Now's the time to travel as companies offer savings to military
The war has wound down, troops are heading home and summertime travel deals are lining up like recruits at the chow hall.
And here’s the gossip: It’s not going to cost every last penny of your imminent danger pay.
Airlines, cruise companies, theme parks and hotels are handing out deals for servicemembers and their families and they’re out just in time to welcome the troops home.
“I’ve been working here for the past seven years and have never seen deals getting as good as they are at the moment,” said Karen Bacordo, Okinawa’s Omega World Travel general manager. “There is certainly a lot of appreciation for the military.”
One airline is offering one-way flights as cheap as $79. Cruise lines are cutting fares by more than half — and a trip to see Shamu this summer costs nothing more than a flash of your active-duty ID card.
Time to trade that C-130 cargo plane for something more civilized? U.S. Airways is offering “Salute Savings,” a program for active-duty and Reserve troops and their immediate families. Bacordo said some fares are as low as $79 per ticket on a one-way flight, depending on origin and destination. Discount tickets are available anywhere US Airways flies, including the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico and Europe.
The savings don’t come without a catch, though. Bacordo said each flight usually has a limited number of discount seats, so they go fast. To cash in on the savings, servicemembers need to buy their tickets by Dec. 31, and travel must be completed by Feb. 12, 2004.
It’s not just US Airways that’s tipping the cap to the uniformed services. Alaska and Horizon Air slashed fares by 40 percent for active and Reserve servicemembers and their families traveling with them. It’s called “Thank You Fares,” and covers all flights originating in the United States and requires a Saturday-night stay-over and a three-day advance purchase. It’s available for flights scheduled until Feb. 12, 2004, but again, tickets must be purchased early. The deal checks out Sept. 30.
Rest and relaxation
Getting there is half the battle. Just ask the troops who raced across the Iraqi deserts. But this time the final destination can be a bit cozier.
For those sailors who didn’t get enough of the big blue ocean, there’s a stateroom waiting to be booked with a bit more comfort.
The savings aren’t all Mickey Mouse, though. Cruises Only (www.cruisesonly.com) is advertising that Norwegian Cruise Lines offers a 14-night “Exotic Caribbean” on Norwegian Dawn for $399 and seven-night New York to Bermuda on the Norwegian Sea for $399.
For those who would rather stay on dry land, there are plenty of destinations, and it doesn’t get better than free. Two chain resorts, Sandals and Beaches, are giving away free four-night stays for the next two years at any of their locations in St. Lucia, Antigua, Jamaica, the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas. The only catch: you must find your own way there. The vacations are all-inclusive. Everything is free from the meals and drinks — including liquor — to water-skiing and golf. To get in on the deal, servicemembers must go to Beaches or Sandals Web sites (www.beaches.com and www.sandals.com respectively), fill out the form and submit it by Aug. 9. Vacations worth up to $2 million, and $2,000 per person, will be given away.
Not one of the lucky ones to get it all for free? Real Resorts, which owns several properties along the Mexican Caribbean, is offering 50 percent savings on three of its resorts. Called the “Red, White and Blue” rates, the offer is open to all servicemembers — active-duty, Reserve, national guardsmen and U.S. Coast Guardsmen. It runs from May 28 through Dec. 20. Rates start at $80 per person, per night.
Hotels in Puerta Vallarta are offering more perks for the peso, too. Hotel Rosita and El Pescadro are giving military members deals with rooms for $50 per night at Hotel Rosita and $58 per night at El Pescadro through Dec. 21.
How does free sound?
Looking for something a little more domestic after venturing off to the farthest reaches of the globe? Look no further than Anheuser-Busch theme parks.
The beer brewers own six theme parks across America — Sea Worlds in Orlando, San Antonio and San Diego, as well as Busch Gardens in Tampa, Fla., and Williamsburg Va., and the Sesame Place in Langhorne, Pa. Admission for military members — and up to four dependents — is free between Memorial Day and Veterans Day under a program called “Operation Salute.” For more information, visit their Web site: www.anheuserbusch.com
Disneyland and Walt Disney World are giving free deals too. Tickets into the Anaheim, Calif., and Orlando, Fla., parks are free for uniformed servicemembers. Servicemembers are admitted free into the parks and that also extends to immediate family members. The deal runs from now through Dec. 19. Special deals aren’t new to Disney. Officials there have offered servicemembers and their families special fares before.
Feeling lucky? How about a visit to Las Vegas? Sixty of Vegas’ top hotels are taking part in “Operation Welcome Home,” offering 20 percent discounts, including hotels such as the Alladin, Luxor, Excalibur, Paris Las Vegas, Stratosphere, Terribles and more. Additional information can be found at www.vegasfreedom.com by clicking on “Great Deals.”
The only catch with these deals is they’re bound to book up fast, Bacardo said.
“I’d recommend booking flights and vacation fairly soon,” she said. “Once the word gets out, it’s going to get busy. The cruises, I’m sure, will book up fast.”
For more information, contact your local travel office, or visit Omega World Travel on the Internet at: www.owt.net.