If you’re retired from the military, chances are you’ve spent some time in temporary on-base lodging, either while TDY or during a PCS move. As a retiree, you can stay in temporary lodging at most US military bases around the world on a space-available basis. While the level and type of accommodation varies widely, having the option to stay on a military base is an incredible benefit available to military retirees and their dependents.
During our 2-month US road trip in 2015, my husband and I spent only three nights in a regular hotel. Other than a few visits with friends, we stayed on military bases all other nights. In every instance, we enjoyed relaxing stays, a good workout, and in some cases, free breakfast before getting back on the road.
You might be surprised by all the places you can find US military bases, even overseas. While driving from Germany to France, we needed a place to spend the night, so we checked to see whether there were any military bases nearby. Sure enough, Chievres Air Base in Lens, Belgium was right on the way. We enjoyed a little taste of home between stays at our European-style apartments.
Space-A lodging is great because it’s inexpensive, clean, and safe, and you always have access to a good fitness facility. Some of the rooms are quite spacious, often with a kitchen and living room. Depending on the location and length of your stay, while you’re there you may be able to use other base services, such as the commissary, the BX, the golf course, or recreational equipment rentals.
Reservation Basics & Tips
Whatever your branch of service, you can stay on any US military base that offers Space-A lodging. Policies vary by location in terms of how far in advance you can reserve a room and for how long. In some places you can reserve up to 30 days in advance, but many of the temporary lodging facilities we used didn’t accept Space-A reservations more than a few days or a week before arrival. We’ve stayed in several places that would only let us reserve one night at a time.
We have a few tried-and-true strategies when booking Space-A lodging. No matter what the receptionist tells us about availability when we first call to make a reservation, we almost always get a room. Here are a few tips that got us 2 weeks at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado over 4th of July and more than a week at the Hale Koa (an Armed Forces Recreation Center in Hawaii) on only a couple days’ notice:
- Call the front desk and speak to the staff directly. If you can find a phone number for the lodge, call them directly rather than going through the central reservation line or the DOD Lodging website. The receptionist on duty might know of a cancellation or early check-out that is not reflected in the reservation system.
- Request one night at a time. Some lodges are reluctant to reserve multiple nights for a Space-A guest, even if it’s not officially against their policy. In those cases, we reserve one night at a time. The next morning, we call and ask if we can extend our stay. This strategy rarely fails.
- Ask the receptionist when you should try again. If they’re full the first time we call, we always ask when we should call back. Each location has its own policies and deadlines. At the Hale Koa, the receptionist told my husband to call at 0700 — not 0659, not 0701 — to inquire about last-minute cancellations. He followed her instructions and we got a room for a few nights, then an extension for another week right in the middle of Spring Break season.
- Call after check-in deadlines or check-out times. If we don’t have intel like we had at the Hale Koa, we use our own logic to guess when they might release rooms. Many lodges hold rooms until midnight, at which point the guest is considered a no-show. Calling around 1100 after most guests have checked out is another option.
- Inquire about a VIP/Distinguished Visitor (DV) room. Even if the rest of the lodge is full, the receptionist may not offer these rooms unless you specifically ask. They often keep a DV room or two on reserve, but if you’re trying for a last-minute stay, it’s worth asking if they will release one. DV rooms generally cost $10 or $20 more than regular rooms, but they are still a great deal.
- Try for a room no matter how unlikely it seems. On more than one occasion, after hearing from fellow Space-A passengers that on-base lodging was full, my husband called and successfully reserved a room. When we landed at Andersen AFB in Guam for an overnight layover before continuing to Hawaii, everyone said Space-A lodging was rarely available. Even the sign next to the phone in the terminal indicated as much. Despite those warnings, my husband called anyway, and while most of our fellow passengers spent the night in the terminal, we stayed at the lodge. Don’t take everyone else’s word for it; always try for a room.
Retirees and their family members may stay in Space-A lodging on most US military bases around the world. Each branch of service has its own eligibility policy, but in general, Space-A lodging is more flexible than Space-A flying. A retiree’s spouse may use the privilege without the retiree present. Also, family members staying with the retiree in Space-A lodging need not be the retiree’s dependents (i.e., they do not need a DOD identification card).
Individual bases may have their own restrictions, and there is no policy that applies to all facilities, even within a branch of service, so you should call and check before making your arrangements.
Accommodations by Service
Each branch of service runs their own temporary lodging.
Air Force: Air Forces Inns runs temporary lodging on most Air Force bases and has 89 locations around the world. We’ve always had great experiences at Air Force Inns, and I especially like the automatic coffee machines they often have in the lobby. Sometimes it’s the little things that make you look forward to your stay!
Army: Due to the Privatization of Army Lodging (PAL) program, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) now runs most of the Army’s temporary lodging facilities within the contiguous United States (CONUS). On some bases, IHG uses their own branding, such as Holiday Inn Express or Candlewood Suites. On other bases they’ve retained the old name, such as the Rainier Inn on JB Lewis-McChord. Under IHG, the rooms are more expensive and, unlike temporary lodging run by other branches of the military, you pay tax on the rate. One benefit of the privatization is that you can accrue and use points as part of IHG’s loyalty program.
Army Lodging manages one CONUS location and all locations outside the contiguous United States (OCONUS). The rate at facilities run by Army Lodging is not taxed.
Marines: Inns of the Corps manages temporary lodging on Marine Bases. There are more than a dozen locations across the United States and in Hawaii and Japan.
Navy: The Navy has two brands of accommodation: Navy Gateway Inns & Suites (NGIS) and Navy Lodge. Both brands have locations worldwide, and many naval bases have an NGIS and a Navy Lodge. We’ve stayed at both accommodations many times and found them to be equally good.
Coast Guard: Coast Guard bases tend to be small, and most do not have temporary lodging. In general, those that have it are training bases, but there is no centralized management of those facilities. If you want to stay at a Coast Guard base, your best bet is to look for the base’s information on the Coast Guard website.
National Guard: Many National Guard locations (mostly training centers) have lodging, but it is managed by the individual sites. Depending on the facility, space-a accommodations range from single rooms with shared bath to Distinguished Visitor Quarters. If you would like to stay at a National Guard base, I recommended searching online by individual location.
Across all branches of service, there are hundreds of locations and well over 50,000 rooms available for Space-A lodging. Whether you want convenience to a passenger terminal, ocean views, or simply an affordable place to stay while traveling, on-base lodging is a great option!