Guide to Group Airline Travel - Part 4
Before I go any further, please heed the following warning:
THE CONTRACT DESCRIPTIONS LISTED HEREIN ARE FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. ALL AIRLINES HAVE DIFFERENT POLICIES AND THEY CHANGE FREQUENTLY, SO CAREFULLY READ ANY TERMS, CONDITIONS, AND POLICIES LISTED IN ANY CONTRACT YOU INTEND ON SIGNING.
Okay, sorry for the lecture. :)
As you must know by now, the contract is where you have to read the fine print. The contract easily points out the obvious, such as fare, your flight numbers, and flight times. You have to read carefully for most terms, conditions, and policies. Questions that a contract should answer include:
- How much is required for the deposit and when is the deposit due?
- Can I cancel this contract and receive a full refund of my deposit?
- Can I reduce the size of my traveling party without penalty?
- When do I have to do the ticketing for my group?
- Are there additional fees, such as a ticketing fee, that is added to the fare?
- Are deviations permitted?
- Can a person in the group use only one portion of the ticket?
- How much does the airline charge for baggage fees?
Of course, this is just a sampling of questions that should answered by your contract. If you are unable to find the wording about a particular policy, you should call the airline for clarification. Do NOT assume that because it is not listed in the contract that it doesn't apply. Now let's cover some of the questions listed above in greater detail.
#2 - Having the ability to cancel the group and get your money back is huge. This allows you to keep shopping for a better price. Not all airlines will refund your money, so pay attention. However, if you are unlikely to find a better price with another airline, then your ability to outright cancel your contract should not be much of an issue. However, your ability to reduce the size of your party (#3) may still be something of concern.
#4 Ticketing date is obviously important. One of the main advantages of a group reservation is that you can hold your reservation without having to pay the full price of the ticket until 30-45 days before travel. The ticketing date varies by airline, so be sure to check this out. Equally important is whether or not there are any ticketing feese (#5). Some airlines use this as a tactic to generate additional revenue. They will quote you a price for your ticket and then charge you a ticketing fee on top of that price. Ticketing fees vary by airline, but usually range from $15-$20 per ticket.
#6 Deviations are when someone in your group wants to fly on a different itinerary than the rest of the group. A common example is when an assistant coach or spouse needs to travel a day later than the group due to work requirements. The most common deviation policy allows up to 10% of your group to deviate on one part of the trip, but not both ways.
One way tickets (#7) may be available for purchase at a lower rate. However, in some cases, one-way tickets are more expensive than a round-trip ticket bought as part of your group. The majority of airlines do not allow for one-way travel if the group is traveling round-trip. You must be careful not to make a painful mistake to assume that someone can use only one portion (one-way) of the ticket. If a person needs the one-way to the destination, but has other arrangements to get back, you can usually get away with this. However, if it is reversed, meaning the person can get there on his/her own but wants to travel back with the group, you will have serious problems. Almost all airlines have a policy that requires you to be on the first flight of your itinerary. If you do not show up for that first flight, all subsequent flights are cancelled.
Last, but certainly not least, are baggage fees (#8). As most travelers know, airlines now charge for checking bags. As of the writing of this blog post, the only major US airline that doesn't charge for bags is Southwest Airlines. Just be aware of what those fees will be and factor them into your total price when you are comparing airline quotes.
Once you have reviewed everything and still want to move forward, the airline representative or the contract itself will instruct you on how to return the contract and submit the payment of the deposit.
However, your responsibilities don't end here. In Part 5, I will go through what you need to know AFTER you sign a contract.