Group Discount Myths
Everyone wants to save a few dollars, even a few hundred dollars when traveling. Travel deals, airfare sales, hotel specials (3rd night free, kids stay free) all entice us to vacation with saving money. But is it really cheaper to book in bulk? Sometimes. But not always.
There are numerous group reservation benefits. But here are common myths:
Myth #1: Groups discounts are commonly defined across the travel industry
Airlines generally define a group as 10 or more passengers. Hotels tend to define a group as 10 or more rooms of double occupancy (20 people). Cruises and activity operators have their own criteria for groups. Restaurants vary on whether or not they can accept group reservations, and if they do, less likely to offer discounts unless you have a coupons already. Many activity operators (snorkeling tours, river rafting, etc.) can accept groups, but the number of people varies widely depending on vehicle occupancy, type of tour, etc. You get the idea. Your group may qualify for a discount at a theater (7 girls on a getaway weekend), but not for a block of rooms at the hotel closest to a friend's wedding.
Myth #2: If a group has fewer than 10 people, it is not a group
Not true. What about the group of 7 guys who goes golfing for a weekend? Or 9 girls on a spa getaway? Or an extended family traveling together: parents, kids, grandparents, aunt/uncle? They are absolutely groups. Groups don't have to be industry-defined to travel together. Friends and family travel in groups all the time and aren't necessarily considered traditional groups by the travel industry. See more on what defines a group.
Myth #3: Seasonality doesn't affect group reservations
Travel industry prices are highly tuned into the seasons, regardless of how many people in the party. Caribbean is cheaper than ever in the Spring and Fall (during hurricane-prone seasons), while Hawaii is most expensive during the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve. It doesn't matter how big your group is, you'll pay more for a European summer trip than you would in a lower season month (such as October). And the same applies to other destinations and their peak seasons. Planning well in advance can help, you aren't immune from the seasonal pricing fluctuations. Seasonal rates apply to airlines, hotels, activity, cruises, and tour operators.
Myth #4: Black-out dates don't apply to groups
Groups can travel any time, but all travel is subject to peak times and black-out dates (which vary by destination). Fares are higher, deadlines for things like deposits are more restrictive, and space is more limited not just for peak travel, but also for black-out dates, such as major holidays. While destinations and suppliers vary for black-out dates, U.S.holidays are when availability is most limited for the majority of suppliers including airlines, hotels, restaurants, theaters, and many activity companies.
Myth #5: Booking group reservations guarantees a discount
First, the number of units (seats/rooms) your group needs may exceed the number available at the cheapest rate, so even with a discount off the lowest rate available for your group, at least some members of your group could find a lower price by booking individually.
Second, prices do not necessarily go up as you get closer to the travel date, so contracting early enough to ensure that there's enough space available for you puts you at risk of missing out a potential lower price later. Just as with individual purchases, deciding when to buy is a trade-off between price and availability, and a bit of a bet.
Myth #6: Deposits for group flights and hotel rooms are fully refundable
Restrictions occur (and vary) for any group reservation. Normally, if people cancel and the total number of passengers falls below 90% of your original estimated number of passengers, you'll lose the deposit for those passengers. If the final number of people who go on the trip is below the pre-set minimum, all existing tickets/rooms must be reissued and penalties may apply (such as flight change fees).
Armed with this reality check of group discounts, go forth and travel the world together. Discounts do exist. They just aren't as easy to secure as we'd all like to believe, and it does take a little vigilance to manage a group contract. Just be sure to ask the group reservation representative, as they're usually willing to be helpful to make sure your group is accommodated.
p.s., thank you to Camille E. for sharing her experience as a travel agent: "I very much agree with your advice on group travel. More people need to be aware of these factors when booking a group. I am a travel agent and many times group rates just ensure that everyone is paying the same price, especiallywith airfare. Just because you are a group does not mean cheaper. Quite often there are only so many seats in a particular class of service for airlines which means that not everyone in your group will get in the same class, therefore higher prices for those having to book in higher classes. This is where group bookings for airfare helps. Also, the earlier the better for booking! Or at least start looking early this way you can keep an eye on the availability. Most problems that I have with groups is that they leave things too late and then have no options and higher prices. It is also advisable to have one person in charge as the contact person."