Military retirees have access to a host of benefits and privileges that can make travel more affordable, feasible, and convenient. Depending on where you are in life, you may not be in a position to take advantage of all your military retirement benefits right away, but any single benefit is extremely valuable!
These benefits help provide the financial flexibility to support travel, whether it’s a long-awaited vacation or an extended journey.
First and foremost, we have the obvious: your military retirement pay. Depending on when you joined and how many years you served, you receive a monthly pension equivalent to 50 – 75% of your base pay for the rest of your life.
Inexpensive Health Care
Once you retire, TRICARE is no longer free of charge. If you’ve been active duty your whole adult life, you may not be accustomed to paying for health insurance. But if you do a little research, you will find that the costs of TRICARE programs for retirees are significantly lower than the cost of most other health insurance. As a bonus, with affordable coverage that is not tied to an employer, you have a lot of flexibility, whether you want to travel, work part time, or even start your own location-independent business!
TRICARE’s website explains your options, and this brochure summarizes the plans available for retirees. There are too many possibilities to discuss here, and I am not a TRICARE expert, but I can tell you what we use.
The Health Care Option for Our Traveling Lifestyle
While traveling or living abroad, our only option is TRICARE Standard Overseas. In most cases, users of the Overseas plan must go to a local doctor, pay the bill themselves, and then submit the charges to TRICARE. TRICARE sends reimbursement for the amount they allow for the service, minus 25% (the “cost share”). The good news is that medical care in most other countries is significantly less expensive than in the United States. My husband went to a doctor in Japan and the charge was only $40.
Using the Overseas plan, we could seek care on a space-available basis at a US military base abroad, but we have not tried it yet.
While in the United States, we use TRICARE Standard and Extra. As long as we go to TRICARE-authorized providers, they file the claims for us and all we have to do is pay our cost share directly to the provider. We don’t need referrals to go to specialists, which is very convenient when we are only in the country for a short time.
A Note About Dental…
While TRICARE Health Insurance plans are a great deal, the TRICARE Retiree Dental Program is relatively more expensive and has more restrictions. I recommend doing the math to figure out whether it makes sense for you and your family to purchase it.
As an example, suppose you are seeking coverage for you and your spouse. Depending on where you live, the monthly premium is between $75 and $85 per month. You each get two free cleanings per year and a set of x-rays. For most other services, the insurance covers 50% to 80% of the cost. BUT, the maximum amount they cover per person per year is $1,300. If you have a few cavities, you may hit that max pretty quickly. For the rest of the year, you will be paying all other dental expenses out of pocket in addition to the monthly premium for the dental insurance.
Again, it’s a good idea to do a few rough calculations to decide what’s best for you. For a more in-depth analysis of the pros and cons of dental insurance, check out this post from The Military Guide. And of course, if you haven’t retired yet, be sure to have any major dental work done while you’re still active!
Depending on when you served, you probably have access to one of the GI Bill Programs, which help cover the cost of education or training after you leave the military. The most popular program for those serving in recent years is the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Fortunately, this program is the most generous and flexible of all the programs.
With the Post-9/11 GI bill, the government pays for up to 36 months of schooling. Not only is tuition covered, but the student receives a monthly housing allowance equivalent to the BAH of an E5 with dependents (based on the ZIP code of the school) as well as up to $1,000 per year for books and supplies. VA’s website has the detailed rates.
As a retiree, you can use your Post-9/11 GI Bill to go to school and earn a pretty decent amount of tax-free money while you’re at it. Keep in mind that you can study whatever you want. You do not have to enroll in a degree program. It could be a vocational or technical program or even flight school.
Alternate Ways to Use Your Benefit
By the time you retire, you may have had enough of “schools,” whether through the military or otherwise. Maybe school was just never your thing. If you have an interest or hobby you want to pursue, consider how you could use your education benefit to learn more about it.
Let’s say you’ve always wanted to learn to cook. You could enroll in the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, located in the heart of California Wine Country, and receive $2,049 per month to pay for your living expenses. Not bad, right? Using this benefit could be a great way to experience life in a new place (in the U.S. or elsewhere) while learning a new skill without draining your bank account!
If you’re still in the military and have dependents who are planning to go to school in a few years, you may be able to transfer all or part of your Post-9/11 GI Bill to them. Keep in mind that in most cases, you have to transfer the benefit at least 4 years before getting out of the military
Final Military-Sponsored Move and Storage of Household Goods
When retiring from the military, you are entitled to one final military-sponsored move. They will transport your household goods (HHG) from your home at your last duty station to your Home of Selection. This document published by Fort Belvoir does a nice job of summarizing the sections of the 1,800-page Joint Federal Travel Regulation (JFTR) that pertain to retiree moves.
One of the most important points for would-be travelers — or anyone who isn’t quite sure where they want to settle — is that you are entitled to storage of HHG for up to 1 year after your retirement date. After your one-year anniversary, you may request to extend the storage at your own expense.
For me and my husband, the final move and HHG storage benefit was a huge factor in our decision to take the year off and travel. When we were ready to vacate our house in DC, the movers packed everything the same way they would for a regular PCS move. But instead of delivering it to a new location, they put it in storage, and we were free of that burden for an entire year!
By the time my husband’s one-year retirement anniversary rolled around, we had not yet decided where we wanted to land. We requested to extend the storage, as permitted by the JFTR. Now we are shouldering the cost of the monthly storage, but for the time being, it’s worth it. Rather than having to choose a place we aren’t sure we want to settle and potentially wasting that valuable military-sponsored move, we have the flexibility to take our time figuring out our long-term plans.
For retirees, traveling Space-A means you are using military services and resources — primarily flights and lodging — that have extra capacity. In other words, you can use the services after higher priority needs have been met. Higher priorities include official military business and anything for active duty service members and their dependents.
Depending on where you’re going and when, there is a lot of extra capacity, creating many great opportunities for retirees. If your timing is right and you are flexible, you can travel all over the world, stay in very nice accommodations, and save a ton of money.
Traveling Space-A has saved me and my husband thousands of dollars, not to mention added a bit of adventure to our air travels. We are continually amazed by the number of military folks we meet who don’t know Space-A travel is an option or are reluctant to try it.
The prospect of traveling Space-A may seem daunting, because, like everything in the military, there are many rules and processes to follow. At the end of this section, I’ve listed several good resources that explain all the official details. This website is designed to help you understand how the processes work in practice and give you strategies for navigating the system successfully.
Learn how you can take military “hops” all over the world. I broke the process down into easy steps and explained exactly what my husband and I do to plan a trip using military flights.
Lodging on military bases is a great option for many reasons. It can give you access to fantastic locations all over the world (the Navy in particular has a knack for choosing the best real estate) in accommodations that range from basic to downright luxurious. Sometimes staying on base is simply a safe, affordable way to avoid taking your chances with hotels in an area you don’t know. Either way, military lodging has the added benefit of giving you easy access to other base facilities, such as the fitness center and commissary.
Other Space-A Resources
Here are three useful websites for detailed discussion of Space-A travel:
- Air Mobility Command: I recommend starting here to learn about flying Space-A. It provides concise instructions for signing up, describes eligibility, and has a list of all passenger terminals with links to their respective Facebook pages.
- UJ Space A Info: This website, owned and actively maintained by an Air Force retiree, contains a wealth of information about Space-A destinations all over the world. From the home page, you can select a state or country to see detailed information about military bases located there along with links to lodging and other local resources.
- SpaceA.net: This site has some of the same information as the Air Mobility Command as well as details about all things Space-A, including lodging, base and terminal services. The most useful aspect of the site is the section on Space-A FAQs, which provides detailed answers to dozens of questions.
Facebook groups are an excellent way to share information and ask questions related to Space-A travel. Even if you are not an active Facebook user, it is worth establishing an account to gain access to the knowledge shared by members of these groups. The groups are “closed,” meaning you have to request to join.
- The Space A Travelers of USA Facebook Group: With approximately 53,000 members, this is the largest Space-A group on Facebook. Members use it to ask questions and receive crowd-sourced answers from other members. Several Space-A experts moderate the group and often post updates on significant changes to Space-A policies. The group is for the entire military community, not just retirees.
- Cat VI Retirees Facebook Group: A Space-A travel group specifically for retirees. With 4,000+ members, it is much smaller than the main group, but the information shared may be more relevant to your circumstances.
Base Facilities & Resources
When searching for a hotel for your next vacation, what amenities might you look for?
A nice pool? A golf course with beautiful views? How about a beach with access to boat rentals and water sports? Or maybe you want to visit local tourist attractions, so you’re looking for advice and cheap tickets.
Well guess what? You can have all of the above on U.S. military bases around the world! Not only are these amenities available to you as a retiree, regardless of your branch of service, but they are significantly less expensive than at a regular hotel or resort.
Consider incorporating some on-base activities into your next vacation or weekend getaway to make it much more affordable.
You can plan an entire vacation around bases that are located on some of the best real estate in the world! Even if you don’t stay on base, you can still take advantage of the facilities of a base nearby.
What follows is a reminder of some of the great amenities and services you can find on many military bases worldwide. Keep checking back for more in-depth information about specific bases.
Many military bases have at least one golf course, and some military courses are ranked among the best in the country. The green fees are a fraction of what you would pay at a private course and less expensive than many public courses. Practically all of the more than 150 military golf courses offer club rentals and lower-priced food and drinks. During your next space-A travel, take time to tee it up at your military base golf course.
Many bases located near a large body of water have nice beaches exclusively for military ID-card holders. Whether it’s a beach that’s entirely contained on the base or one that borders a public beach (Naval Amphibious Base Coronado is a great example), they are generally less crowded and better-maintained than public beaches.
If a base is on the water, there may also be a marina with boat and/or equipment rental. Boat rentals, through Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) will save you lots of money compared to renting a boat through a civilian company. For example, you can rent a 24’ pontoon boat at MacDill AFB in Tampa, Florida for up to 5 hours for only $70. The price for the entire day is $110. At a local marina off base, the prices for a similar boat are $209 and $369 for a half and full-day rental, respectively.
Some base marinas also offer boat tours, SCUBA diving trips, and SCUBA certification courses, all at rates significantly lower than at civilian facilities.
Information, Tickets & Travel (ITT) Office
The ITT Office is like a travel agency for the military. If a base is within a few hours of any significant tourist attractions, such as amusement parks, live shows, or museums, the ITT Office has tickets, often at a significantly reduced price. You can also arrange tours and get advice, maps and information related to the local area.
Depending on the base and surrounding area, the Outdoor Recreation Centers rent equipment appropriate for the local geography and season. In addition to tents, grills, and other camping gear, they often rent hiking boots and poles, ski and snowboard equipment, and sport-specific clothing. Even if a base is not right on the water, you may still be able to rent boats (and the accompanying trailer) or kayaks. Many Outdoor Recreation offices also offer organized tours, activities and lessons, such as hikes, stand-up paddle boarding lessons, and kayaking tours.
Every military base has a fitness center, so you know you always have a place to exercise. Some bases have especially nice full-service facilities where you can spend the entire day with your family.
One perk of military fitness centers is the trend towards 24/7 accessibility. At some facilities, such as Travis AFB, you simply submit an application and get a key card that you use during hours when the facility is not staffed. This new feature is especially nice for Space-A travelers who might be traveling through multiple time zones and want to exercise at odd hours.
Outdoor Pool, Tennis Courts, Movie, Bowling . . .
Many bases have most or all of these things. You can save a lot of money while using what are often first-rate facilities, all right on base!
Armed Forces Recreation Centers (coming soon)