Military Airfares Are No Bargain: Seek a Better Deal
McCoy, Terry, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Betsy Eves could only curse when she learned what it would cost to fly her husband, Army Spc. David Eves, home after his tour in Iraq.
With less than a week's notice, the military rate for a United Airlines flight from Baltimore to their Seattle home in February was $1,200 -- twice the price of a regular fare.
Nationwide, some soldiers and their families are puzzled, and others incensed, that so-called military fares offered by U.S. airlines sometimes cost more than the cheapest tickets for leisure travelers. This contradicts a 2003 congressional resolution, and a local congressman said legislation is being considered to require airlines to give returning service members the cheapest tickets possible.
When bought more than a week in advance, a United military fare from Baltimore to Seattle would cost $600, an airline reservations representative said. Such tickets are sold on availability.
"To be honest with you, military fares aren't worth anyone's time," Eves said. "Single soldier, married soldier -- no matter what, they don't help."
A United Airlines spokesman said Eves' situation was a "rarity."
But frequently, it's not.
The Tribune-Review compared military rates and regular fares for flights on various airlines between randomly chosen cities eight days before departure. In each case, the lowest military rate was more expensive than the lowest regular rate. For example, US Airways said Sunday that a ticket purchased for travel July 14 from Baltimore to Minneapolis would cost $565 at the military rate, while the cheapest advance fare was $399.
Airline spokesmen said military rates are set, while regular fares fluctuate -- sometimes falling below the military price.
"It's a feel-good corporate move by these airlines to say that they have these military rates," said Nancy Totman, lobbyist for Blue Star Moms, a nationwide group of mothers of service members. "People are not getting their military fares, and it's very frustrating."
On their own
The government pays to fly soldiers on leave home from a combat theater.
Sometimes, service members don't have the luxury of advance notice; they might get 24 hours' notice of a leave. That raises the price of a domestic ticket because the purchase is so close to departure, airline officials and soldier advocate groups said. Some airlines add fees to cover a potential cancellation or flight change.
"I've been in the military for 25 years and fly my family all over the place, and I've never bought a military ticket," said Lt. Col. Chris Cleaver, spokesman for the Pennsylvania National Guard. "It's because they're so expensive."
Though United and its competitors say Eves' situation and others are anomalies, they acknowledge such price discrepancies occur. …