There are a few things in this world that I particularly love. Traveling, and traveling on a deal! Several years ago, I wanted to get more acquainted with the “Space A Travel” mystery. We’ve all heard the horror stories of getting stranded and spending thousands of dollars on return tickets home. Those same stories may discourage you from flying Space A. Do the math: Family of four, multiplied by x amount of dollars to Europe. Remember how I said I love to travel? I especially love saving money, and Space A cost a mere head tax! After researching online and reading testimonials, I decided to take the plunge…. and now I’m finally writing about it!
There are two types of Space A options. 1. Regular Space A (On C-17’s) and 2. Patriot Flights (AMC flights on a comfortable commercial aircraft). Since we had a little more than 2 weeks available for leave, the predictability of the Patriot Flights was the best option. John D’s website listed all of the routes of the Patriot Flights. On the website, I found two Patriot flights to Germany from BWI per week. This made it more convenient for planning purposes. And once onboard the Patriot flight, I was surprised meals, hot towels and a comfortable seat pitch were included. The low price of around $25 per person is considered a serious bargain compared to the price to fly commercially.
Ok, now that the decision was a Patriot flight out of BWI, I contacted the terminal to track the requirements to sign up for travel. The directions were easy to follow, and I opted to sign up via email. Active Duty, MUST be on leave when signing up. I repeat, must be ON leave. Retirees can sign up at will up 60 days out, but they will be on lower priority category. Everything is prioritized accordingly, so don’t let this concern you. The categories are as follows: Cat 1, 2, 3 and so forth. Active duty traveling with Sponsor is Category 3.
While waiting for leave to start, the next few months were spent ordering the kids’ passports, and reading guidebooks on Europe. I involved my children in the planning process by incorporating their “must-see lists” with mine. Elizabeth (who’s obsessed with Paris) decided that she has always wanted to see the real Eiffel Tower… Germany, sweetie, we are going to Germany!
(Side note: I surprised her for her birthday and she saw the Eiffel Tower. My son wanted to see BMW’s and have Bratwurst with onions- done!)
Then I started mapping out things out according to drivable distance and the amount of time spent at our places of interest. Our Itinerary was: 1 night in Ramstein (to recover from flight), 5 days in Garmisch (from there we would do Munich, the Romantic Road and Austria) 3 days in Paris, 2 Days in Normandy, and a 1 night Luxembourg before heading back to Ramstein where would stay until we got on another flight home. It’s important to allow room, + or minus a few days.
Like kids at Christmas, waiting for the arrival of presents, our presents were time markers: 72 hours prior to the day leave starts, look at the 72 hour flight schedule. On the minute leave begins, at exactly 12:00 am sign up for a flight, if posted. On Wednesday (which was the 72 hour mark) my excitement grew because there was a flight on Saturday evening to Ramstein that had 110 open seats. This would be a definite attempt. The following day was spent packing, and on Thursday at 11:59pm the email request was sent to BWI terminal. I remember thinking that I could not do this fast enough! “HIT SEND! HURRY and HIT SEND”. Sent at 12:03. Be sure to save emails for your records, as everything is time stamped and put in order. Saturday, off to BWI. This was happening.
Arrival at Terminal!
Upon arrival at the AMC terminal in BWI, we found the counter to turn in the necessary paperwork, and the staff marked “Present” for the flight leaving that evening to Ramstein. Very easy, no hassle. After this step, we returned for “Roll Call” 2 hours prior to the flight departure time. The terminal at the time was empty, but I had a feeling it was going to be packed upon return. The next few hours were spent getting dinner, playing family games in the USO, and talking to other travelers who’ve had experience with Space A. There will be fellow travelers who will want to tell you their horror stories of Space A too, just stay positive. This caused me butterflies, and unnecessary stress. Just smile, get your free hotdog and soda at the USO, watch some TV, and wait.
This process was very exciting, but nerve wracking. The terminal was starting to look much busier. At the time roll call started, the agent on the loud speaker asked travelers to look for their names on the monitor. I noticed Mandy (34). Officially on the list for the flight. This number kept changing, as people were accepting flights, and walk-in’s with different status were coming in, but the fluctuation was very little. All, in all, there were almost 100 seats released that day, and all category IV’s got on the flight to Ramstein.
We checked our bags, and entered the gate area, where we sat and you guessed it… waited. The flight crew was having issues with the beverage cart deliveries, and decided to delay in order to make sure that the soldiers and families would have a meal. Once onboard, I was pleasantly surprised by the contracted commercial aircraft with decent pitch size, fully furnished meals, kids meal packs, and hot towels.
I recommend pre-booking The Edelweiss Resort in Garmisch. The property has a 1 night cancellation policy, therefore if you don’t get on a flight, you would lose approximately $85 for cancellation. You can always shift your reservation date back or forward a few days if needed at no cost, as long as there was availability. For peace of mind, this was better than risking not having a room at all.
Edelweiss is a beautiful, expansive resort, and I highly recommend this property while visiting Bavaria. But first, before arriving in Ramstein, I suggest calling Army Lodging and attempt to confirm a stay to rest and recoup prior to driving to Bavaria’s Edelweiss. For example, I confirmed a 1 night stay in the nearby Landstuhl Army Lodging for $65, it was a family suite with a kitchen, living room, and pull out sofa.
There is Army Lodging directly across from the Ramstein airport, however you may not be able to pre-reserve a stay. Most confirmed stays are on TDY, and the hotel only accept walk-in reservations. If you are lucky enough to stay at the Army Lodging across from the airport, it is connected to a very large PX with a variety restaurant options. If you are not able to confirm either Army Lodging options, plan to stay outside of Ramstein, nearby the car rental pick-up. There are a variety of local hotel options in the area. If you do need to utilize them, keep your standards to a minimum.
When arriving in Landstuhl, arrange for a car to pick you up and take you to the Hertz car rental facility. Pre-book your vehicle while in the states, as your card is not charged until you pick up the vehicle. We were given a beautiful Audi for my family, and I must say, driving the Autobahn was fun!
Some have asked, why not train tickets? I will talk about this in more in a later post, but the option of being on our own timeline, discovering areas of Germany and Austria independently was best done by car. Also, Eurail tickets must be purchased in advance, and carry more restrictions for cancellation. With the uncertainty of Space A, flexibility is key. Point-to-Point train tickets are useful though! The Audi also stowed a stroller, car seat, gift bags and any luggage that needed to be carried that day. This made traveling with the kids’ much easier.
Edelweiss resort sits in one of the most idyllic spots in the German Alps near Zugspitze! The property is expansive, offering a variety of delicious dining options and lodge-style accommodations. Package tours of the area are available to book at a reasonable price, and designed to maximize your time and experience in Bavaria. I felt safe to enjoy a glass of wine on the property, and let my kids roam the game room, or play board games in the lobby. The property also has a “Kid Night Out” program, and children 4 and under dine for free. Everything is in walking distance as well. You can walk to the town, or enjoy the incredible Alpine views that sit right outside your door.
Good luck in your Space A adventure! I truly hope you try this amazing service that is available to you as a member of the Armed Services. Happy travels!