Maximizing Military Benefits for Long-Term Travel

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This article is a guest post from Mark. Mark left the US Army after eight years of active duty. He felt some frustrations with the transition process and so he started writing about it.

Eventually that writing turned into The Veteran Professional where he writes about going to graduate school, entrepreneurship, and professional careers for veterans after their service.

Leaving the military after eight years was a tough decision, But, I ultimately knew it was the right move for me. In thinking about what I wanted to do after hanging up the boots and moving on, I knew I wanted to plan some long-term travel.

I always loved to travel. There’s just something magical about being at an airport with your bags and knowing you are going somewhere. And so is everyone around you. 

While the military afforded me many opportunities to travel, personal travel was usually allocated to two-week blocks of leave, twice a year. I just wanted something longer. 

So when my commander asked me, what I planned on doing between getting my DD-214 and starting my MBA nine months later, I responded:

“I’m going to travel”

But how did I afford it?

Long-Term Travel in the military

Deployment and TDY Savings

My main pot of savings came from extra money earned on deployments and TDY trips. These afforded me opportunities for extra income. First, there were the direct increases in income:

  • Per diem
  • Special duty pay like hardship duty location or COLA
  • Combat Zone Tax Exclusion (CZTE)
  • Hostile fire and imminent danger pay (IDP)

But there were also opportunities to save based on adjustments to my living situation:

  • While deployed or TDY I was not paying for gas, my grocery bill was either less or zero, and my utility bill was less.
  • On my second deployment, I was able to find someone to move into my house while I was away. The timing was almost to the day — perfect. He was a friend, so I trusted him to look after the place. Plus he paid half my mortgage during that time. 
  • On my third deployment, I had moved out of that house and brought in a tenant (through a property manager). While I was gone, all my household goods were placed in storage. So my housing costs were the cost of that storage unit. Needless to say — they were significantly cheaper.

First things first — I made sure I had my emergency fund set up. 

Then, on top of my usual 25% savings rate, I doubled down with these extra savings opportunities. I typically put around 60% of the extra money into “long-term savings.” I made sure I maxed out my Roth IRA, got the match from the TSP when the Blended Retirement System came out, and started investing in real estate through Fundrise and Groundfloor.  

The rest went into low-volatility Vanguard bond funds. This was money I knew I would want in a few years for travel and wanted to see a bit of growth from it. I made sure I was maxing out my retirement savings, but wanted to leave some for me to enjoy as well. 

Military Discounts and Advantages

I won’t lie, I was never one to routinely ask for military discounts. I didn’t join the military to get 10% at a small business somewhere. But sometimes the deal is just too good to pass. 

My first adventure was two weeks of skiing in Park City, Utah. Sounds fancy, huh?

Despite how much I love to ski, it can be quite expensive. Just to get a ski pass, you can expect to pay close to $100/day and closer to $200/day at a world-class resort like Park City. 

Before the ski season, while still on active duty, I bought the Epic Pass, which gave me season access to some of the best mountains in America. The cost? 

$169 for active duty, active duty dependents, and retired military. 

That’s nuts. Even for non-retired veterans, the price is still unbelievable at $559.

For lodging, I kept it simple. I stayed at a hostel. This also saved me money on food because they had a kitchen where I could make meals. Hostels around ski reports are different from the party-crazy ones you may hear about overseas. Most people were just there to ski.

For the last few days of the trip I stayed in a Marriott Residence Inn with some family. The stay was paid for entirely through Marriott Points earned during TDY trips and on Marriott cards like the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card. I always stayed at a Marriot when able on TDY. And because rooms at the Residence Inn have kitchens, I again made my own meals and saved on food.

Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Military

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card
Learn how to apply on our partner's secure site

  • $650 Annual Fee* See details about American Express protections for you and your spouse 
  • Earn 95,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you use your new Card to make $6,000 in purchases within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Each calendar year, get up to $300 (up to $25 per month) in statement credits for eligible purchases made on the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card at restaurants worldwide.
  • Upgrade and enhance your views when available at select properties with Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite status, when booked with a Qualifying Rate.
  • Earn 6X Marriott Bonvoy points for each dollar of eligible purchases at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 3X points at restaurants worldwide and on flights booked directly with airlines.
  • 2X points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Enjoy a night away when you receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Free night can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 85,000 Marriott Bonvoy points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. (Certain hotels have resort fees)
  • Get rewarded each calendar year after spending $60,000 on eligible purchases on your Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card. Select one Brilliant Earned Choice Award benefit per calendar year. See for Award options.
  • Elevate your stay when you receive up to a $100 property credit for qualifying charges at The Ritz-Carlton® or St. Regis® when you book direct using a special rate for a two-night minimum stay using your Card.
  • Save time traveling with either a statement credit every 4 years after you apply for Global Entry ($100) or a statement credit every 4.5 years after you apply for a five-year membership for TSA PreCheck(R) (up to $85 through a TSA PreCheck official enrollment provider) and pay the application fee with your Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
  • Receive 25 Elite Night Credits toward the next level of Marriott Bonvoy® Elite status each calendar year with your Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card. (Limitations apply per Marriott Bonvoy member account. Benefit is not exclusive to Cards offered by American Express. Terms apply)
  • Lounge Access! Enroll in Priority Pass(TM) Select, which offers unlimited airport lounge visits to over 1,200 lounges in over 130 countries, regardless of which carrier or class you are flying. Escape the busy airport and enjoy snacks, drinks, and internet access in a quiet, comfortable location.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on international purchases.
  • Safeguard your phone with Cell Phone Protection. Receive reimbursement for your repair or replacement costs (the lesser of) following damage, such as a cracked screen, or theft for a maximum of $800 per claim when your cell phone line is listed on a wireless bill and the prior month's wireless bill was paid by an Eligible Card Account. A $50 deductible will apply to each approved claim with a limit of 2 approved claims per 12-month period. Additional terms and conditions apply. Coverage is provided by New Hampshire Insurance Company, an AIG Company.
  • Terms Apply.

Wanting to keep the snow theme alive, my next adventure was dog sledding in Minnesota with Outward Bound. This nonprofit offers free trips every year for veterans with everything from sailing, to rafting, to dog sledding. They even paid for my flight to Minnesota and to my next destination. 

Credit Card Points and Air Travel

Air travel is expensive. It’s easy in planning long-term travel to have the “travel” part be one of the most expensive. 

I had a significant number of points acquired through my military fee waived credit cards, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and The Platinum Card® from American Express.

I like having both Visa and Amex credit cards because Visa is accepted more globally than Amex. I built up points while on active duty, where I took advantage of the waived yearly fees. 

I still kept my Amex Platinum card. Full review of the Amex Platinum for military here. While on active duty, the yearly fee is waived. Even though I’m not active duty anymore, the annual fee is still worth it to me. The travel perks are amazing:

Military SCRA MLA AMEX Platinum

The Platinum Card® from American Express
Learn how to apply on our partner's secure site

  • Annual fee of $695* See more details about military protections for you and your spouse 
  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $8,000 on eligible purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership
  • Earn 5x points on airfare booked directly with airline or on up to $500,000 per calendar year
  • Earn 5x points on prepaid hotels at
  • $200 Annual Hotel Credit: Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings with American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®. Note that The Hotel Collection requires a minimum two-night stay
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back in statement credits each month when you pay for eligible purchases with the Platinum Card® at your choice of one or more of the following providers: Disney+, a Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Enrollment required.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on Uber Eats and rides every year. Only available to the basic card member, Terms Apply
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at 1 qualifying airline
  • $189 CLEAR® Plus Credit: CLEAR® Plus helps to get you to your gate faster at 50+ airports nationwide and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your Membership (subject to auto-renewal) when you use your Card. CLEARLanes are available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues.
  • This is a MAJOR time saver–$100 statement credit every 4 years for a Global Entry application fee or a statement credit up to $85 every 4.5 year period for TSA PreCheck® application fee for a 5-year plan only (through a TSA PreCheck® official enrollment provider), when charged to your Platinum Card®! Card Members approved for Global Entry will also receive access to TSA PreCheck at no additional cost.
  • Complimentary access to the American Express Global Lounge Collection® lets you visit more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting. You can love the lounge life with more airport lounge options than any other credit card issuer on the market. As of 03/2023.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax.
  • Up to $100 annual Saks Fifth Avenue credit, enrollment required
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express – learn how to apply
  • Read my full review of the Amex Platinum card for military, terms apply

And while flying you get access to the American Express Centurion® Lounges and a host of other lounges via the Priority Pass, membership which is free with the Amex Platinum Card®. There’s nothing like being able to kick back and relax at an airport lounge while traveling. And it surely helps with layovers.

Even though I am no longer on active duty and the annual fee is no longer waived, I still have this card. The price is made up through all the perks. Check out this article to see what to do with credit cards when you leave active duty.

Chase Sapphire Reserve bonus

Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card
Learn how to apply on our partner's secure site

  • $550 annual fee waived to $0 for US military + spouses with Chase MLA policy
  • Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,125 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Travel℠
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through through Chase Travel℠ immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually.
  • 3x Points on other Travel (airfare, hotels) after earning the $300 travel credit
  • 3x Dining restaurants, takeouts, delivery
  • Chase Ultimate Reward Points redeemed through Chase Travel℠ are worth 1.5 cents, a 50% bonus.
  • Priority Pass lounge and restaurant access with over 1300+ airport lounges worldwide
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry every 4 years
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Primary coverage with Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • No foreign transaction fees, Member FDIC
  • Learn more in the Chase Sapphire Reserve review

Long-Term Travel With Military Benefits

Long-term travel is a dream for a lot of people. It can be a ton of fun. There are numerous ways to save through budget travel options.

The good part about taking advantage of these is that if you are traveling long-term, you usually have flexible options and won’t mind taking a cheaper flight or longer bus ride, where someone on a shorter timeline will want to pay for the convenience. 

After a military career, it’s important to reflect on what you’ve experienced and accomplished. Take advantage of these offers and opportunities and build the experience you want.

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