My expert tips on how to military TDY the right way

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Is going TDY from a locked-down country even possible? You bet it is! Read on as I show you how to not only get approved to go TDY, but how to MAXIMIZE your time spent while TDY.

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I know from experience, dudes.

To date, I’ve been on just over 10 TDYs in my short career so far. It might not be that many but, I’ve learned some of the best ways to maximize traveling while on the government’s (i.e., the taxpayer’s) precious dime. This post aims to share those secrets with you, so read on!

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Just recently, I was fortunate enough to attend a sweet (read: nerdy) training in Little Rock, Arkansas. While there for a week, I learned how to provide cyber intel to cyber warriors using all kinds of badass (ready: nerdy) tools. While that might sound boring to you, it was a dream come true for me lol.

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I’ll be the first to tell you that going TDY from South Korea isn’t exactly the easiest thing, but it’s way easier than trying to keep up on the HPCON do’s/dont’s any given day of the week here on-pen.

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Sure, you’ll have to do about 30 things before you can actually get on to that plane to get out of this country. However, once you are finally on that sweet 12-hour plane ride, free drinks and living the high life await!

Why should you go TDY?

This might sound like stating the obvious but you’ll need a reason and your leadership’s approval before you can leave your duty station to do duty elsewhere (e.g., TDY, or temporary duty). The question you need to ask yourself is not ‘why should I go TDY’ but rather ‘why do I need to go TDY’? Largely, the answers for those questions are training-related, and couldn’t you use some upgrade training?

As a supervisor in my old role, it was hard for me to tell one of my guys/gals, “No. You can’t go to that training that’s going to make you a better asset to the mission” if they provided a good enough reason for why they should go.

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To start, I recommend frequently searching the Air Force’s Education & Training Course Announcement (ETCA) page for trainings/courses offered by various MAJCOMs. That site needs a CAC to be accessed, and can be found here.

Use the search box and see if there’s a training you think would benefit yourself (professionally) and your unit (operationally). For me, I always search things like “cyber” or “intel” since that’s my specialty. From there, draft up a quick “5 W’s” along with how much you think it’ll cost (use DTS’ Trax website for this) and then send it to your leadership! The worst they can say is “no”, right? What do you have to lose?

How to Maximize your TDY experience

To really maximize what is essentially an all-expense paid trip courtesy of Uncle Sam, you’d really be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t capitalize on this event. While the primary mission is to do your duty elsewhere (i.e., TDY), it doesn’t mean you have to just survive the ordeal. Rather, be smart, and enjoy the hell out of this opportunity!

1. Use the benefits of your Amex Platinum card

Seriously, if you’re in the military and don’t have the Amex Platinum card, you are missing out! This free card gives you TONS of travel benefits, even if you don’t use it to buy things! You don’t have to use this credit card to get all the rewards that come with it, you just have to apply for it and have it on you.

One of the best travel perks of the the Amex Platinum card is the unrestricted access to thousands of airport lounges worldwide through the Priority Pass app. Sure, I loved visiting the USO as a lieutenant for a quick nap or to charge my phone, but boy has this perk upgraded me beyond my wildest dreams.

I love opening this app in whatever airport terminal I’m in and letting it find the nearest airport lounge near me so that I can grab an actual meal, lay down on an actual sofa, take a shower, and of course, grab a free cocktail at the bar while waiting for my flight. It’s the high-life baby!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight that within that list of lounges is Amex’s Centurion Lounge. This lounge has some of the best food and drink options available in lounges across the US and you’ll get into all of them for free with your Amex Platinum card. Read more about the card and how to apply here!

I’d suggest doing this step well in advance to give yourself plenty of time to receive the card in the mail.

2. Buy two $5 Starbucks gift cards…trust me

This trick is something I learned from an old co-worker (thanks, Kaylee!) that has yet to fail me. Plus, it gives you good karma (if you’re into that sort of thing).

Flight attendants are extremely hard workers, and they love their jobs. What they can’t stand, however, are unruly passengers for hours on end; can you blame them? Imagine having to be stuck in a metal tube with thousands of people everyday that could care less how your day is going or if you’d like to have some peanuts. Not fun, right?

Well, what if you were the only passenger that made their day with a $5 Starbucks gift card so that they could enjoy a latte in between their next flight? Do you see where I’m going here?

That’s right! No good deed goes unpunished.

So, next time you’re headed to the airport for your TDY, swing by Starbucks (or wherever) and grab a few $5 gift cards. Hand one out to the flight attendant who takes your heavy bag(s), and the other to the flight attendant working your section of the aircraft (ask who that person is prior to boarding if you want).

Thought I can’t make any promises, I’ve had a 100% success rate of amazing service for this small gesture. I’ve had entire rows blocked off just for me on fairly-full OCONUS flights (i.e., hello miniature bed for a nap), extremely frequent and polite service directly to my seat (free beer/wine/water/snacks/etc.) and even a bump up to first class!

Try it and see for yourself! If nothing else, you’ll have made someone’s day, and that alone can change the world.

3. Upgrade your hotel room for free (with the Amex Platinum card)

I promise I’m not endorsed by Amex (yet), I just love how many perks this card offers me. Did I mention it’s FREE to have this thing? Anyway…

When you’re an Amex Platinum card member, you’re automatically eligible to enroll in the Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite and Hilton Gold Status. That means extra points when you stay at these properties, free breakfast if available, and free room upgrades if the hotel has one; all you have to do is ask at the check-in counter!

When you’re making your lodging reservation in DTS before you go TDY, simply look for a Hilton or Marriott near your TDY location and select the one within your per diem. Or, if you have a little wiggle room in your budget, book the one you know you can afford after the government pays the per diem rate, and enjoy that upgrade; you deserve it!

Of note, this is assuming on-base lodging is not available and you secured a non-availability letter OR you are choosing to stay off base for personal reasons (e.g., no base nearby, attending a conference at a hotel downtown or something, etc.).

4. Take some leave after the TDY

This might sound as obvious as step to maximize a TDY but, this one simple move has massive rewards you’ve probably never thought of.

For starters, you’re being paid to go to a destination away from your duty location to do something. So, work hard, play hard, right? When your TDY is over, I highly recommend you take some leave…but, not in the area of your TDY. Why’s that?

Well, if you’re reading this blog, then you’ve clearly got an appetite for adventure. As such, it goes without saying that when work is done for the day, you’re probably planning on hopping in your rental car (or the local mass transportation) to explore the local area in the evenings or on the weekends, right?

Well, now I’m telling you to use your TDY location as a launch point to another destination on your bucket list after your TDY is over! What do I mean?

Let’s say you’re stationed on the east coast and you’re ordered to go TDY on the west coast. Haven’t you always wanted to visit something on (or near) the west coast? Take advantage of the short travel time and massively-reduced ticket cost now afforded to you and go!

Not only that, when the government paid to send you to your TDY location, they also paid to bring you back. According to AFI 24-602V1 and the Joint Travel Regulation (JTR) para 033301 (TDY) and 050202 (PCS), you may be authorized to be reimbursed for up to what it would have cost the government to fly you from your TDY location back to your duty location if you choose to buy your own plane ticket and fly back from a different location. In other words…

If it was going to cost the government $400 to bring you back from your TDY location to your duty location, then you’ve essentially got a “free ticket” up to $400 to fly back to your duty location from wherever you’re approved to take leave from. Tracking so far? I have my own personal example below after I finish explaining lol, don’t worry.

Only catch is you’ll just have to buy the ticket with your own funds (I recommend using your Amex Platinum card for 5x points), get leave approved in advance, and have your unit’s travel agency (i.e., TMO) send you a letter saying you’re authorized to buy a ticket and be reimbursed for the government-approved rate for returning you from your TDY location to your duty station. You’ll attach that letter to your DTS voucher on the back end. It’s that easy!

Here’s what that memo looks like:

In my own personal example: when I finished my TDY in Little Rock, it would have cost the government $1,292 to fly me back to Korea. So, I burned a few days of leave to take advantage of being back in the states, flew to Miami for dirt cheap, laid on the beach, got sunburnt, then flew to Colorado to visit my family, and then flew in a Gucci Delta Comfort Plus seat back to Korea for ~$1,250 from Denver to Korea that I bought myself and that I was reimbursed for when I filed my voucher.

To top it off, I used my Amex Platinum card and got 5x points for that flight! I got premium service AND a massive amount of points! #winning

5. Visit your airline’s lounge

Remember my plug for using your Amex Platinum card to visit the Centurion Lounge? Well don’t just limit yourself to only the Centurion lounge, check out others like the lounges belonging to the airline you’re flying for your TDY!

Delta, United, and American all have lounges that are reserved for only the elite members of those airlines. However, if you have that Priority Pass (that I talked about in tip #1) and you’re flying one of those airlines, military members can access those lounges as well!

Alongside free drinks, food, WiFi, and lounging in comfort, these lounges also have some world-renowned chefs and interior designers that helped make those places possible, so you’ll be in premium comfort while in any one of these.

Most importantly: Read the JTR

While this is probably the least sexy way to maximize your TDY experience, it’s likely the most important.

The Joint Travel Regulation (or, JTR) is the bible for moving soldiers, airmen, and marines according to the various places around the world in a legal fashion. It’s the law, so don’t break it!

Honestly, the only reason I’ve been able to do all the awesome things I’ve done while TDY is because I had a good understanding of what I could (and could not) do according to this document.

Yes, it’s dry, and yes, it’s a great bedtime read if you’re having a hard time falling asleep. However, it’s important that I state this: taking advantage of the perks a TDY affords you as a member serving their country is not illegal according to the JTR.

You serve your country, and if Amex, Delta, American Airlines, Hilton, Hertz, or whoever wants to better accommodate you for that fact and as a sign of their appreciation, you are well within your right to accept or refuse that treatment.


Yes, I actually was upgraded to this during my TDY for being a servicemember.

For whatever reason, many of the “seasoned” leadership I’ve encountered in my day treat TDYs as a rather taboo topic. They believe you should be soooo blessed and humbled by the sheer mention of your name in the same sentence as a TDY that if you even try to take as much as a free cookie from the hotel lobby, you’ll receive an Article 15 and never be considered for a TDY again.

That thinking is toxic. You are a valuable asset to your team, and if you need to go TDY to get training to be even better, you have every right to ask for it. Again, the worst they can say is, “no”.

I’ll be the odd-man out here and say: take that free cookie, graciously accept that free room upgrade (if there is one), and if the homie at Hertz wants to give you a free upgrade to a fire-red 2020 Dodge Charger instead of the Chevy Spark for the week you’re in LA. Say thank you, and take it!





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