Joining the Air Force comes with benefits you may never have considered, including allowances to help offset the cost of uniforms, food, housing, college courses and even family separation. Military family members can take advantage of recreation programs and child care and even benefit from payments in the event that their service member dies.
Air Force Pay
The military services share a pay structure built around basic pay, to which may be added special pays and allowances.
In 2023, Air Force basic pay ranges in the enlisted ranks from $1,917.60 monthly for an E-1 (airman basic) with less than two years of service; to $5,782.50 for an E-7 (master sergeant) with 24 years of service; and beyond.
Examples of officers' 2023 basic pay are $3,637.20 for an O-1 (second lieutenant) with less than two years of service and $12,050.40 for an O-6 (colonel) with 21 years of service.
Air Force members may also receive special pay for hazardous or arduous duty, or certain assignments, career fields or proficiencies. For example, hazardous duty pay for flight crew members ranges from $110 to $250 per month in 2023, while optometrists can receive up to an additional $15,000 for every year they serve on active duty.
Air Force Allowances
Tacked onto airmen's basic pay are cash allowances calculated to compensate for housing, food, uniforms and even family separations when a service member deploys to a location where families can't go along.
- Basic Allowance for Housing: BAH rates in a given location reflect the cost of civilian housing and utilities in the local area, calculated according to ZIP code. A member's paygrade and the existence of any dependent family members also factor in. In the Air Force hub of San Antonio, for example, the BAH rates range from $1,398 for an E-1 without dependents to $2,553 for an O-7 with dependents.
- Overseas Housing Allowance: This allowance for troops stationed overseas also takes into account currency fluctuations.
- Basic Allowance for Subsistence: The BAS pays a flat rate for service members to buy food. It pays $452.56 for enlisted airmen and $311.68 for officers in 2023.
- Basic Needs Allowance: Started in 2023, the BNA pays service members living in the U.S. whose household income falls below 130% of the federal poverty line. They aren't paid this allowance automatically but must apply for this monthly cash benefit. The BNA amounts to however much money will bring a family's income up to the 130% line. The fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act raises the eligibility threshold to 150% of the federal poverty level, which could be implemented as soon as July.
- Family Supplemental Assistance Allowance: For service members serving outside the U.S., this allowance takes into account family size and income.
- Clothing Allowances: Enlisted airmen receive a standard uniform when they go on Air Force active duty, plus annual allowances. Officers may receive a one-time payment after they commission into the service. Additional clothing allowances help cover maternity uniforms, replacements and unusual circumstances.
- Family Separation Allowance: When a service member deploys to a place the family can't go, or even if the family can't go for a medical reason, the family receives $250 a month.
Air Force Housing
Unaccompanied personnel -- those without dependents -- can live in a base's barracks or dorms, at times referred to as bachelor's quarters, rent free.
Companies now own and maintain most military base housing under the Military Housing Privatization Initiative. Service members' Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) covers the rent in privatized housing, and they're expected to pay for their own utilities.
In the Air Force, officials at local installations can help families find somewhere suitable to live, whether on-base or in the local community.
Air Force Relocation Benefits
The military helps cover the cost of required, permanent change of station (PCS) moves when a service member must transfer from one duty station to another and when leaving the service.
Depending on the availability, a moving company contracted by the military may do all the packing and loading in addition to transporting the goods.
In addition to the transportation of household goods, the military pays allowances, such as the:
- Dislocation Allowance for miscellaneous expenses associated with a move.
- Move-In Housing Allowance for getting set up in private quarters overseas.
- Allowances for lodging and meals related to the move.
Air Force Health Care and Tricare
Active-duty service members receive free medical care under the military's health insurance program, Tricare.
Families of active-duty members who enroll in Tricare usually don't pay for medical care, though they may incur out-of-pocket costs under certain plans and scenarios. Reservists, veterans and retirees may also be eligible for some Tricare plans, and Tricare also offers dental coverage.
Tricare Prime plans generally cost less out of pocket, while Tricare Select plans cover care at a larger selection of providers. Retirees who pay Medicare Part B premiums also become eligible for automatic Tricare for Life wraparound coverage.
Air Force Education Benefits
The Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) awards associate of applied science degrees in subjects related to enlisted airmen's jobs, awarding about 22,000 degrees a year. The education services office on-base can help start the process.
Beyond CCAF, Air Force members generally use TA to pay for college courses while they're in uniform -- worth up to $250 per semester hour with a $4,500 annual cap, for a maximum of 124 semesters for a bachelor's degree and 42 semester hours for a graduate degree. Supervisors must approve courses taken under TA.
Service members usually save their GI Bill benefits to use when they get out, or they transfer the benefit to one or more dependents. The Post-9/11 GI Bill pays the full cost of in-state tuition and fees at public institutions and pays up to a certain cap for private or foreign colleges. It also provides a housing allowance.
Air Force Spouse and Family Benefits
In addition to the housing, health-care and education benefits military families may be eligible for, they may also take advantage of shopping, child-care and recreation benefits.
Shopping benefits: At commissaries -- the military's grocery stores -- military families can shop tax free, and the groceries are sold at cost, plus a 5% surcharge. Likewise, exchanges are on-base department stores run, in the Air Force's case, by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service. Goods sold at base exchanges also are largely tax free.
Child-care benefits: Options for child care include on-base centers where the fee is based on a service member's paygrade and household income. When spots aren't available, approved in-home day care may be an option; in areas geographically separated from a base, the military may help pay for care at certain centers.
Recreation benefits: On-base Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) programs include gyms, pools, bowling alleys, horse stables, event centers, golf courses and programs such as sports and classes. In addition to base services, the military operates campgrounds throughout the U.S. and vacation resorts such as Edelweiss Lodge and Resort in Germany, Hale Koa Hotel in Hawaii, and Shades of Green at Walt Disney World.
Air Force Retirement Benefits
Under the military's Blended Retirement System (BRS), members who serve at least 20 years on active duty become eligible to receive retired pay of up to 40% of the average of their highest 36 months of basic pay.
The BRS also includes matching government contributions of up to 5% to troops' Thrift Savings Plan, which is similar to a civilian 401(k), plus a one-time, mid-career bonus in exchange for an additional service obligation.
An option to receive a portion of retired pay in a lump sum is also available.
Air Force Survivor Benefits
The military's Survivor Benefit Plan pays a service member's beneficiary a percentage of the service member's retired pay if the member:
- Dies in the line of duty while on active duty. The rate is calculated as though the member retired with 100% disability.
- Dies of a service-connected disability.
- Dies after enrolling upon retirement and paying monthly contributions.
Keep Up with the Ins and Outs of Military Life
For the latest military news and tips on military family benefits and more, subscribe to Military.com and have the information you need delivered directly to your inbox.