Save money on your next group trip and learn how to negotiate like a pro with these insider tips.
In today’s group travel industry, savvy travel planners aren’t simply buying services from suppliers. Instead, they negotiate to get a deal that works both for their travelers and provides the supplier with a new piece of business. While you don’t want to come off as a quibbler or argumentative with a supplier, knowing what to ask for and what your leverage points are will indicated that you’re a professional. And if you don’t ask for benefits, you probably won’t 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 art of negotiating.
How to Negotiate Group Rates 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. Caribbean cruises over Christmas break and Alaskan cruises in the middle 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. Here’s more helpful advice when booking a group cruise.
What’s up for negotiation? Rates (sometimes), complimentary reservations (sometimes), goodies like cocktail parties (mostly).
Negotiating With Hotels and Resorts
The secret to great group rates used to be booking resorts mid-week and downtown hotels on weekends. Not anymore. It’s still important to look for patterns however and start your conversations with the sales rep similar as cruise lines – “when do you need the business?” Unless you’re coming in for a specific event, you have flexibility to swap dates and move travel schedules around. It’s also smart when planning a multi-city group trip to negotiate around your anchor destination so all the other pieces can fit around that.
Deal your negotiations with the sales department, never with reservations. Explain to them your group’s needs and be specific – how many sleeping rooms, meeting rooms, meals, welcome/ farewell parties, cocktail get-togethers, etc will you need. The hotel is interested in selling the whole package, not just sleeping rooms and this should leverage into your discussions.
What’s up for negotiation? Rates (many times), complimentary reservations (infrequently), waiver of fees, ie. resort fees, wifi, (sometimes).
Negotiating With an Airline
Don’t laugh, but 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.
Be aware that airlines issue a contract, requiring a deposit of at least $100. Usually the deposit is refundable if one cancels down unused space 90 days in advance but don’t take this as law – policies vary from carrier to carrier and can shift on a dime. 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.
What’s up for negotiation? With airline capacity stretched thin, not much.
The key to becoming a good negotiator
Practice, practice, 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 to negotiate rates. Remember, you’re not asking for yourself, your asking for your group, and that’s a lot easier.