Save money on your next group trip and learn how to negotiate like a pro with these insider tips.
In today’s industry, not many people are simply buying services from suppliers. Instead they negotiate to get a deal that works best for both parties. While you don’t want to come off as a quibbler to the supplier, knowing what to ask will indicated that you’re a professional. And if you don’t ask for benefits, you may not get them.
Wish lists are a helpful tool to make before contacting any supplier about what you want provided for your group. Start by asking about special rates for seniors, students, mid-week travel or whatever else you might be able to come up with. Also ask about off-season dates and long stays for special markets like families.
Many times, if you’re working with an agent or tour operator, they will negotiate with suppliers for you. Their people are extremely knowledgeable in the industry, and are accustomed to handling groups and negotiating your needs. But if you’re booking your tour yourself, you’ll need to learn the fine are of negotiating.
Negotiating With a Cruise Line
The first thing you need to remember with cruise lines is that they need your group. The problem is they don’t necessarily need you on the same dates you want them. Timing is everything, and you will find better deals for the summer and fall months, rather than the winter months when the ships fill up with snowbirds. Tropical cruises on Christmas and Alaskan cruises in the summer will not render your best offers. So an opening question should be: When do you need groups?
Be aware that cruise lines will set stiff deadlines that you will need to meet. When soft-sailing off-season, they may let you hold unsold cabins until 60 days prior to departure, or even later. But on peak days, they may demand you return unsold cabins as early as six months before sailing dates, thus precluding late sales on your part. Cruise lines want groups that firm up well in advance.
Negotiating With Hotels and Resorts
The secret here is booking resorts mid-week and downtown hotels on weekends. Deal your negotiations with the sales department, never with reservations. Explain to them your group’s needs, like sleeping rooms, meeting rooms, meals, welcome/ farewell parties, cocktail get-togethers, etc. The hotel is interested in selling the whole package, not just sleeping rooms.
Negotiating With an Airline
It is possible to negotiate group rates with an airline, usually premised on a specific minimum number of passengers traveling on the group’s flight throughout. If you have passengers that want to utilize their frequent flyer miles, or wish to deviate from the group dates and flights, you may have a problem. And if you jump from carrier to carrier, they won’t get enough business to wish to negotiate with you.
Try to plan the travel dates mid-week, since weekend rates are usually higher. Be aware that airlines issue a contract, requiring a deposit of about $100. Usually the deposit is refundable if one cancels down unused space 90 days in advance. Most airlines require tickets be issued and all unused space be released no later than 30 days before departure.
You’ll want to get quotes from different airlines, if more than one carrier travels to your destination. There can sometimes be a difference in price as big as $200, so shop around if you can.
The key to becoming a good negotiator is practice. It is against our nature, because we may find it rude to ask for handouts or discounts. But you will find out it’s expected of you. Remember, you’re not asking for yourself, your asking fro your group, and that’s a lot easier.