Ah, the moment when your boss walks up to you and says you’re in charge of organizing the upcoming company getaway. No big deal. You just have to handle group reservations like flights and hotels for 85 people from New York to Miami.
Well, it is a big deal. Group travel booking is a bucket of stress. Between everyone's differing stay requirements, setting travel dates that suit the most people, finding the best hotel rates, and trolling the internet for the best travel package deals or special offers, it can be quite a handful.
Our very own Giacomo Guarnieri lays out all of his group travel tips and tricks below. Giacomo is TravelPerk’s business travel specialist in charge of booking group trips. He lives and breathes group booking. But somehow, he’s immune to stress. #stressless 😌
In this post we're covering:
- Booking group tickets for flights
- Booking group hotels
- More group booking tips
See how easy it can be to book business trips for large groups
Booking group flights
Group bookings for flights can be tricky. Let’s see what tips our pro Giacomo has to offer. Keep reading for the interview.
What is group booking in airlines?
When organizing group bookings for flights, you need to contact the airlines and give them the number of travelers and your dates, and then wait for them to send back a custom quote. All the different airlines (like Southwest Airlines, Delta, American Airlines, United Airlines etc.) will have different fares and benefits for you depending on your specific booking requirements.
Unlike a direct booking online, this process is manual and can be a little slow, as you’ll want to contact multiple airlines to get different pricing options. Travel agents would also have to do the same thing when dealing with group fares and your group's travel in general.
Do airlines offer discounts for groups?
The airlines don’t necessarily offer special pricing. What they do offer is assurance that everyone in your group will get on the same flight (unless your group is hundreds of people of course). Let's say you're flying from Houston to Hawaii for your corporate retreat. They'll do their best to guarantee that everyone going is on the same flight, but that still might not be possible based on ticketing availability.
Is it cheaper to book group flights?
Getting a group deal from an airline is not always the best price. The airfare per flight on a group booking deal is often higher than if you log in to TravelPerk or the Expedia Group and see the individual flight cost. That’s because the airline knows how much they make on average for a ticket on that particular day. They can calculate what they expect to make for a round-trip. Just watch out for those blackout dates and do your best to avoid them!
Why are group flight bookings more expensive?
Let’s say that you go to a popular travel booking site and you see that the cost for the flight you want is $50, but the airline knows that as the date gets closer they can sell it for $150, so the price they decide to give you at $80 per ticket because of your group size.
This is why with a corporate group of 25 or less, it’s often cheaper to book the flights yourself. When I do this for our clients, I group it in batches of 8. Some carriers, especially the low-cost carriers, will jack up the price right after someone has booked, so I wait a couple of hours before handling the next batch of 8 travelers.
If group booking flights doesn't offer a discount, why do it?
If you take the route of booking the flight manually, you have no guarantee that everyone in the group will get that flight. You might get to the last group of 5 or 8 flyers, and there could be no availability. If you’ve planned enough in advance, this is very rare, but it is still a risk. So you have to be willing to risk that some travelers will need to take a different route or carrier if you want to get the best, lowest travel deals that day.
“The other disadvantage with booking yourself manually and not getting a group rate, is that you don’t have any flexibility.”Giacomo Guarnieri
Most businesses don’t splurge for free cancellation, so you are locked into those dates and times, and to those specific travelers.
On the other hand, with group booking that has been negotiated with the airline, they typically give you time to make changes. It’s different for every carrier, but usually, you’re allowed to add or remove 10% of the passengers up to a month beforehand, and you don’t have to give their names at the time of booking.
Booking group hotels
What about hotels? Let's see what we can learn from Giacomo.
How can you get the best rates on group hotel bookings?
In general, it’s much easier to negotiate prices for big groups with hotels than it is with airlines. They might experience less predictability with bookings and might be more likely to offer you a volume-based discount. Also, their rates don’t fluctuate as much, so it easier for them to offer you a discount without worrying that they are sacrificing a higher-paying customer later.
As with flights, you need to email the hotels that you are considering and tell them the number of rooms (and how many people per room) and the dates. You'll need to check their minimum stay requirements and look at the competitive fares they offer for these timeframes. Keep in mind that for business trips, it’s advised to not force employees to share a room whenever possible.
Email anywhere from 5 – 15 different hotels to get quotes, and see if you can negotiate the price down.
What else can you negotiate for?
While it’s hard to negotiate special discounts for example, absolutely the easiest thing to negotiate for is extra benefits. For hotels, this would be room upgrades or free meals. And for flights, free luggage or priority check-ins are usually included or are easy to negotiate for.
More tips for booking group trips
Giacomo has even more tips for us.
What’s the overall process for booking group trips?
First, we have to decide whether we want to get quotes from hotels and airlines and negotiate a group price, or if we want to handle the group booking ourselves online. We can review the options, but most of the time it’s easy for me to assume which is the best route depending on time constraints and the size of the group.
When are negotiations not worth the effort?
If you’re on a time crunch, it’s not worth it to negotiate back and forth with the airline for a better price.
And as time goes on, the average ticket cost will rise, so they will only want to charge you more. They can sometimes take 24 – 48 hours to get back to you, so you’re not in a good position to negotiate for trips that are coming up soon.
Definitely knowing what to negotiate depends on the company. I take a different approach for each carrier and hotel depending on the situation.
“That’s a big reason why customers appreciate this service so much. They don’t have to worry about trying to get a better deal, which is an art. We handle all the negotiations.”Giacomo Guarnieri
How do you handle groups coming from different starting locations?
We recently planned for 400 people to come to Barcelona for the Netcentric Summit 2018. They were from 12 different locations. We sent out a Typeform asking everyone where they are coming from and how long they will be staying. Then we sorted these responses and grouped people together based on location and dates. Once we did that, we based our approach on what was right for each individual group.
How long does it take to book a group trip?
It can take anywhere from 3 days to 3 months. Of course, 3 months is on the extreme end, things like conferences and big events with multiple attendees and speakers. One week is more typical!
How do you streamline group booking?
The best thing you can do is to get all of the information upfront. Try to proactively ask questions. So don’t just stop at knowing that you need a hotel in Tampa or San Francisco, for example. Find out exactly what neighborhood and what style of hotel is preferred, like modern or boutique.
I also try to get pre-approved for booking, especially with trips that are coming up soon. Let’s say there is a group trip of 16 people and the trip is 6 weeks away.
I will tell the client about why the group booking rates for the airline will be more expensive, and that my approach is to handle the booking manually.
Then I’ll let them know that as long as the second batch of 8 isn’t a difference of more than 50 euros, that I will book it myself.
Of course, that’s just an example, but the point is that I try proactively to minimize the back and forth if time is an issue. There’s a balance between saving the client money and saving them time. If I take too long to book, it can waste money. So, I always make sure to get as much information as I can and get approval to book beforehand if that’s needed. But for most trips, I’m able to show them the options and let them decide before the final booking.
How can office managers excel at group booking?
If you’re booking something for a company event, you can use the same strategy: try to get approval and information from the right people upfront if you can.
“I always try to send the minimal amount of email and to be clear. This makes it less stressful for the client. I try to batch the communication.”Giacomo Guarnieri
If an office manager is handling group booking, the same thing would be helpful internally. They can try to get as much upfront information and approval as possible, batch all the questions they have, and then for any follow-ups or options, always be as clear as possible. Here are a few things to think about including in your email:
- Hotel + flight information - who is staying where, and what their route is. Include departure dates and return dates.
- Minimum stay - how long will the retreat last? Let people know so they can organize what they do afterward. Maybe they want to extend their corporate retreat a few days and turn it into a family vacation?
- Travel requirements - do any of your colleagues require any special documentation or additional assistance from your end? Offer them a way to reach out.
- Payment details - what's been paid for by the company, and what should travelers expect to be reimbursed for? Should they use their own credit cards on this trip?
- Be clear on the details - what can they expect upon arrival? Are you doing car rentals or has all transportation been organized?
- Outline the activities - what are we doing on our retreat? Are we doing a city tour of San Diego or letting loose in Las Vegas?
What’s one of your worst group booking mistakes and how did you handle it?
One time, we had booked 40 rooms for a group event in Lisbon. The colleagues were sharing rooms, and there were two beds in each room.
We got a call that the bathroom walls were made of glass, so you would be able to see each other when using the bathroom or the shower. We talked with the hotel directly and they put up something to cover it. They had to cover all the glass walls in 40 rooms!
What's your worst experience with group booking ground transportation?
With that recent summit in Barcelona, we organized for buses to pick up everyone from the airport. That week it was snowing all over Europe, and all the flights were delayed. The plans for the pickup buses were completely ruined.
We organized for hosts to go and greet them at the airport and help them. On the spot, the hosts had to reorganize all of the bus groups since everyone had arrived at different times than expected. It was crazy, but we worked it out!
How can people learn more about getting your help for group bookings?
If companies want help with group bookings, we can handle the entire process. We decide the best approach and negotiate the rate or we will manually book the trip.
“I’m the first point of contact so we get to work one-on-one and really form a relationship.”Giacomo Guarnieri
When a customer book one group event with us, they nearly always use the service for their next events. We just take so much stress off their shoulders. We can negotiate better rates, and of course, the constant support is a huge load off. There are just so many mishaps that can happen with big numbers of travelers.
The first step is they have to be a Premium subscriber with TravelPerk. Once they are signed up, all they have to do is request a group booking by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling support, and then I will be in touch with them.
To learn more, check out TravelPerk Premium to get all the details and FAQs on TravelPerk Group Booking.