Do you know these 9 little-known Exchange shopping secrets?
(Photo: AAFES)

By Dawn Zangerle

The Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES or the Exchange, for short) is an undeniable benefit for military members and their dependents. My dad served for most of my childhood and I remember shopping with my parents fondly. It was like our Target; it always had everything my parents needed and all the toys a little girl could want. When my husband decided to join the Air Force, I was already excited for the Exchange. Add in the tax-free perk, and my whole family has a long history of love for AAFES!

It amazes me that so many military families don’t shop at their local Exchange and take advantage of this benefit. Most have no clue what they are missing out on.  If you are one of these families, let me break down why you need to start shopping at your local military base’s Exchange.  Are you ready?

1. Brand names at low prices

When a lot of people think of a military store, they think low-quality, no-name brands. . . but that is so wrong!  They have amazing designer names like Michael Kors, Coach, Tori Burch, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Under Armour, and manymany more!  And we’re not talking the rejects from the outlets. They’re exactly the same quality you’d get at their storefront. They also have beauty brands that you find at department stores like Clinique, Este Lauder, or Smashbox.  Hey, if you like paying full price for Bath and Body Works, Victoria Secret, and Bliss, be my guest! But why would you? The prices at the Exchange are unbeatable and the tax-free aspect is a huge bonus.

2. Local price matching at it’s absolute finest

While you’re price comparing for the best deal, keep in mind that AAFES matches any local ad. If you find an advertisement for something that’s $50 less at Target, take the ad to AAFES and you’ll get that same price.  It’s a sweet deal for any store to have, but keep in mind, not only will the Exchange price match, but you’ll get that extra tax-free benefit you can’t get anywhere else.  Be forewarned: They don’t price match online advertisements from non-local stores for obvious reasons– you may remember that Walmart scam when someone got a PS4 for $50 from an Amazon ad–but you can take a look at their price match policy for yourself and get all the details.

3. Clearance rack for the win

For a brief moment in time, I was obsessed with Coach shoes.  Don’t ask me why, but I became quite the collector!  One day, I was browsing my local Exchange, came across the clearance shoes rack, and saw the most perfect pair of Coach shoes at 70% off.  Happy doesn’t even describe my feeling. I made sure to ask when new items go on clearance. . . so be sure you to do the same. (My Exchange put new shoes on clearance every Wednesday.) Beat that, Target!  There is no way I’d be able to have so many nice items if it wasn’t for the Exchange and their epic clearances.

4. The best Black Friday electronics deals ever

Speaking of savings, their Black Friday deals are amazing; especially in the electronics department.  I was able to get a brand new iPad for an incredible price last year.  Not to mention, shopping is much more pleasant since you need an ID to shop–you won’t get trampled to death.  I did see some other great sales but, boy, nothing beats the electronics department. TVs, computers … it’s definitely worth a look this Christmas season.

5. You can request items they don’t carry

Don’t see what you are looking for?  Don’t fret: You can request they start carrying the things you love.  Just head over to customer service to get the process going.  They can’t guarantee this will happen, but it’s worth a try, right? If enough people request a certain type of, say dog food, they’ll start carrying it. I had a BX customer service rep tell me this is exactly why they started carrying Science Diet dog food and now it’s their biggest seller!

6. The food court and other great shops

Most Exchanges are built with other shops conveniently attached.  The ones I’ve had a pleasure to shop have had beauty salons, barber shops, optical shops, military clothing and souvenirs, Game Stops, and even a GNC.  Some have more, some less, but the goal is to make the base self-sufficient. The AAFES complex is usually a one-stop shop. Almost all have a food court, and let me tell you, it’s surprising how hungry you get after all that shopping. AAFES has partnerships with Cinnabon, Baskin Robbins, Taco Bell, Popeye’s, Burger King, Charley’s Steakery, and more. Take that, Walmart.

7. An even larger selection online

AAFES’ website is incredibly user-friendly and has thousands of items you may not find in your local store.  They have exclusive online sales, so it’s worth checking both in-store and online for a specific item.  Registration online is fast and instant, so you can start shopping right away (you just have to enter security information to make sure you’re authorized military or dependent).  You didn’t think they would make you pay for shipping, did you? On top of your tax-free benefit, you also get standard shipping on any order over $49.  I can’t tell you how much I’ve saved by going to after checking local competitors.

8. The Military Star Card

First, I’m not condoning credit card debt.  I know loads of families who’ve gone the credit card-free route, and that’s just amazing.  But if you like to take advantage of the special perks some credit cards can offer, the Military Star Card is definitely one to look into.  Here are few of their best perks:

  • Military Star Card Reward Program (two points for every $1 spent)
  • Deployment policy
  • 0% interest offers
  • Gas pump savings
  • 10% off food court purchases

Check out the Military Star Card website for more details.

9. Can you say “layaway”?

Did you know AAFES does layaways?  It seems like a long-forgotten practice, but it’s super convenient for families who are saying no to credit cards.  30, 60, or 120 days–you pick the terms and when you pay.  Getting what you need has never been easier, and it’s perfect for the Christmas season.  Shop ahead of time and have it all paid off and in hand before the holiday.  This is also great for snooping kids who love to try and find their gifts ahead of time. Check the AAFES layaway policy for more details.

Now that you are in the know,  happy shopping, my military family!  Online or local store, whichever best fits your needs. . . where are you going to start?