Let’s say you and several other business associates are planning to attend an out-of-town trade show or seminar and you’ve checked airfares and found them outrageous. It’s no surprise. With all the changes happening on the airline front -- small aircraft replacing big ones, consolidated or discontinued flights, endless fare increases and surcharges, overbooking -- it seems there just aren’t any deals to be had.
But because several of you plan to travel to the same place at the same time, you might just have a shot at saving some money. And--- surprise! ---several of the airlines have programs in place to help you work out the details.
And remember: group discounts don’t end with the airlines. Hotels are looking for group business too, as are ground transportation companies, meeting facilities, food service operations and local attractions.
There are a few tricks to making it all work, but with advance planning you can:
1. Secure a block of airline seats for your group at a discount.
2. Score lower rates on hotel rooms, upgrades to better rooms, and more.
3. Find good prices on local transportation.
4. Save money at local restaurants and attractions.
Ask the airlines about discounts and group servicesMost major airlines have a meeting planning desk to help you negotiate a discounted group contract, typically available if your group size is 10 passengers or more traveling to the same destination in the same time period.
other airlines. Search for best fare deals fast at SideStep, Kayak, and Mobissimo (rated best for international carriers) and book multiple seats if they’re available.
Track down hotel discounts for your group tooDepending on the time of year and what else is going on in the city, hotels want group business too. The bigger your group, the more they're likely to do for you. Ask about rate discounts, upgrades to concierge level rooms, early check-in/late check-out privileges, a free room for every ten rooms booked, a free room for the group coordinator, free or discounted meeting space, free internet, free baggage handling, discounts on food functions. You won't get everything, but it doesn't hurt to ask.
Look for cost-effective and efficient ways to get aroundOnce your group is at the destination, how will you get from Point A to Point B? If it's a major trade show or national convention, the event organizers might have hotel-to-convention center shuttles in place. If not, look into the best way to get your group around.
Get deals on tours, local attractions and restaurants tooAll work and no play is no fun. When your work is done, take the group on a sightseeing tour of the area, to a local attraction or to a special restaurant.
- Airlines might offer a free seat for every "x" number of flights booked in your group block. This will vary by airline so ask for specifics.
- Once you have a negotiated rate, make sure all members of your travel group use the group designator code when they make their reservations. If they don't and your numbers fall short of the contract, you could lose the group discount and other perks.
- If the meeting you'll attend is a major one, the event organizers might already have special rate agreements with airlines and hotels. Check out the meeting materials for details (hint: it's sometimes hidden in the "book your reservations" or fine print details).
- Compare the rates for air travel and hotel rooms offered by the event organizers with those you find on the Internet. The "event" rates will not always be lowest.
- Depending on the size of your group, the airline, hotel and other vendors might ask for deposits to secure your contract. Read all terms carefully; attrition rates (those that apply if you cancel) can be costly.
- Hotels sometimes "borrow" rooms from a small group room block to meet overflow needs of a larger group. Check the status of your room block regularly with the hotel until your day of arrival.
- You can also book your room block directly with the sales department at your chosen hotel. Consider this if you are already a premier member of the chain's frequent guest program.
- Make sure you have all contact names and phone numbers for each vendor you're working with on your group program. Plug them into your cell phone for speedy access in case of an emergency.
- To expedite meal service at a restaurant, contact the restaurant in advance about a private room and special menu (limit to two or three entrees) for your group.