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Taking circuitous travel when you PCS to or from an OCONUS base to a CONUS or OCONUS base is a legal and awesome way to take some leave, vacation, or holiday while moving from point A to point B.
You can get your airfare reimbursed by the US government, up to the amount the USG would have paid to move you directly, but you can fly whatever route you want.
A similar but different program is Leave in Conjunction with Official Travel (LICWO) when you go TDY.
With LICWO, you can take the leave at, enroute to, or returning from the TDY location, anywhere else in the world, before or after the official duty.
Again, you can get your airfare reimbursed up to the cost the government would have paid, but you can travel anywhere you want when you're on leave status.
It almost “sounds too good to be true,” but the regulations back it up.
I have used LICWO and circuitous travel multiple times in my 8 years of active duty service. Some examples are:
- Taking 5 days of leave in France, Switzerland, and Germany before a medical TDY to Ramstein AB, Germany: $1500 plane ticket reimbursed
- Taking a 2 week trip to Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Scotland, and Canada when PCSing from the Middle East back to the US: $4072 in airfare reimbursed for my wife and me
- Attending my brother's wedding just before an official training TDY: $900 plane ticket reimbursed
- TDY to Cairo, Egypt: I did the official part of the TDY (a training exercise planning conference) for the first 5 days, then took 2 days of leave to see the Pyramids and Nile with my wife. Free airfare to Egypt for me and I brought my wife in on points.
Always check the latest version of the Joint Travel Regulation (JTR), updated monthly on the 1st. All of this information is current as of 2 April 2019.
Here's one of our views from our last circuitous travel PCS:
Circuitous Travel for OCONUS PCS
Circuitous travel is defined as:
Circuitous or indirect travel is any route (CONUS/OCONUS) other than the one normally prescribed by the Installation Transportation Office (ITO) between the official places listed in members TDY or PCS orders.
Circuitous travel is essentially taking the scenic route to get to your next permanent duty stations (PDS).
So we are clear, CONUS means “CONtiguous United States,” also known as the lower 48. So every state but Alaska and Hawaii. OCONUS is “Outside the CONtiguous United States,” so everywhere else in the world except the lower 48.
When you PCS OCONUS to another OCONUS assignment or back to the CONUS, the Transportation Management Office at your base will book your travel, based on your PCS orders. They will find the lowest cost, government fare tickets, which are usually fully flexible “Y” class economy tickets.
However, you do NOT need to take these flights. You have the option to apply for circuitous travel, take some leave, and book your own tickets.
A. Commercial. Reimbursement of personally procured transportation is limited to what the Government would have paid had the Service member or dependent purchased the ticket through the Travel Management Center (TMC) for authorized transportation over a usually traveled and direct route (see “policy-constructed airfare” in Appendix A).JTR 050202 Paragraph A.
Circuitous travel is a great way to meet the minimum spend on credit cards, earn some points, and pick a much better air route that fits your lifestyle, travel style, and family needs.
Examples of PCS Circuitious Travel
Here is an example of PCSing from the United Arab Emirates to JB Lewis-McChord, Washington. The most direct route on American flag carriers or code-share partners was a grueling 28 hour of travel.
Note that rest stops are authorized for any TDY travel over 14 hours, but NOT for PCS travel:
Normally, a traveler is not required to travel between the hours of 2400 and 0600 if it is not necessary for the mission. The AO may authorize or approve a TDY rest point or an en route rest stop when the flight exceeds 14 hours, the travel is to or from a location OCONUS, and travel is by coach class service. When circumstances warrant, the AO must consider each case individually taking into account both funding and mission needs. Rest stops may not exceed 24 hours. Rules and allowances for rest stops during travel are in Table 2-1. See Rest Stop Examples on the DTMO website.JTR 020202
So rather than sprint to our final destination, we decided to take a more leisurely path and see a bit of the world along the way.
When notified of my new assignment, I submitted my memorandum requesting circuitous travel to the Traffic Management Office (TMO) at the base I was at.
I got the memo format from vMPF, while I was completing the 8 page initial assignment briefing. Your local TMO might have a different format they want you to use, just call them up and ask for a “Circuitous Travel Request Memo.”
My local TMO responded with a cost estimated memorandum, as seen above. This is the cost the government was expecting to pay per family member to move us to my new duty station.
This is the maximum reimbursable limit. I can spend more than the limit on tickets, but I will only be reimbursed up to the amount on the cost estimate memo from TMO.
You do NOT get to keep the difference. So if your flights only end up costing $1000 and you are authorized to spend $2000, you will only be reimbursed for $1000. Congratulations, you save the government $1000.
I recommend buying fully flexible tickets when you can so if your orders change or stuff happens, you don't have to sweat cancelling or changing your tickets.
I also recommend spending all the way up to your maximum allowable limit. You don't get to keep the difference, so why save it?
My Circuitous Travel Routing: 6 Countries in 13 Days
Here is PCS route TMO wanted us to take: 28 hours of travel, two stops, lots of pain.
Here's the route we booked instead: Circuitous Travel Route with 13 days of leave travel:
Rather than go on a punishing 28 hours of flying in economy, we decided to take the more leisurely route in getting to Seattle. Maps made with Great Circle Mapper.
Fly from Abu Dhabi to Zurich (in Etihad business class, upgraded with AMEX MR Points), drive and hike through Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, and Italy for 5 days.
Fly out of Geneva, after staying at the Ritz Carlton Hotel de la Paix for 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points, saving $700, thanks to our no annual fee American Express Marriott cards.
Arrive in Edinburgh, Scotland for 5 days in Scotland. One night at the Hilton Edinburgh Carlton, 50,000 points thanks to our no annual fee AMEX Hilton Honors Aspire card before flying out to Banff National Park near Calgary, Canada for some hiking for 3 nights.
Finally arrive at our PCS destination of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. Since I was only authorized one travel day, the additional 12 days are charged as leave.
For personally procured Permanent Duty Travel (aka, PCS), the JTR Section 050202 states:
A. Commercial. Reimbursement of personally procured transportation is limited to what the Government would have paid had the Service member or dependent purchased the ticket through the TMC for authorized transportation over a usually traveled and direct route (see “policy-constructed airfare” in Appendix A).JTR 050202
Section 050204, Indirect or Circuitous Travel To, From or Between OCONUS Points:
A. Eligibility. A Service member or dependent who performs PCS travel to, from or between OCONUS points over an indirect or circuitous route at personal expense and convenience is authorized travel allowances unless he or she was directed to use Government transportation and did not use it when it was available.JTR 050204
Self Procured Government Travel for PCS
When you PCS to or from an OCONUS base, you need to make sure you have the following verbiage on your orders (bold emphasis mine):
AIRMAN HAS APPROVED CIRCUITOUS/INDIRECT TRAVEL IAW JTR 3005.E, AFI 36-3003 AND AFI 24-101 PARA.3.3.
NORMAL ROUTE OF TVL IS FROM _________ TO ______ TO ______ TO ________ TO ______ TO JB LEWIS-MCCHORD, WA.
APPROVED ROUTE IS __________ TO _____________________.
CONSTRUCTED COST OF THE NORMAL ROUTE PER AUTHORIZED TRAVELER IS: $2,036.00.
AIRMAN IS AUTHORIZED TO SELF-PROCURE TRANSOCEANIC TRANSPORTATION AT PERSONAL EXPENSE AND WILL BE REIMBURSED FOR THE TRANSOCEANIC TRAVEL.
CONSTRUCTED TRAVEL TIME IS BY THE NORMAL DIRECT ROUTE IS ONE DAY. ANY AND ALL TVL EXCESS OF ONE DAY IS CHARGEABLE
TO AIRMAN AS ORDINARY LEAVE. SPACE-A TRANSPORTATION VIA AMC AIRCRAFT IN LEAVE STATUS IS PERMITTED BETWEEN ___________ TO ______________. SPACE-A TVL MAY BE USED IN CONJUNCTION WITH SPACE-REQUIRED TVL AS LONG AS SPACE-AVAILABLE DOESN’T SUBSTITUTE FOR ANY SINGLE LEG FOR WHICH THE TRAVELER HAS A SPACE-REQUIRED ENTITLEMENT. NO EXCESS BAGGAGE AUTHORIZED.
With that verbiage, you are cleared hot to self-procure your tickets and you do NOT have to use the Government Travel Card (GTC)!
You could use an American Express Platinum to book the tickets for 5x points. AMEX waives all annual fees for military servicemembers, so you miss out on free travel perks, like airport lounge access, if you don't have an AMEX Platinum.
Self-procurement is an easy way to meet minimum spends on credit cards to earn a welcome bonus. Just make sure you have the cash on hand in case the reimbursement takes a long time. Find out more about how you can use special, military only, no annual credit cards for free travel in my 5 day free course.
Other example itineraries of circuitous travel would be US to Japan, Japan to Germany, Korea to England, Saudi Arabia to Spain, or anywhere else US military servicemembers are based.
LICWO Travel TDY
LICWO is defined as:
Leave in conjunction with TDY.JTR 0333
The Approving Official (whoever issues your orders, usually your commander or supervisor) may permit a Service member or civilian employee to combine leave or personal travel with official travel at no additional cost to the Government.
You can use LICWO when you go TDY, for any official government business, including operational, training, mission support, or medical reasons.
When you book LICWO travel, you are usually only authorized up to Y class fares, which are fully flexible, full rate economy fares. Fortunately. these fares usually include free cancellation, date, and flight changes, which is useful if your travel plans change.
Also, these Y class fares require the least amount of points or cash to upgrade to a business or first class fare. You are allowed to upgrade to a higher class of travel, but don't do it if you're traveling in uniform. Be respectful and act like you belong there.
Reimbursement is authorized for the actual cost of the transportation used and en route per diem, limited to what the Government’s cost would have been between the official duty locations using a Policy Constructed Airfare (YCA vice CA) had there been no personal travel taken.JTR 033301 B. 1.
Economy or coach accommodations must be used unless other accommodations are approved as specified in Chapter 2.
If you can line up some leave on either side of an official duty, the DOD doesn't mind if you arrive there using their money, as long as it doesn't cost them any extra.
Any travel segment that is directly between the PDS/TDY, TDY/TDY, TDY/PDS, or PDS/PDS (for PCS travel) locations is considered official travel.
You don't always have to use the Commercial Travel Office, or CTO, to book official travel. You can personally procure if your leave takes you somewhere where you are not on official business, if authorized by the TMO.
Example Scenario: Official travel from Seattle (PDS) to Washington, DC (TDY) and back to Seattle (PDS). Traveler wants to take leave in Dallas on the return trip following completion of the TDY.
- The Seattle to Washington, DC portion is official travel and must be purchased through the TMC using the IBA/CBA, as appropriate.
- The Washington, DC to Dallas to Seattle portion is leisure travel and cannot use the contracted City-Pair fares or the IBA/CBA. Travel must be purchased using personal funds and traveler may use any commercial source.
- Reimbursement is limited to $599 per the FY19 GSA YCA fare assuming traveling from Washington National (DCA) airport or the actual cost of the flight from DCA to Dallas to Seattle, whichever is less.
- Separate invoices for the official travel and leisure travel portions must be submitted with the travel claim.
LICWO Authorization Letter Example
Here is my LICWO letter from a recent TDY I took from the UAE to Germany. See the image below or click here for the PDF version of my LICWO authorization letter/memo example.
Entitlement to Airline Miles and Hotel Points When Travelling on Official Government Business
JTR 020206 Paragraph G:
G. Frequent-Flyer Miles or Other Promotional Benefits. A traveler can keep any frequent-flyer points or miles, hotel rewards, or rental car upgrades accumulated during official travel, as long as those promotional items are available to the general public or to a class consisting of all civilian employees or Service members.
If a traveler voluntarily gives up a seat on an airplane, then the traveler is responsible for any additional costs incurred, such as additional lodging or meal expenses. Also, a traveler cannot select specific flights or hotels to earn points if it will cost the Government additional moneyJTR 020206 G.
Air Force AFI authorization to keep airline miles:
2.17. Frequent Flyer Program Benefits . Government travelers on official business at government expense that are members of a frequent flyer program may retain for personal use any points or miles, upgrades, or access to carrier clubs or facilities accrued through official travel.AFI 24-101
Fly America Act
One important rule to keep track of if you self-procure your transoceanic travel is the “Fly America Act.”
Federal travelers are required by 49 U.S.C. 40118, commonly referred to as the “Fly America Act,” to use U.S. air carrier service for all air travel and cargo transportation services funded by the U.S. government.GSA Fly America Act
Section 020206 of the JTR:
I. U.S. Carriers Required. The Fly America Act requires that U.S. flag carriers be used for all commercial transportation when the Government funds the travel (49 U.S.C. §40118(d)). The TMC and AO, therefore, require that travel by air and ship be on a U.S. flag carrier for every leg of a trip, unless the TMC and AO provide supporting documentation that a U.S. flag carrier is not available.
1. The Fly America Act does not mandate travel across the continental United States (CONUS) when traveling between two locations OCONUS.
Check the Table 2-3 in the JTR. Above is only a small section of it, it goes on for 3 pages and 23 criteria to check.
Basically if you can find a fare between two cities on an American owned airline, you are a required to book it.
If you are going OCONUS to OCONUS destinations while on LICWO or circuitous travel, there is a good chance there is not a U.S. flag air carrier, but there is a good chance that there is a code-share flight. Make sure you double check the code-shares.
A great resource to understand the Fly America Act is located here. Start with 301-10.132.
I hope this helps you maximize your travel opportunities while you serve our country. Military service is one of the best opportunities to see the world for very cheap. I've been to 62 countries since I joined and can't wait to see the other 140 or so countries.
If you want to see how I get hotels for free and upgrade to business class on m LICWO and PCS trips, check out my Ultimate Military Credit Cards Course.
Where will you go on your next LICWO or circuitous travel?