Are you a military spouse who just received your dependent ID, or maybe a servicemember who’s curious about the military travel hacking and credit card annual fee waivers? This guide is just for you.
We’re going to explore the world of military travel hacking and break down how you can take advantage of the Military Lending Act (MLA) to get your credit card annual fees waived.
Travel hacking is a term that might sound a little daunting at first, but it simply refers to strategies one can use to get the most out of travel rewards programs, including credit card points, airline miles, and hotel loyalty programs. For those in the military and their families, there are even more opportunities to make travel hacking work in your favor.
The first key to unlocking the benefits of military travel hacking is understanding the Military Lending Act.
Military Lending Act and Credit Card Fee Waivers
The Military Lending Act (MLA) was designed to protect active duty military members and their families from potentially predatory lending practices, limiting the amount of interest that can be charged on certain types of credit.
But what you may not know is that the MLA can also lead to credit card annual fees being waived, which can save you hundreds of dollars a year. In my case, it’s over $12,000 per year.
Several major credit card companies, including American Express (Amex) and Chase, waive the annual fees on their personal cards for active duty military members, Guard and Reserve on 30 day or longer active orders, and active dependent military spouses.
The credit card fee waiver can be significant, especially when it comes to premium credit cards that have high annual fees but also come with a suite of perks and benefits. In normal circumstances, the cost of the annual fee might outweigh these benefits, especially if you’re not a frequent traveler. But with the fee waived, these cards become much more valuable.
Checking the MLA Database
The Military Lending Act (MLA) database is a tool provided by the Department of Defense (DoD) to check the active duty status of military service members. The database is mostly used by lenders to verify active duty status and provide protections under the MLA but can also be used by individuals to check their covered borrower status.
Covered borrowers are “a consumer who, at the time the consumer becomes obligated on a consumer credit transaction or establishes an account for consumer credit, is a covered member of the armed forces or a dependent of a covered member (as defined in 32 CFR 232.3(g)(2) and (g)(3)).”
To verify your active duty status, here’s what you need to do:
1. Visit the MLA website: Go to the official [MLA Database website](https://mla.dmdc.osd.mil/).
2. Click ‘Single Record Request’: On the homepage, click the button that says ‘Single Record Request’. This will allow you to check the status of one person.
3. Fill in your information: You’ll be prompted to enter the service member’s social security number and the date of birth along with the last name. This information is necessary to verify the active duty status.
4. Submit the request: After entering the required information, click ‘Submit’. The database will then provide a ‘Military Lending Act Covered Borrower Status’ which tells you if you’re covered by the MLA.
Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards
Let’s take a look at some premium cards that waive their annual fees for military personnel and their spouses:
American Express Platinum
The Amex Platinum is a powerhouse of travel rewards and benefits. It comes with a hefty annual fee of $695, but remember, this is waived for active duty military and military spouses.
The card offers 5 points per dollar spent on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel, as well as on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com. In addition, cardholders have access to airport lounges worldwide, receive up to $200 airline fee credit per calendar year, and up to $200 in Uber credits per year.
American Express Gold Card
The Amex Gold Card, with its $250 annual fee also waived for military, offers 4X points at restaurants, 4X points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year), and 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
The Chase Sapphire Reserve card has a $550 annual fee, again waived for military, and provides 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. It also offers 3X points on dining and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. The card includes a $300 annual travel credit and access to over 1,000 airport lounges worldwide with Priority Pass Select.
American Express and Chase Hotel Cards:
Various hotel credit cards from these issuers also offer annual fee waivers for military.
These cards provide accelerated earning on spending at their respective hotel brands and often include automatic elite status, which comes with its own set of benefits like room upgrades and free breakfast.
By leveraging these cards and their waived annual fees, military families can enjoy a wide array of luxury travel benefits and accumulate points or miles to redeem for future travel, all without having to worry about the cost of maintaining the card itself.
How to Apply for Credit Cards with Military Annual Fee Waivers
Applying for a credit card with annual fee waivers under the MLA is an easy process:
Check your MLA status
Before you apply for your credit card, first verify your active duty status through the MLA Database. Make sure you’re listed as a covered borrower. This includes active duty military members, Guard and Reserves on active orders for 30 days or more, and dependent spouses of active duty service members.
Apply for the card
Once you’ve confirmed your status, you can proceed to apply for your chosen card. Fill out the online application form and provide all the required information.
Meet the Minimum Spend to Earn the Welcome Bonus
After your application has been approved, the credit card company will automatically check your status in the MLA Database. If you are listed as a covered borrower, they will automatically apply the MLA benefits to your account, which includes the waiving of annual fees.
By ensuring you’re listed as a covered borrower in the MLA database before applying, the process becomes seamless. There’s no need to contact the credit card company for MLA benefits, as this will be automatically granted based on your status.
The MLA credit card benefit is a powerful tool for military members and their families. It opens the door to top-tier credit cards without the worry of annual fees.
Making the Most of Your Travel Rewards
Once you have these cards and their accompanying rewards at your disposal, it’s time to strategize how to best use them. Here are some quick tips to get you started:
1. Maximize your card’s bonus categories: Make sure you’re using the right card for the right purchases to earn the most points. For example, use your Amex Gold at restaurants and supermarkets, and your Amex Platinum or Chase Sapphire Reserve for travel purchases.
2. Transfer points to travel partners: Both American Express and Chase have a variety of airline and hotel partners to which you can transfer your points, often at a 1:1 ratio. This can potentially offer much more value than using the points for statement credits or shopping.
3. Take advantage of card benefits: Don’t forget about the non-points benefits of your cards. Use your airline and Uber credits, enjoy your airport lounge access, and take advantage of any elite status perks at hotels.
4. Stay informed: Military travel hacking is a constantly changing world. Keep up to date with the latest information on card benefits, point valuations, and reward program changes.
To keep up to date and learn even more about the ins and outs of military travel hacking and the benefits offered through the Military Lending Act, sign up for our Ultimate Military Credit Cards Course. This comprehensive course will guide you through everything you need to know to maximize your travel rewards and financial benefits as a military family member.
Spencer Reese is an Air Force veteran and former C-17 pilot. He is the author of the Military Money Manual: A Practical Guide to Financial Freedom, available on Amazon and his website Military Money Manual. Spencer hosts the Military Money Manual Podcast and teaches the Ultimate Military Credit Cards Course.