up to 5 bags free of charge, when traveling for leisure normal baggage rules apply. All bags are subject to Virgin America’s checked bag weight and size allowances. For Military Guests, one duffel bag, b-4 bag, or sea bag which exceeds the 62 outside linear dimensions will be accepted as two checked bags.

        Lounge Access

        American Express Platinum Cardholders — American Express waives the annual fee on all of its products for active duty military. This means you should have the Platinum Card from American Express, request the $450 annual fee waived, and then you will have a Priority Pass membership for lounge access around the world, Centurion lounge access, as well as Delta SkyClub access when flying Delta the same day, all for free.

        American Admirals Club – U.S. military personnel traveling in uniform can enjoy complimentary access to all Admirals Club lounges as a courtesy when traveling the same day on an American Airlines operated flight.

        United ClubActive U.S. military personnel with a valid military ID and boarding pass for travel within 24 hours on a United or United Express operated flight have complimentary access to the United Club. Access is only for the military member, no guests are allowed.

        Waived Change/Cancelation Fees

        I have not found an airline that has a written policy for no change, cancellation, or mileage redeposit fees for military. However, in eight years of planning vacations, I have had many leave periods changed or deployment dates changed, and I have never had no problem getting an airline to fully refund my ticket or redeposit my miles from an award ticket with no fee. You usually have to provide your commanding officer’s name and phone number, or fax in a letter on your command/unit letterhead requesting the refund.

        Bottom Line

        You may find yourself the beneficiary of other unspoken benefits like being given premium economy seats for free or in the extreme rare instance, if traveling in uniform, an upgrade to a domestic first class seat. Remember, even if what you need is not a formally written policy, most of the airlines have been happy to work with me in return for a simple letter written from my unit.

        I am very grateful to the support all of the airlines have given my family and I over the last eight years and will be sad when my time as an active duty member comes to an end.