Have you ever wanted to try Space-A Travel but were a little intimidated? It is a great option for free travel if you are flexible. The Air Mobility Command (AMC) flies planes around the world and when there is unused space it is available for Space-Available flights. Military Service Members and their families can travel around the country or the world for little or no cost. It is very unpredictable but if you have a flexible time frame and take the time to plan, Space-A can be a fun adventure. Most bases have lodging available for TDY and PCS moves. When those spaces aren’t reserved, they are also open for Space Available reservations.
So how do you find out about using all these great low-cost options. First visit the Air Mobility Command website and go to the AMC-Space-A travel section. This spells everything out in black and white. If you have difficulty reading military jargon check out Military Space Available Travel which has info on flights and lodging. Stephanie Montague, a retired military spouse, created Poppin’ Smoke a blog about travel using your military benefits to stay and fly. She also has a Space-A getting started guide which is very informative. Another option is to check out Military One Source which has a great section on Space-A Tips and Tricks.
Most AMC terminals run a Facebook page which has all the information on what flights are available. It is useful to visit and look at dates that have past. For example, flights don’t just leave from military bases some leave from airports. A quick look at flights to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany showed 72 seats released and only 32 used with the lowest category a CAT VI which means even if you were the lowest category on that flight you would have made that flight. Whereas another flight showed 10 seats released, 10 used and they took CAT II so if you were a CAT VI you would not have made that flight. The Facebook pages typically post a 72-hour flight schedule and many post the monthly schedule as well.
The basics (make sure to visit Air Mobility Command to verify eligibility, paperwork, etc.) to take a flight are:
- Sign-up – Up to 60 days from when you expect to take your trip and at each potential terminal. There is some gamesmanship involved. Many like to show up about 50-55 days out so they have been the longest on the list for their category and it also allows a few days after your arrival at the terminal in case you don’t get on a flight the first day before your 60 days is up and you have to sign up again.
- Double Check – A few days prior to travel call the terminal and verify your standing on the list.
- Check In – On the day of your planned trip arrive at the terminal with all the required documents and your baggage at least one hour prior to roll call when they call the names for that flight. Make sure to double check the times for roll call as it can change as well as the flight times.
- Wait – Now you wait while they call the names and hope that you are called. If you are not called, you are still eligible for the next flights to your destination or you can look at other flights leaving that day.
A few things to increase your odds of success. Give yourself a three-day buffer on each end of your vacation. Most Space-A flights are scheduled Mondays thru Fridays. Be flexible if you want to go to Spain and can get a flight to somewhere in Europe take it. Once there you can possibly take another flight to Spain or find cheaper commercial options to get there. Don’t fly on drill weekends or during school breaks as you will have a difficult time getting a flight.
So, what do you do if you don’t make your flight or something unexpected happens? Montague says you must be adaptable. “We adapt by being flexible and prepared to move. Flexibility is key when your destination changes to an unexpected location. Preparing to strategize means having your resources at hand to coordinate lodging, transportation, and other logistics wherever you land. Case in point. Last year we were flying Space-A from Japan to Europe, and we thought our most likely landing point would be Ramstein AB or NAVSTA Rota; those bases have frequent flights from the US, and we’ve flown in and out of both terminals several times. As it turned out, the final leg of our journey was from JB McGuire to Spangdahlem, Germany. We had never flown via Spangdahlem, but we knew that the base is somewhat remote and doesn’t have as many passenger services as Ramstein. While waiting at McGuire, we researched the logistics and our transportation options in Spangdahlem so that we knew exactly what to do when we hit ground. When flying into a terminal for the first time, research that location as much as possible before boarding, and begin strategizing your next move when you land.”
So you have finally arrived at your destination, now what? If you did your planning, you investigated Space-A lodging opportunities. In addition to lodging on the military bases there are also some great Armed Forces Recreation Centers. The one most familiar to everyone is the “Shades of Green” at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. There are also the Edelweiss Lodge and Resort in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany; the Dragon Hill Lodge in Seoul, Korea; the Hale Koa Hotel in Fort DeRussy, Hawaii.; and the New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo, Japan. These are awesome luxury resorts if you can get into them. Also check the MWR site at the military base you plan to go to for other lodging options. Fort Story in Virginia Beach is a beach front option to stay at. Another option is Pacific Beach on the west coast of Washington State which is an old Navy base turned into a resort. Each branch of service has a lodging website for example Navy Lodging. You can find options online by searching for military lodging which will give you tons of options to plan your trip.
Another option for getting advice on Space-A travel is to ask your fellow military spouses about their experiences. Facebook pages for military spouses or your military base are a great resource to ask questions. Often the military clothing sales stores on the base will have books on taking a space-a flight or books on lodging options.
Have you ever taken a Space-A trip? What was your experience like?
Marguerite Cleveland is a freelance writer who specializes in human interest and travel stories. She is a military brat, a veteran and now a military spouse. Her military experience is vast as the daughter of a Navy man who served as an enlisted sailor and then Naval Officer. She served as an enlisted soldier in the reserves and on active duty, then as an Army Officer. She currently serves as a military spouse. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two sons. Visit her website www.WanderWordsWine.com