The 5 Best Military Travel Deals     By ALICIA JAO

     May 22, 2012

To take advantage of Memorial Day weekend, the much-anticipated vacation period that kicks off the summer, many Americans are cutting back on entertainment spending, traveling locally, and hunting for travel deals.

Amidst this frantic budgeting and planning, it’s easy to forget that Memorial Day is a time to commemorate our nation’s military and its service to all Americans past, present, and future. To celebrate this holiday and show our appreciation to all who have served and continue to serve our nation, we tracked down the best military travel deals.

1. Most flexible lodging discounts for all military affiliates.Choice Hotels (which includes Comfort Inn, Quality Inn, Econolodge, and more) offers the most flexible military discounts. While many military-discount programs only apply to active military (or active military on orders), Choice extends its discounts to active and retired military personnel and their families on business or leisure. Hotels are not required to offer any military discounts nor are they required to provide specific rates to qualify for government reimbursement of travel on orders. As such, military discounts on lodging are determined on a hotel-by-hotel basis. While it is always best to double-check in advance, Choice Hotel’s discount program provides many options nationwide so that military personnel can travel more easily.

2. Best air discounts for active military and families. Active military personnel and their dependents are allowed four free checked bags in coach (and five free checked bags in first class) at any time on Hawaiian Airlines. A valid military ID is the only requirement to qualify. Baggage fees generate billions of dollars in revenue for U.S. airlines and can cost travelers more than airfare. Given that some airlines, such as Spirit Airlines and JetBlue, do not offer any military baggage discounts, we think Hawaiian’s offer is great deal. For each passenger flying roundtrip, four checked bags would normally cost $620, according to Hawaiian’s baggage fee policy. The catch is that oversized and overweight fees may apply, so make sure each bag is smaller than 62” total (length + width + height) and weighs less than 50 pounds.

3. Military bags that really do fly free. True to its word, bags do fly free on Southwest Airlines. For civilians, however, that only applies to two checked bags. For active military personnel with identification, Southwest waives all baggage fees, including any oversize and overweight fees. Southwest has the most liberal (and most simple) discounts. While it does not extend the offer to military families, it is the best airline when traveling with multiple bags, particularly when those bags may be bulky and/or heavy. It is important to note that other airlines may allow several bags to be checked free, but they often place restrictions on the weight and size of each bag. Overweight and oversized bags do not always qualify for military discounts on other airlines.

4. No extra fees on car rentals. Hertz Rent-a-Car offers the most military benefits on car rentals. While all major car rental companies have military-discount programs on the base rental rate, these discounts vary. Similar to airlines, car rental companies typically make most of their profits on extra fees–not on the base rates. As such, we evaluated car rental discounts based on the number of extra fees it waived for active military. Hertz waived loss damage waiver/collision damage waiver (LDW / CDW) insurance, additional driver fees, unlimited mileage fees, underage driver fees, and space available upgrades. While Hertz was the clear winner, Avis did come in at a close second. It waives most all fees waived by Hertz, except for space available upgrades. Unfortunately, most car-rental military discounts only apply to active military. For veterans, we suggest obtaining a Veteran’s Advantage Card to access discounts at all major car rental services.

5. Best luxury military discounts. Everyone needs some quality rest and relaxation. Hard-working military personnel are no exception. For more luxurious lodging, we recommend Hyatt Hotels & Resorts. Hyatt offers special rates to military personnel as long as identification can be provided at time of check-in. The savings from Hyatt’s military discount ranges greatly, though. You may get a great deal in some locations, depending on your dates of travel. However, not all hotels will be able to provide significant discounts. Make sure to check online and call. If you do opt for more comfortable lodging, Hyatt may be your best bet for a military discount.

Alicia Jao is the VP of Travel Media at NerdWallet, which recently launched an airline and baggage fee comparison tool to help you save money on air travel.