Smart Tips for Your Military Family's Holiday Travel
This time of year may find you in the throes of holiday travel planning as you scan websites for airline deals and tally points for free hotel stays. Researching transportation and hotels are two of the most time-consuming tasks of the whole process. It really does take multiple levels of intense planning to wrangle every detail into place, all the while jumping from resource to resource, attempting to beat the travel industry at its own game.
Early preparation is always the number one piece of advice, but there are more best practices to make the most of limited travel time. Read on to learn more about choosing companies for military family travel and hospitality over the holidays.
Holiday Travel and the Airlines
During initial flight searches, military families who choose air travel will likely search for the lowest airfare through loyalty programs and military discounts. There are always good reasons to fly at the lowest cost, but remember that the cheapest flight won’t always be the best, especially with kids or pets in tow. Searching for convenience, reasonable pricing, and appropriate accommodations requires multiple rounds of investigation, but travelers—beware.
Photo from Canva
Have you thoroughly searched for the perfect price and ideal departure times, only to put the query on hold? And then you return to the screen and find—through the mystery of dark magic internet science—your computer cookies or airline snooping has “coincidentally” hiked your fares by $100? Yes, it happens, and it's infuriating.
Airline industry representatives have repeatedly said flights constantly adjust minute by minute and could quickly lower OR raise your last viewed fare, but consumer advocacy groups have claimed foul on this surveillance tactic for years.
For those concerned, Airfare Watch Dog describes the practice known as dynamic pricing and tells how to beat the adjusting rates. Suggestions include clearing cookies, using a different browser than the one used for researching, changing from one device to another, and conducting research in incognito mode.
Finally, keep in mind that fares are often cheap because they have multiple stops, long layovers, and overnight flying time. None of these options are conducive to traveling with young kids.
The Best Family Airlines
The Travel Points Guy Group (TPG) is a trusted third party that independently ranks airlines’ overall performances. They’ve recently published their report on Best Family Airlines, which describes the amenities and policies that are most important to family travelers.
Photo from Canva
This year, TPG recommends these as their top 5 best airlines for families:
- Delta Air Lines
- Southwest Airlines
- United Airlines
- American Airlines
- Alaska Airlines
Spend Holiday Travel on the Train
Traveling with children is no easy feat. Add a pet or two, and the trip can turn into chaos in mere minutes. What if you could remove some of the pressure of holiday travel? You can if your destination is one that the Amtrak train system serves.
Photo from Canva
Winter holiday travel is ideal for changing the drudgery of flying and taking time to unwind with the whole family while seeing some of your routes potentially covered in snow. Just think—no TSA lines, no middle seats to avoid, and no restrictions on movement. Your kids will have all the freedom you allow! Plus, if your furry loved one (dog or cat, 20 lbs or less on select routes) goes on all of the family vacations, the danger of passage in the plane’s cargo is eliminated.
Is your dog too big to ride the rails? Here are Alternatives to Pet Boarding During the Holidays.
Amtrak's Military Discounts
Book early for the most availability, and use your veteran or active duty 10% discount, which includes spouses and dependents. Plus, you’re eligible for a prime spot at the beginning of the ticket line. Take a look at Amtrak’s pricing for children; it might be more affordable than a military rate.
Train Travel Agent
Train travel agents transform a mundane trip into a family holiday no one will forget. With Amtrak’s Discover America by Rail program, your mandatory trek home to visit grandparents could become a trip of a lifetime. Just inquire about Amtrak's destinations. From New York and Washington, DC, to New Orleans and the best of western National Parks, there are hundreds of routes to choose from.
Last but certainly not least is the opportunity to travel on Amtrak’s Auto Train. If you prefer to have your car at the end of your journey along the I-95 corridor on the East Coast, the Auto Train could be your solution. Beginning in Lorton, Virginia, and ending in Sanford (Orlando), Florida, the Auto Train safely transports your car, van, motorcycle, SUV, small boat, or jet ski to the end of the line. Sleeping cars are available, and your military discount applies.
Photo from Canva
Holiday Happenings at Armed Forces Recreation Centers
Will your travel plans take you near any of the Armed Forces Recreation Centers? All four have holiday plans underway on their websites. Book early to reserve the best rooms, tours, and dining hours.
It’s well known that Orlando and Disney World are two of the top holiday destinations for military family travel. So much so that military spouses and veterans have created a sub-industry of Florida travel agents that use all of the perks allocated to military members, including discounted dining and lodging access to stays at Shades of Green and every military discount in between.
Simply search any military spouse or travel group for a Disney Travel agent, and you’ll have your choice among several to research. Here’s one to get you started: Military Disney Tips.
The Edelweiss is a military family favorite because of its excellent location in the Bavarian Alps. The location is perfect all year and an ideal departure point for exploring nearby countries like Austria and Switzerland. After all the snow play and local tours you can handle, hang around for the ultimate European Christmas traditions.
- Munich Christmas Market (Marienplatz)
- Ice Skating in Mohrenplatz
- Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony
- Mittenwald Christmas Market December
- New Year's Eve Celebration and Fireworks
Seoul’s Lotte World Amusement Park is a destination on its own while staying at the Dragon Hill. It's essentially an indoor entertainment complex that is festive during the holiday season. Kids love the indoor ice skating rink and aquarium. Parents enjoy shopping and trying local food outlets. Stay connected with the Dragon Hill Lodge to be the first to know about Christmas dining and events.
Mele Kalikimaka a Hau'oli Makahiki Hou!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
If your ideal version of Santa wears an aloha shirt, take a break from the beach and make sure you make reservations for the Hale Koa’s holiday festivities. Holiday-themed shows and activities are scheduled throughout December and include:
- Photos with Santa
- Christmas Eve Hawaiian Style Luau
- Christmas Day Grand Buffet
- New Year's Eve Luau and Barefoot Bar Beach Party
Armed Forces Vacation Club
Take another look if it's been a while since you’ve checked out AFVC. The website was revamped, it's easier to navigate, and the booking system was simplified. For years, military families have vacationed on affordable properties nationwide and internationally.
Photo from Canva
If you have a destination in mind or want to be inspired by a property’s amenities, there are multiple ways to search. A quick solution is to browse All-Inclusive Resorts, which include food, beverages, and other site-specific highlights. Destination, travel dates, and price are the searchable categories. High-demand locations like Disney World are always popular, so make your reservations early.
With just a few tweaks to your usual holiday travel research, you’ll find better deals and more attractive options to take advantage of your holiday time spent together.