Travis is my first new contributor to the blog, who will be writing a post every Wednesday to start. The idea behind adding guest contributors is to add different perspectives to the blog. Travis has a unique approach towards travel, given that he travels almost exclusively with his wife and young children, which is in stark contrast to my travels, which are usually alone.
You can find more posts by Travis here:
- Travis’ Accident Part 2: Flight In The Black Hawk
- Travis’ Mountaineering Accident on Mt. Sneffles Part 1
- Will The Real Elizabeth Gallagher Please Stand Up
- How To Book Airline Tickets For Birth Of Child
- Perks Of Citi Prestige Card
- Earn Rebates On United Flights By Joining The United.com Club
- Earn A $75 Hotel Credit By Booking Flights
- Earn Mobile Bonuses From Your Computer
- Review: United’s Streaming In-Flight Entertainment
- To Lap Child, Or Not To Lap Child — That Is The Question
- Travis Joins One Mile at a Time
Having recently celebrated Veterans Day, it seems appropriate to discuss the benefits offered through Veterans Advantage, in particular the opportunity to save 5% on United flights. From the VA website:
Veterans Advantage is a national program that partners with corporations that want to do their part to honor and thank all who serve our country. Our partner companies show their appreciation and thanks by providing preferred pricing on their goods or services everyday.
The following qualify for membership in Veterans Advantage:
- US Military Veterans
- Active Duty Military
- National Guard or Reservist
- Retired Military, Retired Guard or Reservist
- Family Members (Spouse, Parent, Child, and Sibling) of one of the above
I am proud of my brother- and sister-in-law who are both active duty, and thus qualify our family for membership — though surprisingly, the registration process never asked me for any of their information.
Veterans Advantage has an annual membership fee, though they have various plans available. Note that all plans require a $4.95 process free in addition to the prices shown.
- 30-Day Trial: Free
- 1 Year: $59.95
- 3 Year: $149.95
- 5 Year: $199.95
Although Veterans Advantage has partnerships with many companies that may save you money, I’ll just list the more common travel-related ones.
- 5% discount on United flights
- 5% discount on JetBlue flights
- 5% discount on Lufthansa flights
- 15% discount on Amtrak
- 20% discount on Greyhound (‘walk-up fares’)
Though I have only ever used the United discount, I’ve heard that the Amtrak discount is one of the best commonly available.
“5%” Discount on United
The United discount is pretty straightforward to use. After you join the program, they send you a code for use on united.com. Then each time you book a ticket, you enter the code, and get a discount. The code goes in the ‘Offer Code’ field on the main page at the same time that you are entering your trip details.
I put “5%” in quotes because the discount is really up to 5%. This is because the discount applies to the base fare only, not taxes, fees, or most importantly, fuel surcharges (YQ). The latter can be quite substantial on international tickets, sometimes comprising the majority of the ticket. And as a result, you only save 5% on a portion of the ticket.
Here is an example of using the VA discount on a trip from Washington DC to Frankfurt next January. First, the ticket without the discount.
Here’s the ticket with the VA discount applied. I like how united.com tells you what the ticket would cost without the discount — transparency is good!
Though I do wonder how many people click the link to purchase the reservation without the discount….
In this example, the VA discount reduced the price from $1237 to $1208, for a 2.3% discount. The discount is less than 5% because a significant fraction of the ticket price is made up of YQ to which the VA discount does not apply. Saving $29 is still a pretty good deal and will quickly pay for the membership, but it’s not 5%.
VA Code Works Like a Discount
I know, that sounds like a real “Well D’uh” statement. But there are significant differences in United-land between a discount and a form of payment. The latter is how you pay for the ticket while the former reduces the price of the ticket.
Since the VA code goes in the “Offer Code” field United treats it as a discount. This means that:
- It can be combined with Travel Credits, Gift Certificates, or united.com Travel Bank funds, which I wrote about previously
- It cannot be combined with other discounts, such as the 1016 codes that United will occasionally issue to you when they lose your bag
- If you refund the ticket, you only get back the amount you actually paid
- You earn PQD on the amount you actually paid
- The discount can apply to more than one traveler on a single reservation
Effectively, it’s like using a coupon at the store. If you have a coupon for $1 off an alarm clock, and then you later return the alarm clock, you’re only going to get back the amount you actually paid.
Hidden Feature of the VA Code
A hidden feature of the Veterans Advantage discount on United is that it offers the ability to Reserve or Hold the itinerary — with the current fare and VA discount applied — until midnight the following day. This is actually rather cool because United generally tries to sell such a feature which they call Fare Lock — for $7.99 they will let you hold a fare for 72-hours — but here you can get a poor man’s version of it for free!
If you look closely at the screenshots above, you see that when the VA discount is not applied, United offers Fare Lock where they will let you hold the current fare for up to 72 hours for $7.99. (Or for a week for $9.99)
When the VA discount is applied, the Fare Lock offer is replaced by a Reserve button which will let you hold the discounted fare for 24+ hours for free.
I guess if you really wanted to lock the fare for more than 24 hours, you couldn’t use the VA discount because doing so eliminates the Fare Lock option. But otherwise, a free hold for 24+ hours is a nice perk.
Using the VA Discount on Expensive Tickets
The Veterans Advantage discount also applies to Business, BusinessFirst, and First class tickets. Naturally, a percent-off discount results in the biggest savings on expensive tickets, and this is no exception. The VA discount on United can actually start to rival the AARP discount available on British Airways.
I priced out a business class ticket from San Francisco to Tokyo both with and without the VA discount. First without the discount.
Then with the VA discount applied.
$300+ savings can get you a 5x return on an annual membership with just one purchase!
Downsides of using the VA discount
One downside of the VA discount is the requirement that tickets be booked directly on the United website. So if you like to earn rewards by booking through an Online Travel Agency or portal like Ultimate Rewards, this obviously won’t work for you.
As mentioned above, the VA discount also occupies the “Offer Code” slot on the United.com booking page, so if you have another discount code, it won’t stack. But it will stack with united.com Travel Bank, Travel Credits, and Gift Certificates.
The Veterans Advantage program offers up to a 5% discount on United tickets booked directly at United.com. Depending on how much travel you book and the cost of your tickets, a membership in Veterans Advantage can be a good investment.
Have you joined Veterans Advantage? What other benefits of the program have you used?