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Save money on summer travel plans with group discounts

Airlines, hotels, theme parks and rewards programs offer deals for several friends or family traveling together; here’s how to score major savings

Summary

Traveling with a larger group can be fun and have multiple advantages – if planned right. Here’s how to score savings on flights, hotel stays and entertainment while group traveling.

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Traveling solo has its perks but taking trips with friends or family might appeal if you’re looking to save money on summer trips.

For example, Amtrak recently announced its “Share Fares” promotion, allowing passengers to get up to a 35 percent discount when traveling in groups of four or more. If that kind of savings sounds good to you, negotiating group discounts for travel expenses could make for a budget-friendly summer vacation.

Use these tips to find group discounts on airfare, hotels and other travel expenses as you make your summer travel plans.

See related: The solo traveler’s guide to keep you and your cards safe

Know the rules for getting a group discount

The first thing to know about group discounts is what counts as a group for saving on travel.

“Generally, the major rule is that you must have a minimum of 10 people traveling together,” says Peter Lombard, founder and CEO of travel site Globe Guides. “And in a few cases, you must book through a travel agency to get the discount.”

Take a head count as soon as you start planning summer travel in case a “10 and up” rule applies for the program you’re trying to get a discount from.

For example, these major carriers offer group discounts and other perks, such as free name changes, only when your reservation includes 10 passengers or more:

Custom fares are calculated when you book your flights, but according to the airlines, the rates are designed to be competitive and below what you’d pay when booking fares individually.

You can also find group discounts at hotels for summer travel, but again, the minimum group size is usually 10 or more.

That’s true for both Hilton and Marriott, which both offer discounted stays and the opportunity to earn bonus rewards when you book through their respective loyalty programs as a group.

“Keep in mind that higher cost trips may require a larger group to qualify for savings than lower cost ones,” says Katya D’Angelo, a marketing associate with group tour operator Boundless Journeys. “Group discounts work like any bulk purchasing programs – the more units sold, the lower the cost per unit.”

Theme parks, for instance, may set the bar higher. Disneyland offers group rates for parties of 15 or more, as does Busch Gardens. And you’ll need at least 20 people in your group to snag a discount at Hersheypark in Pennsylvania.

Keep in mind that at all-inclusive resorts a group discount may only apply based on how many rooms you book, not how many people you bring. Both Sandals and Beaches, for example, require you to book at least five rooms to get a group discount.

See related: How to book an all-inclusive vacation using rewards points

When a group discount isn’t offered automatically, ask

Mark McKay, senior project manager at travel site The Passport Office, says if a group discount isn’t readily advertised online to reach out directly and ask for a better deal on the price.

“Be insistent that they check every part of their system for discounts, promotions or special group rates,” says McKay. “Though this may seem like overkill, many customer service reps don’t receive much training, so asking them to be thorough can be your ace in the hole.”

McKay says it’s always best to book directly through the hotel or airline when getting a group discount because it can potentially yield the best price. Additionally, he says it’s a good way to earn travel miles or points when booking with your rewards credit card and if you’re also a member of the airline or hotel’s loyalty program.

Aside from that, you get peace of mind, he says. “You’ll gain greater control over cancellations and in-flight amenities, since most sites like Expedia won’t offer these options.”

Lombard, on the other hand, favors booking through a travel agency or group tour operator to get the best rates on summer travel.

“Some companies, say British Airways, will only work through an intermediary to offer group discounts,” says Lombard. “Other providers, such as hotels, may not offer independent travelers the same rate as compared to companies that do lots of business with that brand.”

If you’re torn on which way to book, split the difference and get a group rate quote from both if possible. And of course, make sure your fellow travelers are committed beforehand.

“In order to take advantage of those discounts you need to be sure everyone who’s saying they will go actually does go,” says Lombard. “Having 12 people pay for a trip planned for 14 is the quickest way for a group discount not to work.”

Pick the right group to travel with

Cutting costs might be your biggest concern for summer travel, but also think about how going with a group could affect your enjoyment of the trip.

“Group travel is a ton of fun when you’re with like-minded people who share similar interests, whether they know each other well or have just met,” says D’Angelo.

Her company helps put together group trips for all kinds of travelers, from hobby clubs and alumni groups to families. She says group travel can be worth it if you get along well with your traveling companions.

But it can be tough to make a group itinerary work if everyone wants to do or see something different. Setting some ground rules ahead of the trip to cover group and individual activities can ensure that no one feels like they’re missing out on anything.

Picking the right people to travel with also matters if you’re the one responsible for booking hotels or flights, or you’re charging group entertainment, meals or other travel expenses to your rewards card. You want to be sure that you’re going to get your money back when it’s time for everyone to chip in their fair share.

“Earning miles or points is great but certainly not worth if it if your friends leave you with the bill after the trip,” says Lombard.

If that’s something you’re concerned about, consider linking everyone in the group up to a payments sharing app like Venmo before the trip. As you book travel plans, you can send out reminders to the group so that you’re not left at the end of the trip with one big credit card bill.

Use your rewards card for added discounts and savings

As McKay already mentioned, using your travel credit card to book group airfare, hotel stays or other travel expenses is an easy way to elevate your rewards earnings. And depending on which airline or hotel you’re booking with you could also get a sizable boost in your loyalty rewards account as well.

If you’re looking for a rewards card just for summer travel, booking a group package could be an easy way to satisfy the minimum spending requirement for a bonus.

For example, American Airlines lets you accrue AAdvantage miles on group flights. And if you open a new Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard account to book, you could get 60,000 AAdvantage bonus miles if you spend $3,000 within the first three months.

Make sure to read the fine print before booking group travel

Just make sure you’re reading fine print so you don’t shortchange yourself when trying to increase rewards.

Capital One, for instance, currently has a partnership going with Hotels.com that allows you to earn 10X miles per dollar when you book and pay through the portal with the Captial One Venture Rewards Credit Card or Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card. But, if you look closely on the Hotels.com site, you’ll find that the promotion doesn’t apply to group rates.

Aside from potentially doubling or tripling up on rewards, check out your card’s other perks that could sweeten the deal on group travel.

Priority Pass Select, for instance, offers access to airport lounges, restaurants and private suites. Depending on your card, you may be able to bring guests from your group into the lounge for free, or at a discounted price.

Membership in Priority Pass Select, and/or membership in other airport lounge programs, is a perk that’s often included with premium travel cards, such as The Platinum Card® from American Express and Chase Sapphire Reserve.

These cards carry a higher annual fee than the typical travel card, but it may be worth it to enjoy premium extras. The Sapphire Reserve card, for instance, offers a $300 annual travel statement credit and 50 percent more in travel redemption value when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Both features could save you even more on group travel.

Whichever card you use to book your trip, don’t wait until the last minute to try and wrangle a discount.

“The sooner you plan, the better,” says D’Angelo. “Especially for larger groups, availability can be an issue for hotel rooms, plan tickets and definitely for special vacation experiences.”

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Published: May 31, 2019

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