Best Way to Book Group Travel
Group travel is a critical component of business travel but can also be complex and stressful to manage. At the same time it only becomes more and more commonplace with the GBTA has reported reported 2.7% growth in group business travel in recent years.
Many companies need to bring together teams from multiple locations for conferences, trade shows, or put together group activities for team-bonding events.
As an office manager, you might be pressured to plan these trips smoothly. From putting together the travel itinerary, booking, to finalizing group size and coordinating payment. Managing the associated logistics related to group travel is often a frustrating process.
What is Group Booking?
Group booking is the booking of trips for larger groups, typically made up of 10 or more travelers on the same itinerary.
For corporate travel, this process can be particularly intricate as the itinerary and participants could change intermittently, not to mention all the hassles of collecting traveler information, dealing with multiple suppliers, sending out waivers to be signed, as well as budgeting the travel expenses to fit within the company’s budget policy.
How does Group Booking work?
Depending on time and the size of the group, there are four ways to do a group booking: booking individually, booking via airline group booking, booking through offline travel agents, or booking with online travel platforms.
1. Booking Individually
If you have 25 people or less in your trip, it’s usually cheaper to book individual tickets. The paid per flight costs in a group booking deal are usually higher than individual flight costs. This is because the airline yield management systems and the tendency for airlines to categorize an entire group into a single fare class.
While individual fares sounds attractive, there are also some big disadvantages. For one, travel organizers will have to submit all of the passengers’ information on the same day as booking confirmations are made. It is often impractical for companies to comply with these time limits as they may not immediately know who the participating group travelers will be.
Another drawback is the time-consuming process and the lack of flexibility that is essential in corporate travel. Even a slight change in the itinerary could potentially ruin the entire trip and incur substantial cost for companies .
2. Booking via Airline Group Booking
Office managers can alternatively contact the airlines directly to conduct a group booking. Most airlines have specific group travel departments that can help with seating arrangements and provide competitive fares if you book far in advance.
Booking via airlines also works well in terms of information availability. Office managers can block book seats in advance and only need to provide passenger details 30 days prior to travel as is the rule for most airlines. This enables them to make changes to dates, itinerary and names, free of charge.
Some airlines demand that all group bookings need to be made via the airline group booking department. Those airlines that have strict policies around this will raise their rates if individual bookings for groups are discovered.
As such, travel organizers need to familiarize themselves with the terms and conditions of different airlines before making a decision on how to book. Policy aside, group bookings are generally excluded from any special promotion fares, which can result in higher group fares.
As flight tickets vary a lot, here are some tips to find the best airline fares for group bookings:
Avoid waiting until the last minute to buy tickets. The best booking windows are 16 to 3 weeks in advance.
Midweek flights are the best. Tuesdays are generally the cheapest days and Sundays are the most expensive.
Split the ticket purchases to take advantage of lower fares from individual ticket deals.
Flying on an adjacent day or at a nearby airport to get lower fares. You can extend layovers to visit two places for the price of one.
Leverage travel rewards points for free flight opportunities. You can utilize travel reward cards to accelerate points collection.
Buy flights in bulk, i.e. return and multi-city tickets, using airlines within the same airline alliance such as Star Alliance.
Manual Booking vs Airline Group Booking
With manual booking, you will have no guarantee that everyone in your travel group will get the same flight, even if you plan in advance. Company organizers need to consider the possibility that some employees might end up taking different routes or airlines, which could potentially affect your trip itinerary and add complications
Also, by booking manually you’re basically locked into specific dates, times and travelers. This is a major concern for corporate travelers that require flexibility.
On the other hand, group booking via airline provides you with enough time to make changes. Seats and fares are secured with a deposit but no names are required and tickets are not issued.
Companies are only required to make payment closer to the departure date. In some airlines, companies are also allowed to add or remove passengers up to a month beforehand without providing any API (advance passenger information).
What about group booking deals? Airlines like Singapore Airlines and Southwest Airlines offer airfare discounts for group bookings, but group deals from airlines typically do not benefit you much. Most airlines provide discounts of only 10% depending on the number of seats available and do not offer promotional fares to groups.
Bottom line is that you are only better off using the airline's group booking department if you are traveling in a very large group with 30 or more passengers. If not, make sure to check the group travel policy of the airline you are looking to book with!
So what about travel agents?
3. Booking through offline travel agents
Companies can also hire corporate travel agents to coordinate group bookings. These agents can provide flexible booking modification, reservation rebooking and easy cancellation.
They can also facilitate efficient group check-ins by printing group baggage check-in and boarding passes in advance or assisting corporate travelers in applying for Visas and APEC business cards to bypass immigration. On top of that, they can arrange seatings for group travelers, assist travelers with thorough duty of care, and have useful knowledge and experience to offer expert advice on complex business travels.
Companies could also leverage their relationships with various travel vendors, i.e. airlines and hotels to negotiate discounted airline group fares. Moreover, hotels don’t usually offer group discounts because of the risk of room cancellation and inability to resell the said-room. By making group bookings through travel agencies, companies can leverage the agent’s existing relationships with vendors and negotiating experience.
Travel agencies are able to help reduce the stress for office managers, but they also come with challenges. Leveraging their service means company organizers need to constantly check with them every time they want to make changes.
This can be highly time consuming!
The lack of autonomy could potentially slow down the booking experience. Also, offline, personal service also usually comes with higher booking and service fees.
4. Booking with Online Business Travel Software
Travel agencies may have optimized manual processes to tackle group booking but to automate, streamline, and deliver elevated travel experience that modern customers expect, online travel managers such as Betravelo, are the answer.
A survey by Azavista showed that 80% of travelers appreciate a technology solution that can handle all aspects of group travel arrangements. Corporate travel management software provides business travelers with an easy to use platform to work with while simplifying and speeding up the entire process of booking travel.
Moreover, it allows corporate traveler managers to make most group bookings online and have only the complex trips managed by a travel agent. It basically combines the benefits of travel agents with the convenience of a self-service platform.
With brick and mortar travel agents, multiple back and forth communication is necessary to initiate, adjust, and finalize a group trip. Online travel software saves companies tons of resources and time by streamlining the process. Travel managers can personally check and compare flights, accommodations, and arrange ground transportation online to maximize their travel budgets.
They can also do book themselves online, which not only increases autonomy but also overall booking satisfaction, allows for easier modification of bookings, cancellations and keeps track of where travelers are.
The software also provides a consolidated quotation for all required services for a group trip including flights and hotels. They take into account real-time pricing information and the company’s travel policy to generate transparent quotations including all fees.
After the trip is complete the platform tracks all travel data allowing travelers to file expense reports. This data is invaluable and can be used to improve travel spend and to negotiate better deals with suppliers.
To sum up...
The best way to book group travel for your business depends on your needs. If you are a small group with a straight forward itinerary you will be well served booking yourself using an online business travel booking tool. If your needs are more complex or for a large group it makes sense to talk to the airline directly or work with a corporate travel manager that can organize the trip on your behalf.