There is a pretty pretentious travel guide out there that I get for free with my US Bank Altitude Card. It has some serious baller destinations with commentary on first world problems experienced at the fine hotels and resorts around the world. For those hardier individuals, such as us AD members, we can weather such disappointments as the butler too too long to get our 18 year old single malt scotch refilled.
I want to present the opposite kind of report where you travel for free and really maximize your 2.5 days a month of leave a month. I present to you the “Seaman Timmy’s Castaway Report”, a guide for those Active Duty Members that prepare well, and will be greatly rewarded in free travel and free food along the way. Save your hard earned cash for the destination and not waste a dime on just getting there.
I chose Philadelphia, PA because it is often overlooked as one of the great transit hubs to the East coast. From here you can take the Amtrak straight north to Manhattan or way south to Washington D.C. It is a very historic city loaded with museums and a testament to Ben Franklin’s experiment on what 200 years of compound interest will do for a city.
From Chicago there is plenty of Avios Reward space on American Airlines. I was able to get the Chase British Airways Card which came with 100,000 Avios miles good for 13 segments on American Airlines. The $95 annual fee for the card was waived per the MLA, and the account was opened right after the 20 September 2017 inclusion date! You can also transfer American Express MR points or Chase UR points to Avios making it a perfect place to dump points.
Checking the ba.com site we can see plenty of segments open for ORD to PHL. I tend to book one way segments in order to easily search dates:
Now you can’t beat the price for these segments, just 7,500 Avios and $5.60:
Once you book the flight, you will notice the British Airways number gets hard coded on the reservation. It might be worth while to recode your reservation with a AAdvantage account number using the Finnair Modification Trick. This keeps all my reservations inside my American Airlines account, and since I have the BarclayCard AAdvantage Aviator it also give me and any companions free luggage to check. Make sure you also put in your DoD ID number in the place of the Know Traveler ID number to get pre check!
Now if you fly out late Tuesday you can work and not waste your leave day. I like to take the 16:17 Metra Union Pacific North line from Great lakes to Clybourn, then switch platforms to the Northwestern line away from the city to Jefferson Park. You can buy a ticket on the Ventura app, or from the conductor on the train. Make sure you go for the half priced Military Fares. From there you can use your free CTA card to take the Blue line into the terminal. Make sure you take the right train in the center track arriving at 17:32 or you end up on the earlier express on the outside track that skips Jefferson Park!
At ORD you can take advantage of the USO on the outside of security, but better yet since you are flying on American Airlines, you can show your CAC and ticket to get free beer and food inside security a the Admiral’s Club. Use the pre-check line or even the special military on orders line with CAC to cut the main line.
The food is much better in the AA club anyways, and you can’t argue with free beer, just try not to get too excited or forget to leave with enough time to board.
Arrival in PHL
I am assuming you didn’t check luggage for this next part of the adventure. If you decided to take the red eye and want to get some sleep at the airport you have two options here. Do not exit security and look for a place to stay till morning at the airport. One option is the USO (soon to be open in Terminal E) with bunk-beds and showers. The other is the Minute Suites that you can get a free hour with your Priority Pass Card. You can get tis with ether the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Ritz Carlton Card, or the Amex Personal Platinum or Business Platinum. All three cards will have the annual fee waived for military if you get it after 20 Sept 2017. Just use the links to toss me some points.
The Minute Suites is an American Capsule Hotel, it’s hourly rate is $28 an hour, but with the first hour free you could get a pretty nice rest, certainly not as cheap as the USO.
When 5 am rolls around you can head on over to the A 14 gates in A Terminal West and get access to showers, hot food, and even a morning cocktail at the Centurion Lounge. Just show your Amex Platinum Card, you dirty Chase Sapphire Reserve people need not apply! Priority pass will not be tolerated here. The lounge is amazing, with top notch brunch, it is a perfect place to relax in the morning , and all for free!
For those who don’t want to stay at the airport or checked luggage, each baggage claim has a zone #4 for airport shuttles. I ended up book at the Sheraton Suites airport for 7,000 SPG points (21,000 Marriott). Just call the front desk for a shuttle to pick you up 24/7. I got a pretty nice bed and living room, although it gets rowdy in th atrium at night. They gave me lounge access due to my Business SPG card, This included free late night appetizers and breakfast the next day. You can take the free shuttle back to the train station the next morning.
You can go ahead and take the train from the airport to downtown Philadelphia. There is a direct line from the airport to Jefferson station that runs from 05:00 t0 00:00 every day.
The train takes about 29 mins and cost $6.75 from the airport:
If you get off at Suburban or Jefferson you end up at most of the historic sites.
Military discounts can be found at many museums here. Some more notable and interesting attractions are the Mütter Museum of Medical Oddities and the Mint. I used my Uber credit that I get with my multiple Amex Personal Platinums which helps, but the city is very walkable.
Staying Downtown & Departure
If you haven’t gotten your membership from the Marines’ Memorial Club of San Francisco it is worthwhile to do. You can use this membership to stay at the Union League Club in Philadelphia for $235.00 for a standard room and $275.00 for a suite as a reciprocal member. This very historic hotel is a museum in itself, and you can spend the night there! Just make sure you don’t dress like a dirtbag. Otherwise there are many hotel options in the area ready for sweet point redemptions.
TO get back to the airport, take the train back to the airport and you are all set! TSA Pre-Check can be found in Terminal B and D upstairs.
Wherever you stay in PHL, just make sure you give yourself some ample time to enjoy the Centurion lounge at PHL on the way out. This idea of staying at the airport longer than needed was foreign to me until I gained lounge access. I had recently converted a O-3 in this new lifestyle of fine dining and free boozing and not even making it to the gate until half of boarding had been completed. You realize that bus terminal style of waiting is what drives most people crazy.
Pretty much convinced this newbie to churning and travel to not live like a bitch anymore. Waiting in the long security line, paying for food and drink, sitting at the gate like a sucker. These are all behaviors that make people hate to travel! You don’t have to live like that. AmEx has been very nice to waive the $550 fee for the Platinum. This expensive card is ironically the key to nice AD travel on the cheap!
Just by doing your homework, churning responsibly, planning out your moves, a trip can be a treat! It may seem impossible to those who have not adequately planned a trip, but well worth it to prep well before hand. Please comment below with any suggestions and look out for more cities in this series.
Safe relaxing travels!