It’s one of the best parts about being stationed on Okinawa. The Okuma Recreation Facility is a family recreation paradise operated by the military on the north side of the island. This hidden gem has bike paths, glass-bottom boat tours, golf and kayaking. With cabins located on the beach, I knew that I wanted to stay at Okuma at least once during the 3 years we were stationed on Okinawa.
But booking a cabin at Okuma wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.
First I had to track down the reservation phone number. Next I had to find out how far in advance a guest can make a reservation. Then I needed to make a reservation for the type of room my service member was eligible to stay at.
I had 3 false starts before finally succeeding at making a lodging reservation for us.
These obstacles are not uncommon when it comes to booking a room at military lodging. A friend of mine was complaining just last week saying “Why is it so hard to book a room at military lodging?” She wanted to stay in Pensacola, Fl., during a cross-country PCS road trip.
We know that there are some awesome military lodging locations. But making a reservation can be such a pain in the butt. What’s the best way to do it?
Here are 4 tips for booking a room at military lodging.
Find out how far in advance you can make a reservation and memorize their cancellation policy. OK, you don’t have to memorize their cancellation policy. But you want to be familiar with it and clearly understand it.
Some military lodging facilities will allow guests to book a year in advance. So if you want to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Tokyo on Dec. 31, 2017, you needed to book your room at the New Sanno Hotel on Dec. 31, 2016.
Other military-owned facilities allow guests to make reservations 180 days in advance. There isn’t 1 cancellation policy for all DoD lodging. It varies by location, so make sure you understand it when planning your vacation.
In general, reservations can be made months in advance. I recommend making your reservation as far in advance as possible.
Wait, back to the cancellation policy. Here’s why that is important.
Book ahead as long as you understand the cancellation policy because it may not be the same as a civilian hotel’s cancellation policy.
For example, when we booked our Disney vacation and planned to stay at Shades of Green, we were told that room cancellations, without a fee, must be done 30 days in advance. I put that information in my iPhone calendar and then at 31 days until our family vacation, I double-checked with my husband that our vacation was still a go.
This means, yes, his leave was approved. Yes, he would back from his deployment in time to drive to Orlando with us. No, we didn’t want to stay at a different resort.
Use the phone number. In my experience, the best way to make a reservation with military lodging is over the phone. Hands down. It’s the way to go. That way, you can find out if you’re eligible to stay at this military lodge (more on that later), what their cancellation policy is, what type of room you’re getting, what amenities that room has (coffee maker, mini fridge) and what you are paying for this room. Typically, room rates are based on pay grade.
Plus when you are on the phone and the dates you want a room aren’t available, you can find out if you can be put on a waiting list. Some military lodging has waiting lists for guests.
Understand who is eligible to stay where. Not all military lodging is open to everyone. When you are researching a particular location, make sure you understand if you are eligible to stay there or not.
Some facilities are available to active duty and retired service members, National Guard members and Reservists, and DoD and nonappropriated funding government employees and their immediate family members. Some facilities like the Marines’ Memorial Club and Hotel in San Francisco and Hale Koa in Hawaii are open to all veterans, regardless of length of service.
I should also mention that service members traveling on orders always have first priority for military lodging. I’ve never lost a room due to service members who needed it, but I could have. I recommend booking a back-up hotel, a civilian one with a no-fee 24-hour cancellation policy.
Look to other military families for information about military lodging. As you can see, it isn’t impossible to book at room at an inexpensive military resort. But it can be frustrating if you don’t understand the reservation policies.
When you’re looking for information, ask questions on your local military spouse Facebook groups. Once you figure out the secrets of booking a room, share your knowledge with other military families. It’s the best kind of paying it forward, in my opinion.