Military Travel 101
What is Military Travel Hacking?
Military Travel Hacking is the biggest military discount you’re going to find. Traveling for free is often referred to as travel hacking. Travel hacking is earning points or miles through airline and hotel rewards programs and then using your rewards to book for less. High value credit cards charge high annual fees but offer luxury benefits that can outweigh the cost for frequent travelers. Active-Duty Servicemembers and their Spouses can qualify for waived annual fees. These fees are waived due to the Military Lending Act or the Servicemember Civil Relief Act. American Express, Chase, Citi Bank & U.S. Bank all offer cards with waived annual fees.
The Military Lending Act is a federal law that caps interest and additional financial fees on loans and credit cards at 36%. This is referred to as the military annual percentage rate or MAPR. This law doesn’t require companies to waive their annual fees, but to make following the law simpler, several banks decided to waive their annual card fees. The Servicemember Civil Relief Act (SCRA) is also a federal law that effects interest rates on pre-service debt and caps that interest at 6%.
Waived annual fees gives you access to high end perks you can use every day. And allows you to rack up major points from welcome bonuses for free! There are three different types of cards. Cash back, cards with transferable points to various travel programs or a co-branded card that belongs to a specific program. You earn points for every dollar you spend and a welcome bonus when you open a new card.
Welcome bonuses are the fastest way to accrue points. Each card has a welcome offer that is structured as follows, “If you spend “x” amount of money, in “x” amount of time, you will earn “x” amount of points.” The cards with the best welcome bonuses and the best perks are called premium or luxury cards. Each bank has their own version, as well as the co-branded cards. These cards are easy to identify because they have the highest annual fees. We aren’t worried about the fees though. So jump right into the best cards to maximize your rewards and everyday perks.
Just be sure before you sign up for the card, that your predicted expenses for the designated time period will be sufficient to earn the welcome bonus. For many of the cards, you are only eligible to try for the welcome bonus once. You don’t want to spend more money than you would, if you were using cash or a debit card. If there is a card that requires more spending than your average, wait until you have a large expense, like a home project, or reimbursable military expenses.
Every card is designed to attract a different type of user. So, you will find not only unique benefits but different point multipliers for different spending categories. Once you have multiple cards, you want to be sure to use whichever card earns you the most points on every purchase. This is the second-best way to earn points quickly. Check out this cheat sheet to see the categories and multipliers for cards with waived fees.
For example, if you are PCSing or TDY and you use your GTC, you don’t earn any credit card points. If you can book in the AmEx travel porta with your Platinum card, you’ll earn five points per dollar. If you pay with a reward program’s card, like Hilton Aspire, you can earn up to 18.5 points per dollar spent. Government travel is a huge opportunity to maximize your points without spending any of your own money. You can also enjoy a lot of perks to make your travel smoother and a little fancier. Start letting the military earn you some luxury travel today. You deserve it.
Please note that the GTC regulations were updated in May 2022. Unless you are exempt, you are required to use your GTC for all official government travel authorized expenses. Failure to use the GTC can result in “appropriate administrative or disciplinary actions” but isn’t a reason to refuse to reimburse the servicemember. Please use appropriate digression when deciding whether to use your GTC or a personal card.
Know Your Military Travel Goals
The most common use of accruing rewards points is for travel. When you use your points for travel you get the highest value per point. Earning a high ROI on points is important when you’re paying annual fees. Traveling doesn’t have to be your biggest priority though to benefit from the value of rewards points. You may consider a card for its additional benefits like U.S. Banks Altitude Reserve that offers a $325 travel or DINING credit annually. You can also use points to lower your monthly bills. You can spend your Amex points on Amazon, your Chase points on PayPal and purchase Gift Cards with points from Citi Bank and U.S. Bank. While using your points in these ways gives you less value per point, it doesn’t really matter. The cards and perks should serve you. Having a clear understanding of what you want is key to taking the next steps.