Military IDs are kind of a pain to obtain or replace, and they are just as important as a drivers license or a passport. It is a special ID that identifies military members & dependents and grants special privileges.
May 2018 Update – This method doesn’t grant priority access anymore, at least when I recently traveled American Airlines. I don’t know what changed, and I don’t know if we’ll get priority access this way again. Your DoD ID is still your KTN.
December 2019 Update – Still no priority access, tried American Airlines and United.
2020 Update – Zero air travel.
Lightly refreshed (but mostly original) post follows.
Your military ID lets you get on base and allows you to buy groceries -yes, that’s obvious. Your ID gets a discount with a lot of retailers like Banana Republic and Gap -you probably knew about those. And in the summer (especially between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July) large & small retailers advertise military specials for you -those are nice.
My favorite military ID benefits are travel related. Think back to the last time you flew -if applicable, and after 9/11/01. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) divvies all incoming travelers into one of two groups; Priority boarding pass or not. I am going to show you how I used to get priority boarding with my dependent ID.
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…insert a Known Traveler Number
Let’s say that you’re buying plane tickets online. No matter what airline or service you are using to book tickets you will see the option to insert a Known Traveler Number (KTN). There’s usually a link nearby so you can pay to be a TSA Pre✓® member, but you don’t need it. You already have a KTN, it’s your Department of Defense (DoD) Identification (ID). By the way, Pre✓® costs $85USD just to apply, and similar services like Global Entry cost $100USD. Civilians must pay for these services for those shorter lines and the opportunity to keep their shoes and belts on -both services expire after five years.
So if you have a valid military dependent ID, the United States government already knows about you. You’re not quite a “trusted traveler” by their definition because you don’t (typically) have any security clearances, but the DoD gave you that number to connect you to your sponsor. Using it to fly with a Priority boarding pass is not abusing privileges, it’s just using what they gave you.
- Whether you’re booking online, or if you are using an agent or service -let them know that you have a KTN- and give them your 10 digit DoD ID.
If you’re active duty, your DoD ID will be on the back of your Common Access Card (CAC). Each number is unique, so don’t use your spouse’s DoD ID in place of your own.
Be advised that having priority boarding only gets you in the shorter line at the TSA Checkpoint. This does not affect your seat location on a ticketed airline, or your boarding group on Southwest.
Where is my DoD ID? It’s on your military ID. Dependent and retiree ID cards have been redesigned to look more like a CAC, so now everyone’s DoD IDs are on the back. Everyone getting new cards since July 2020 (or later, depending on your RAPIDS site’s equipment) will be receiving a Next Generation Uniformed Services Identification (USID) Card instead of the laminated paper that folks have been issued for the past 30 years.
- If you have an older style laminated ID, look at the front of your card, right side, between Sponsor Rank and Relationship. It’s a 10 digit number. If you have been spousin’ for a long time (like me; before 2008) you’ve noticed that the DoD ID replaced your sponsor’s social security number (SSN).
- If you have a new USID, look at the back of your card, your DoD ID will be above the barcode as “Beneficiary DoD ID.” It’s the same 10 digit number as was on the front of your old card (it’s not interchangeable with the nearby “Benefits Number;” they are different).
What do I need to do? Just have your military ID handy when you’re booking air travel. When asked if you have a Known Traveler Number, insert your 10 digit DoD ID. That’s it. If you collect credit card points think about booking through your card’s website too. E.g. Mister Jupiter booked our trip to Tokyo on the Amex and we had enough points afterward for a new washer and dryer.
- Related: American Express Airport Lounges
Is that only for official travel in uniform? NOPE. Your DoD ID and its benefits will work in all forms of air travel; official or recreational, in uniform or in civvies, active duty or dependent. I am a civilian spouse (not prior active duty) and I have successfully used my DoD ID for Priority boarding in the past.
What if I forgot and my boarding pass is already generated? It’s too late for using this method, but you might get the short line if you show your military ID to the TSA agent. If my active duty spouse shows his CAC, they usually grant him Priority access and I can slide in with him (otherwise, if I am flying without him, I get placed in the long line).
If you have time, a gate agent might be able to apply your KTN and print you a new boarding pass -only try this if you both have time, and if you’re extra courteous.
What other travel benefits are available to military ID holders?
- You have full access to any military installation’s leisure travel services. If you have an older laminated ID card, look at the front of your ID, bottom right corner (or upper right, below the expiration date on a newer USID). See “MWR” that initialism stands for Morale, Welfare & Recreation. The folks that work the local ticketing office know the local discounts…it’s their job. You don’t have to be stationed there to use them either, just have the ID. For example, I could travel to Germany and buy a discounted ski package to the Swiss Alps from the travel office at Ramstein AB. For domestic travel, think about cruise packages, Disney trips, or seeing the Kennedy Space Center.
- USO Lounges in the airport. USO lounges are great if you just want to sit on a clean seat, drink some water, and use the wifi. If you’d rather have a cocktail and a massage you should get an American Express Platinum so you can use Centurion Lounges (the $550 fee is waived).
- National parks. Active duty members and their dependents can get free National Parks passes. This is a physical card, and it’s good for twelve months at all national parks. Usually these are $80 annually, but free for active duty and their families. If you want the discount, you need to go in-person. We got our cards in St. Louis when we went to see the Arch; we paid to get into the building first, then got our passes inside. Now we can enter for free.
What are your travel favorites? Well, I try to fly as light as possible without checking baggage -because I don’t want to deal with lost luggage ever. So my travel favorites are a nice cabin-friendly carry-on like this leather bag I use for weekend trips, also a leather jacket to keep me warm but not restricted, and this travel pillow (it’s a neck brace) to keep my head upright while sleeping. If I’m flying in the winter or international, I add a warm scarf and comfortable boots.