This holiday season will look different in military stores, but the deals are still there. Stores are taking extra COVID precautions, such as limiting the number of people inside, acrylic shields at cash registers, continuing the extra sanitizing, and requiring masks.

The stores’ buyers have been working for months with vendors to get holiday merchandise and deals for military shoppers, in all the exchange and commissary systems. In many cases, the deals have been ongoing and spread out over days and weeks, to accommodate the needs of shoppers who don’t need to be in the crush of people on Black Friday. Various stores offer curbside pickup.

This is also the first holiday shopping season since the commissary and exchange benefits opened up to disabled veterans and certain caregivers for in-store shopping privileges on Jan. 1, 2020.

Another option for gift-givers is the gift card. This year, “open value” commissary gift cards — which allow you to set your own limit up to $300 — are now available worldwide in commissaries, and at Navy Exchanges and Army and Air Force Exchanges, as well as online. Commissaries also sell Navy Exchange gift cards and AAFES gift cards.

Commissary gift cards are good for five years from the date of purchase. There are no fees when you buy the card in a store, but if you buy it online, you’ll be charged a shipping and handling fee.


Commissaries will operate under a holiday schedule beginning Nov. 23, which means that many commissaries normally closed on Monday will be open Nov. 23.

Also, most commissaries will be open Monday, Dec. 21, except for Hario Village Housing Area, Japan; U.S. Army Garrison Garmisch, Germany; Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona; and Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak, Alaska.

All commissaries will be open on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, except for Robinson Barracks, Germany, which is closed Dec. 31.

All commissaries will be closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Customers should check the “Store Information & Holiday Hours” box on their store’s webpage for specific operating schedules.

Sales: There will be limited weekly quantities of select frozen turkeys at 39 cents per pound, through Dec. 31, while supplies last. Quantities were expected to increase closer to Thanksgiving. Watch your stores, particularly the end of aisles, for extra savings on holiday-themed items. Also, offering four 12-packs of canned soda on sale for $10, through Nov. 26.


Most exchanges will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, although shoppers can click from their couches through the sales at Authorized shoppers can get a head start on special promotions, updated throughout the holiday season, by visiting the weekly adds page at

On the day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, AAFES shoppers can get their start as early as 8 a.m. Capacity will be limited, however.

The AAFES 2020 Toyshop toy book features a selection of nearly 400 toys, with prices valid through Nov. 25. The toy book is available online at and in brick-and-mortar stores.

Toy selection will vary by location, but some of the top picks include:

*FurReal Mamma Josie the Kangaroo interactive plush toy ($55.95, regular $69.95)

*Star Wars The Child figure ($15.95, regular $19.95)

*Beyblade Burst Rise Hypersphere Vortex Climb battle set ($39.95, regular $49.95)

*Holiday Barbie figure, blonde, black or brown hair ($33.95, regular $39.95)

*L.O.L. Surprise! O.M.G. styling head ($32.95, regular $34.95)

*Nerf Fortnite SR blaster ($15.95, regular $19.95)

*Lego Marvel Studios Avengers Iron Man helmet ($47.99, regular $59.99)

Fee-Free layaway: AAFES offers fee-free layaway on items priced at $25 or more through Dec. 24, including toys, bikes and clothing. Certain computers, laptops and tablets purchased before Dec. 13 will also qualify for fee-free layaway.

The XKids Community Hub site also offers kid-friendly online activities including videos, Disney-themed activity pages, in-browser games and more. It will host a free online screening of “Frozen 2” on Nov. 25. For more information, click the red “Explore the Room” button on the front page of the XKids Hub, at

AAFES’ “Take-A-Ticket” program helps reduce crowds seeking popular items. Shoppers can get a ticket to claim doorbusters like TVs, tablets and cameras with a specific time to come to the store to buy the product. This eliminates long lines and crowds. (Shoppers should visit their local AAFES store’s social media page or contact the store directly for specific information.)

Contactless shopping offers AAFES customers the ability to buy online and pick up in the store or at curbside.


Exchanges are closed on Thanksgiving Day, but online shopping is alive and well at

To lessen crowds in stores, one-day sales have been replaced with three-day sales to give customers more time to shop. At some larger Navy Exchange stores, senior and high-risk customers are being offered specific time slots, as well as after-hours “by appointment” shopping for those who would prefer to limit interaction even further.

Capacity will be strictly limited, and there will be a limit to the number of customers allowed in the checkout line during peak shopping days. Face coverings are required, as well as social distancing.

Fee-free layaway: Through Nov. 25, Navy Exchange customers will pay no fees on newly opened layaways. There are exceptions. will offer the same deals as the brick-and-mortar stores, when possible and available. Shipping is free when using a Military Star card or for purchases over $49.95.

For more information the NEX’s Navy Blue Holiday season sales, and safety measures, visit

Drive/Up Program allows customers to order merchandise online for curbside delivery at their local Navy Exchange. Once the customer arrives, the Navy Exchange employee will deliver the order to the customer’s vehicle.

Buy Online, Pick up in Store: The Navy Exchange Service Command rolled out its new buy online, pick up in store program at several Navy Exchange locations on Nov. 5. The Pick/Up Program allows authorized customers to choose from more than 200 items for holiday gift giving at and pick it up inside their local NEX store.

The program is available at NEX Norfolk, NEX Oceana and NEX Little Creek-Ft. Story, Va.; NEX Pearl Harbor; NEX San Diego; NEX Bethesda, Md.; and NEX Jacksonville and Pensacola, Fla.

Customers can purchase a variety of holiday gifts including items for the home, tools, toys, computers, wearable technology, personal care items, jewelry, handbags and apparel. Throughout the holiday season, more items will be added. There is no minimum purchase or surcharge for using the Pick/Up Program.

To use the Pick/Up Program, shop and look for items eligible for in-store pickup. After adding the item(s) to the shopping cart, select which store to pick up the items from and then pay and place the order. The customer will receive an email confirmation once the order has been received and another when it is ready to be picked up. Once the order is ready, head to the NEX with the email confirmation and CAC card, feel free to park in a reserved Pick/Up parking space and follow the signs in to the store to the customer service desk or other designated pick up area. Customers won’t be charged for the merchandise until it is picked up from the NEX.

While the goal is to have orders ready as soon as possible, during the holidays NEXCOM is promising that orders will be ready for pickup within 48 hours.


Like the other exchange systems, the Marine Corps exchanges have enhanced cleaning protocols, mandatory face coverings, social distancing, and some early shopping hours available. They’ll also be monitoring the number of people in stores.

Find out about deals, and view sales circulars for Marine Corps exchanges at

For example, on Nov. 25, they’re offering a deal on Apple Air Pods Pro, with wireless charging case, for $199.99; and 50 percent off Kate Spade, Dooney and Bourke and Michael Kors handbags. But there are many more deals, offered at different periods. The Wishbook 2020 offers a variety of fragrances on sale through Dec. 24.

Marine Corps Exchange and have also combined their online efforts, with offering more products tailored for Marines, such as tactical gear, male and female Marine uniform assortments, Marine Pride merchandise, and sports nutrition.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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