ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Military travelers can purchase vacations to Australia for about the same cost as a getaway to Europe simply by visiting a military-sponsored Web site.
Authorized Morale, Welfare and Recreation patrons can go to the Off-Duty Travel Web site and click on "Joint Services Travel Specials" to begin a step-by-step process for building itineraries to a vacation down under. After preparing the itinerary, they can visit a supporting Information, Ticket and Reservation office or Information, Tickets and Tours office to finalize the booking, confirm arrangements and pay for the vacation.
"We're estimating these packages will be 10 to 30 percent less expensive than anything else they're going to be able to find," said Dan Yount, chief of Army Leisure Travel Services at the U.S. Army Community and Family Support Center.
MWR patrons can purchase eight-day trips from Los Angeles to Sydney, including lodging at three- or four-star hotels with some tours, starting as low as $1,300. It can be even more affordable for soldiers on rest-and-recuperation leave from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
"If someone is on R&R leave out of either Iraq or Afghanistan, the government will fly them any place that is shown as their destination on their leave orders," Yount explained. "So when they're planning their R&R leave, and enter Sydney, Australia, as the leave destination, the Transportation Office will arrange transportation to Sydney.
"For soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan supporting OIF and OEF," he continued, "this is a benefit that could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go on a great vacation with Uncle Sam paying a major part of the expense."
The Australian packages are a Combined Army, Navy and Marine Corps ITR/ITT program available to active duty people, members of the Reserve components, retired military, family members, and Defense Department civilians.
"Any authorized MWR patron (who) can provide proof of DoD affiliation is eligible," Yount said. "This kind of a product hasn't been available on a lot of military bases since 1999, when the Army and Navy parted company with commercial travel contractors providing leisure travel services on many installations. And it's never been available at a price this low."
Military personnel assigned to OIF or OEF and approved to take authorized R&R leave can click on the "R&R Troop Travel" link for more information. MWR patrons can also click on the "Great Travel Deals" link. The deals include numerous vacation packages to all eight of Australia's states.
Yount said prices fluctuate based on the season, but noted that there is no bad time to visit Australia. "Australian seasons are the opposite of ours, with winter occurring in June, July and August, and summer starting in January," Yount said. "Weather patterns are much milder than a winter in the northeastern United States or the Midwest."
New York, Los Angeles and Honolulu are the embarkation points. Travelers can make arrangements from their nearest airport as part of the travel package using a Qantas code-share partner, or they may make their own travel arrangements to those destinations.
If travelers do not have access to a local ITT or ITR office, they can make arrangements via e-mail or telephone. A deposit that includes the full price of the airline ticket and a percentage of the land packages will be required upon booking. Travelers will have until 45 days before departure to finish paying for the package.
"Somebody who wants to book a year out is going to be able to take their time paying, and it probably won't be painful at any one time," Yount said. "If somebody wants to pay all at once and leave in a week or two, that's their privilege, too. If they make (the reservation) within 45 days, they have to pay immediately."
Yount said the Australian vacation's affordability is tough to beat. "We regard this opportunity as a great example of MWR in action to provide affordable, top-quality services and products at a price unavailable off the base," he said.