Now's the time for military families to take that dream vacation for a couple of weeks — or even a long weekend — without breaking the bank.
Owners of hotels, resorts, cruise lines, theme parks and other coveted attractions are well aware that military people are gainfully employed and relatively insulated from the ongoing economic recession. And because their businesses are sagging thanks to skittish civilian consumers, retailers are offering great bargains to military travelers.
"We're being inundated with offers, because of current economic conditions," said Dan Yount, chief of Army leisure Travel Services at the Army Community and Family Support Center. New offers are coming in daily. "They want to put more ‘heads in beds,' so they can give us deals."
The best offer so far: cruise lines. Up to 75 percent savings on last-minute cruises.
"Right now is the best time ever to buy a cruise. They're just trying to fill the cabins," Yount said.
On the road in numbers
Military folks are definitely traveling, Yount said. The Armed Forces Vacation Club, for example, set a record pace for bookings in January — normally a slow travel time.
There were 4,500 reservations for condominium vacations exclusively reserved for the military community. At http://www.afvclub.com/">AFVClub.com, vacations can be reserved, for example, on a space-available basis for $329 per unit per week. Overall, the club offers affordable vacations at more than 3,500 resorts around the world.
Other discounts for vacations and local attractions are flooding in to Morale, Welfare and Recreation (for Army, Marine and Navy) and Service Tickets and Tours (Air Force) offices across the country.
Deals are available for attractions and hotels from New York City, Chicago and Myrtle Beach, S.C.; to Gatlinburg, Tenn., and Branson, Mo., to name just a few.
Most deals are available regardless of service branch, although there are some Air Force installations that do not participate in the all-services travel discount programs.
A few great examples
If you're going to Hawaii, for example, compare your options at the Hale Koa on Waikiki Beach, one of the Armed Forces Recreation Centers that are open to all branches of service. Rates range from $87 to $277 a night, depending on rank and room type. For more information on the five AFRCs — including those in Germany, South Korea, Florida and Virginia — visit http://www.armymwr.com/">Army's MWR site.
Want to scope out what's available closer to home? Your tickets and tours office specifically seeks out this information on military-only discounts for local attractions ranging from theme parks to sports and theater events, tours and hotels. Check the services' MWR sites for information, too.
Camping facilities, cabins and cottages are available year-round on the cheap at many installations. Explore the http://www.armymwr.com/portal/travel/paths/">"Paths Across America" Web site. For example, Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., lists RV sites with hookups for water, sewer and electric for $12 or $15 a day, and tent sites in a "wilderness" area with no hookups for $2 a day. "Check in at the store next to the lake," the site advises.
If you don't want to leave town but would enjoy a night out, check out the Veteran Tickets Foundation, a nonprofit that distributes free event tickets to current and former troops.
Michael Focareto, a disabled Navy veteran, was inspired to start the foundation after attending the 2008 Super Bowl in Phoenix.
He was angry to see empty seats at the game, given that the troops who participated in the pre-game ceremony had to leave the stadium after their performance because they didn't have tickets. So he decided to set up an organization that could get empty seats to service members.
Since its founding last summer, VTF has given out about 8,000 tickets with a value of $800,000, Focareto said.
Sports teams, theaters and other venues donate empty seats, which can be requested through http://www.vettix.org/">the foundation's Web site.
Active-duty, Guard and reserve members are eligible, as well as surviving spouses of those killed on active duty, and retirees, veterans and their spouses.
The foundation also operates a for-profit arm as part of a network with access to a separate inventory of discounted tickets for a variety of events.