Understanding and Using Your Military Exchange

Your military exchange offers savings and tax-free shopping on installations worldwide. The exchanges run department stores, uniform shops, gas stations, liquor stores, barber shops, fast-food restaurants and many other retail operations on your installation, as well as online shopping. Active-duty service members, National Guard and Reserve Component members, eligible family members and retirees can shop at any exchange. Using your exchange can mean real cost savings for you and your family. It can also be a way for you to "give back" to the military community because a portion of exchange profits funds installation activities and exchanges provide employment for military family members.

Exchange systems by service branch

Each service branch's exchange system has its own name and although each military exchange system has similar policies, services and items for sale, each one is operated separately. However, if you are eligible to shop in one exchange system, you can shop in them all. Keep in mind that you need a valid ID to shop at any exchange.

Exchanges use the following names:

  • Army and Air Force Exchange Service - AAFES or "The Exchange" operates more than 3,700 facilities in the 50 states, five United States territories and 30 countries
  • Navy Exchange Service Command - NEXCOM operates the Navy Exchange stores and related facilities for the Navy. Some facilities are even located at sea as part of the Ships Stores Program. The NEXCOM Enterprise also oversees the Navy Lodge Program, the Navy Uniform Program, the Telecommunications Program Office and the Navy Clothing Textile and Research Facility.
  • Marine Corps Exchange - MCX is overseen by the Marine Corps Community Services and consists of approximately 170 facilities worldwide.

The federal government provides only a small percentage of each program's expenses. For example, it pays shipping costs to supply some overseas locations. The greatest majority of the money to operate, build and renovate exchanges comes from customer sales. In remote or forward areas, exchange systems for different service branches may work together to provide services.

Super savings and services

Different services may give their exchange systems different names, but each provides savings to customers. Make sure you take advantage of all of your exchange's offerings, including:

  • Convenient and thrifty shopping - Your exchange can save you money. Remember, you don't pay sales tax and name-brand items cost less than department store prices.
  • Guaranteed lowest prices - If you find a lower price, most exchanges will match the price of any identical item sold for less in town. Customers usually need to bring an advertisement or other proof of the lower price. It doesn't apply to some items, like fine jewelry and gasoline. Prices listed for some types of sales, like going-out-of-business sales or flea markets, won't be matched.
  • Easy return policies - If you purchase something at an exchange and want to return it, most exchanges have generous return policies.
  • Easy and safe online shopping - You can safely log on to your exchange website anytime, 24/7. Keep in mind that you will need to register your social security number and birth date in order to shop online. Your exchange online catalog has links to discounted furniture, toys, clothing, electronics and many other products as well as shopping links for other online stores that offer special discounts to exchange customers. Regular shipping is free on most items with a minimum purchase of $49 or on items purchased with your Military STAR® credit card.
  • Name-brand items - Your exchange has name-brand clothes, beauty products and home items. The exchange also sells its own brand for greater savings.
  • Military STAR® credit cards - Eligible exchange patrons may apply for a Military STAR® credit card, which can be used at exchange stores worldwide and online. Profits generated from the card are shared with military communities through contributions to Morale, Welfare and Recreation funds. The interest on your card can be reduced to six percent during deployment to designated areas. You can also stop making payments without interest while deployed, if approved. To take advantage of this savings, you need deployment orders from your unit. Otherwise, be sure to make all payments or pay the balance in full. Keep in mind that past-due accounts can be reported to the military.
  • Easy payments - Exchanges accept all major credit cards, the Military STAR® card and personal checks with ID. Government travel expense cards can also be used for some items. Using a government card at your exchange is easy, you only need a valid ID and your card. Also, you can cash personal checks at your exchange without any fee.
  • Uniform shops - Exchanges for every service offer uniform shops where you can find or order all uniform needs, plus patches and awards.
  • Clothing care service - Exchanges feature dry-cleaning services on site. The employees at these stores understand how military uniforms should be pressed and hung. In addition, on-installation tailors are familiar with military uniform regulations.
  • Miscellaneous and hard-to-find uniform needs - Your exchange is likely to carry the right shade of shoe polish or brass polish. Some exchanges carry products, such as braces, designed to keep shirts, socks and pants tucked in perfectly.
  • Military-pride products - Exchanges offer special products that celebrate events like retirements, the annual Army-Navy football game or the promotion of Navy Chief Petty Officers in September. They also offer special boxes designed to display military honors, awards and flags as well as shirts, ball caps, collectibles and gifts that generally promote unit, force or ship pride.

Exchange services overseas

Exchange services and stores provide for service members and their families all over the world and in many ways:

  • Phone cards - You can purchase calling cards through your military exchange for service members serving in Afghanistan or Kuwait. Rates give family members a chance to stay in touch for much less than other calling cards. Service members and family members can get a card online or go to an installation exchange.

You also can send a card from the website to a loved one serving overseas or donate a card to any service member. AT&T's Direct Ocean ServiceSM provides personal calling from Navy ships using high quality satellite connectivity. Sailors and Marines can use an AT&T Calling Card or AT&T Global PrePaid Card to place calls via AT&T's DOS. The cost of a call from most ships back to the United States using either card is $.45 per minute. The AT&T GPPC can be purchased in any ship's store and is available for $20. The GPPC can also be used to make calls within the United States or at overseas ports (ashore) to anywhere in the United States or its territories. The rates vary depending on where the call originates.

  • Gift cards and certificates for service members - You can buy military exchange gift certificates for service members at any exchange or online for use at any exchange.
  • Overseas car deals - Exchanges in the United States can't sell cars, but if you're stationed overseas or on temporary assignment for at least 30 days, you can purchase new cars tax-free at overseas installations. In some cases, you can have the car shipped back to the United States for free. Go to your installation exchange for more information.

Giving back to the military community

Your exchange does more than save you money. It gives back to the military community in ways like these:

  • Funds for installation activities - Your exchange puts a large portion of its profits back into your installation. Unit events, recreation centers and youth activities all benefit from exchange sales.
  • Employment for military family members - Your exchange provides jobs to military family members stateside and abroad. Jobs are available in different fields, such as restaurant and food service, retail, accounting and bookkeeping, often in both entry-level and management positions.


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