It’s not hard to find companies that offer military discounts. In fact, retailers seem to be lining up to offer America’s service members deals on everything from cars to garden supplies, jewelry to vacations. But with an endless array of opportunities — and scammers waiting in the wings — it can be hard to sort out the best bargains. Luckily, there are several resources available to military families trying to make the most of every penny.
Discounts From Your Favorite Companies
Most well-known companies offer military discounts, and many of them aggressively promote these deals, recognizing that widespread awareness of the discounts will not only impress military members, but can also bring civilians into their stores. Lowe’s, (LOW) for example, broadly publicizes the 10% discount it offers to military families, and Old Navy (GPS) eagerly promotes the 10% military discount that it offers on the first day of every month.
Car companies are especially quick to advertise their military discounts. While some offers, like Ford’s, (F) are disturbingly vague, others are quite easy to figure out. For example, Chrysler and Toyota (TM) both give active-duty members and reservists $500 off the price of a new car, while Volvo (VOLVY) and Audi (VLKAY) offer discounts to military members stationed overseas. But when it comes to competitive car pricing, the big winner is GM, (GM) whose discount program offers service members up to 13% off the suggested retail price on some models.
For military families in search of deals, there are several websites that list special offers and discounts. Some, like Military.com, require membership, but most are open access. Military Discount List is especially easy to use, and it directly connects to several social media sites, which makes it easy to discuss deals. Readers of the Military Times newspapers may also want to check out the publications’ websites, which publish long lists of military deals and regularly run features on especially good bargains.
And, if all else fails, it never hurts to ask a store’s cashier if there is a discount for military families. After all, the worst that can happen is they can say no.
An Unbeatable Deal on Travel
One of the best military discounts isn’t even offered by a company: It’s offered by the military. For service members and their families, the Military Air Command offers free flights to military bases around the world. While vacationing at Mildenhall Air Force Base or Naval Air Station Sigonella might sound less than enjoyable, those bases are only a short trip from the wonders of the English countryside and the delights of Sicily, respectively. The military’s huge presence around the world translates into an endless array of travel options, from Turkey to Japan, Alaska to Thailand.
Unfortunately, while MAC transports regularly travel out of various bases, getting a seat on these flights is dependent upon several factors, including how packed the plane is, how many people are on the base’s MAC list, and the military member’s rank. Seats are offered on a first-available basis, and the inability to reserve a spot can make MAC travel somewhat stressful. Still, if you are willing to indulge in a little bit of forward planning, have a fairly loose schedule, and are OK with cooling your heels on a military base for a few hours, MAC flights can be an incredibly good deal.
Beware of Scams
But what if a great deal is actually a setup? As I noted in an earlier article, many companies deliberately target military members for money scams, relying on legal loopholes and the military structure to ensure that they get their money. This problem is especially bad for military families who are in the process of moving, as great housing deals and excellent Craigslist prices on cars are often decoys for scammers.
If you think you’ve been cheated or want to check out a questionable company, the Better Business Bureau is a great resource. In addition to listing numerous scams, it offers a directory of responsible companies and can even help mediate your disputes. Its military site, Military Line, provides links to financial-aid groups and financial-literacy resources for service members and their families.
But while it’s important to carefully check out any deal that looks too good to be true, most of these discounts are just what they appear to be — attempts to thank military personnel and their families for their service to the country.
This article is part of AOL and Huffington Post’s Military Families Week series, an effort to put a spotlight on the issues affecting the lives of America’s families who serve. Find more at jobs.aol.com/militaryfamilies and aol.com.