Updated: Sep 7, 2020
Traveling to Europe without breaking the bank can be doable, if you are a patient and flexible person, but I mean who is?
I heard about Space A (Space Available) years ago but I thought it was too good to be true to ever take advantage of. To know more about my first experience with Space A and getting cheap plane tickets, keep reading.
One of the best kept secrets of advantages of being in the military is FREE FLIGHTS around the world! That is, if you have a few days to spare, which WHO DOES?! However, if you find yourself in a flexible time frame and have an itch to travel, keep reading.
My family and I are celebrating my mom’s 50th Birthday in Paris, so I needed to get halfway around the world without breaking the bank. First thing I did was google, how to get cheap flights. Here is what I learned;
HOW TO GET A CHEAP FLIGHT
First things first, search for flights (and hotels) incognito or private browsing mode for the lowest prices. For Mac, open Google Chrome or Safari and hit Shift+⌘+N, for PCs it's Ctrl+Shift+N. If you're using Firefox or Internet Explorer it'll be ⌘(or Ctrl for PCs)+Shift+P. This prevents your cookies from being tracked and stops the prices from getting too competitive and changing the more you look at them.
Second thing I did, how to find the CHEAPEST flights to Europe from literally anywhere in the United States? FORUMS. I went to Twitter, I wanted deals. There are many forums out there to find flight advertisements to certain cities around the world; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, etc. I found a group on Twitter (@SecretFlying) that shows deals from the biggest cities in the United States to include San Francisco. I found a deal going from SFO to Paris for $325 nonstop with United. Once you find the deal, book the flight through the company's website. I went to United’s website, typed in SFO to Paris and my dates, and the price was right. Now, I just needed to get from HNL to SFO.
3. Space A
Third thing, MILITARY- know your surroundings. This goes for physical security, but also destinations! Find your nearest Passenger Terminal’s facebook page, "like" it, and analyze which cities it flies to often. If you live in Hawaii, you’ll see Hickam AFB has flights to Travis AFB almost daily. Travis AFB is located about 30 minutes from Napa Wine Country and an hour and a half from San Francisco International Airport. If you have a couple days to flex to make it to a nearby big International Airport, you are GOLDEN.
There are many more websites that can help you find cheap tickets.
Skyscanner, finds sales and error fares
Kiwi, combines multiple companies
AirWander, allows extended layovers
JetRadar, shows budget airlines
In addition, if you are AD military, do yourself and your family a favor and get your AMEX Platinum and Chase Preferred/Reserve. They are all free for military. You get many benefits such as points for free flights, free access to most airport lounges, Uber cash, free room upgrades at hotel with Marriott and Hilton chains.
USING SPACE A
If you have a block of leave with no plan and want to travel anywhere in the world, Space A is for you.
Luckily in Hawaii, there are constant flights to places like Guam, Japan, and California. For Active Duty, you must already be on Leave (Ordinary leave, TDY, house hunting, etc.) In addition, if you are traveling abroad, you must already have all documentation, visas, passports, IATP approved, country brief, etc. So for Military folks, there must be a little bit of planning and preparation done already. For spouses and family, pack a bag! Honestly, someone please marry me so I can take advantage of these free flights more! Lol jk, but seriously.
Once you are prepared to take a block of leave, track your Passenger Terminal’s Facebook page for their 72-hour roll call notifications for destinations. Know which flight you are interested in and sign out on leave. You must have already started leave before you can email the terminal requesting a seat. Then email your terminal with your leave form, rank, name, destination, how many people, and which category you are (Active Duty on Ordinary leave is Cat. III).
It is CRITICAL to keep checking the Facebook page as final updated flight schedules change constantly! I was supposed to catch a flight on a Monday, but when I checked Sunday morning, they had canceled that flight and only had one flight to Travis AFB that Sunday afternoon, so I had to leave a day early.
Notifying the terminal – is just for assurance, but not entirely necessary. I had emailed them for the flight for Monday (don’t expect them to email you back), but since Sunday was the only flight out of there, I just showed up at the terminal with my bags packed a day early. They usually release about 40 seats and there were only about 20 of us, everyone got onto the flight. Note that during busier seasons such as block leaves and summer time, getting a seat will be more difficult.
Prepare to spend HOURS at the airport. I arrived at Hickam Passenger Terminal at 08:30 for a 09:40 roll call. The flight didn't end up leaving until 15:00, arriving at Travis AFB at 23:30. I spent an entire day traveling for a 5 hour flight, but it was a free flight. It's really up to you how much money your time is worth.
At Hickam Passenger Terminal, they have a max of 30 day free parking. Once you get selected for the flight, they will give you a parking pass so you can go and park your car. If you need more than 30 days, request it at the counter.
I was ill-prepared when it came to packing food for my flight since I wasn't expecting to leave so soon and had to pack light. They DO however offer an in-flight meal purchase at the counter! It was less than $6, and I was pleasantly surprised by the abundant choices in my little food box. It reminded me of a lunch box you would get on school field trips as a kid; a meat and cheese sandwich, an apple, chips, applesauce, juice, rice Krispy treat, cookies, and a bottle of water.
What to Wear
Wear something comfortable since you will be waiting for awhile. Bring a jacket to keep you warm, this isn't a commercial flight so your comfort isn't their first priority. And they won't let you onto the flight without proper closed-toed shoes. So pack your flip flops away, and make sure you wear reasonable shoes.
Unfortunately, Uber/Lyft can NOT come onto post unless they have base access, which most do not. I had to cancel two Ubers because they could not get onto post, however I did get my cancelation fees back.
If you are arriving at Travis AFB after Enterprise closes (6pm), you will be walking a mile and a half to the front gate with all your luggage. Do pack light.
If you are lucky, you could try hitch hiking to the front gate to catch an Uber/Lyft.
Unfortunately, there are limited options late at night.
The hotel at Travis closed down, possibly temporarily, in order to quarantine those from the COVID-19 (or coronavirus). There are hotels in Fairfield and nearby, however, Napa Wine Country is only a $35-$40 ride and has a TON of cute hotels and Bed and Breakfasts.