Whether it's a bachelor party, family reunion, or business trip, planning group travel need not be daunting. With some advance preparation and careful organization, anyone can plan a trip to suit a throng of travelers, and save money as well.
Before you spend a cent, you first need to decide your destination. Give yourself enough time to plan and coordinate with your group. Sylvia King of Carrollton, Texas, recently booked a group trip for business, and recommends planning as soon is everything is confirmed with all participants, and at least one month in advance.
There may be some flexibility, however, for those who don't have a lot of pre-planning time. "Hotels will book groups ... with only a few days advance notice to several years in advance; it all depends on that specific group and ... planner's needs," notes Suzanne Wenz, regional director of public relations for the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston.
As any group will have a variety of travel personalities and varying likes and dislikes, you may not be able to please everyone or cater to all interests. Look at your traveling companions and assess the group's age ranges, past trips, and willingness to spend to help determine your destination choice, remembering it's key to find an excursion that will have a little something for everybody.
"Make sure you have everyone's input on what they need," states King. "Some travelers want restaurants [or] gyms ... and some just want a bed to sleep in."
Some good all-around suggestions for group travel include:
- Vacation house rentals: Vacation rentals can be found at the beach, in lakeside mountain towns, in the city or countryside, and in far-flung international destinations. When renting a vacation home or apartment, you'll get more space than a hotel, kitchen facilities, and oftentimes extra amenities such as a pool and grill. This type of accommodations is also a wise economic choice for a group, as you'll split one cost among several people, rather than paying by the room. You'll also save costs by taking advantage of cooking at the rental, rather than eating out for each meal.
- Cruises: Cruises are tailor-made for groups: There are a variety of activities, dining options, and destinations. Based on personalities and what the cruise offers, everyone can be as active or laid-back as he or she wishes. And you can spend extra time with your fellow travelers during sea days or by choosing shore excursions together. Cruises also have group booking options, so you can save by purchasing cabins together at once, as well as by requesting perks such as private parties and dining discounts.
- Resorts: Like cruises, resorts offer many activities for all types of travelers. In addition, the "one price for all" pricing structure at all-inclusive resorts can be a value option for meals, beverages, and entertainment. And by staying in one place, as many choose to do at all-inclusives, you may be able to relax and visit with everyone more so than at another type of vacation spot.
Once you've picked a destination, next comes finding the most affordable option possible. Luckily, the same rules for shopping in bulk also apply to travel: The more you purchase at once, the more you'll be able to save. However, you still want to make sure you're not overspending in any given area, or purchasing something that won't benefit your group.
- Look into group airfare: If you and your group are all based in one area, many airlines offer discounts and/or special services for groups traveling on the same itinerary. Airlines with group travel programs include Delta, Hawaiian, Midwest, and US Airways. Perks include discounted tickets, free airfares, pre-reserved seating, and package options. Most airlines require 10 travelers to get a group rate; Midwest requires eight people. Call your preferred airline to see if group programs are available.
- Consider seasonality and timing: You may be able to get extra savings by scheduling your trip during a shoulder- or off-peak season, recommends Wenz. "Depending on the type of ... activities planned, the time of year and the weather outside may not matter." The day of the week can make a difference in rate, too, as Wenz notes including a Sunday-night stay (typically the night of lowest hotel occupancy each week) may offer discounted accommodations rates. Call the CVB of the area you wish to visit to inquire about peak and off-peak tourism seasons, as well as any special promotions they may offer throughout the year.
- Use an online group travel service: While there aren't extensive group travel offerings online, there are a handful of good sites that can help plan a group trip with ease. Groople enables travelers to book airfare, hotels, rental cars, bus/rail, and cruises on a group basis, and Hotels.com offers group hotel booking services as well. If you want to get several opinions before booking, MyTravelGuide.com, a collaborative trip planner service, offers reviews and research on a variety of destinations, with focuses on hotels and attractions. Users can set up a private discussion group for friends and family to post and share information on planning a trip.
- Work with a hotel sales manager: When making a hotel reservation, make sure you let the sales staff know you're planning a group trip. When booking a block of rooms, "some hotels can give group discounts," advises King. Wenz agrees this is a good idea, and goes one step further: "Look at what the hotel offers in terms of packages ... often [they] will be memorable for guests, but also a good value."
- Be choosy: Don't jump at the first offer you see. Compare what's available with our fare-comparison tool and consult your fellow travelers to make sure you are getting the best deal for your group.
Advance preparations will go far in planning a great group trip, both in the success of the event and the amount saved. And don't forget: When researching travel offers, always ask if an extra discount is available, as you may find a deal that wasn't yet advertised. Lastly, plan enough, but not so much that you won't enjoy the trip. Make sure your trip plans enable you, once there, to have downtime to rest and visit with friends and family.