How Booking Group Airfare Works & How to Get the Best Price

So you are organizing travel for a group of 10 or more passengers, who will be traveling together. Here is how you optimize your experience.

Group contracts are a product that almost every airline offers. It's built for large groups who need to travel together. The product allows trip organizers to hold blocks of space with little risk, collecting deposits and amending the number of travelers over time. This post will help explain how group tickets work and how to get the best possible flight. 

Group schedules are released 330 days prior to travel. Depending on your market, the sweet spot to book is around 6-7 months prior to departure.

If you are optimizing to get the lowest price, try booking around the 6-7 month mark. One major caveat is if you are booking a hot ticket (in a popular location during busy season), all bets are off and do what you need to do to lock in the space (no one wants to bus). 

If you book too early, you may end up paying as much as 25% higher. 

If you book too late, you may not get the space.

Group contracts split payment between a deposit and a final payment, both due at different times.

Concerning payment, you can lock in your group space with a per passenger deposit. As a rule of thumb, domestic flights require a $50 per passenger deposit and international flights require $100 per passenger. Airlines may charge higher deposit fees for travel to premium destinations during peak seasons.

Typically, you owe the deposit within 14 days of signing the contract. We recommend not waiting to the deadline. There has been a growing trend a number of airlines have adopted that states that until you pay the deposit, you don’t officially own the space. A number of airlines have adopted a policy that allows you to lock in a rate for your seats, but they are not reserved until payment has been remitted.

The final balance and names list for ticketing are due 30-45 days prior to departure for most airlines. The earlier you ticket your group, the more options your travelers may have to amend their reservations post ticketing. 

On American Airlines for example, once you are assigned your ticket, you can log into the app and upgrade your seat. 

Pay attention to utilization dates

One of the big benefits to flying as part of a group is the ability to cancel your tickets and get your money back. However, there are some important things you need to know. 

Between the deposit and final payment is usually a milestone called utilization. This usually happens 90 days prior to departure. Up until the utilization date, most airlines allow you to cancel your contract and get 100% of your deposit back! 

If you cancel inside of the utilization period, you will forfeit your deposits. 

If you have a large group, try split it in two

Airline pricing systems are complex beasts. Over the last few years, we have noticed that when you split groups into smaller chunks, sometimes it reduces the price. 

If your group is larger than 60 people, consider splitting the group in two. For some regional airports that fly smaller planes, the carriers will often only sell 50% of the plane to a group. This means that 30 passengers is sometimes the upper limit. 

In Summary

Wrapping up, be sure to start your search early, and if you can manage it, book your flights around the 6-7 month mark to ensure the best price. In terms of payment, we suggest that you collect payment from your group ahead of time. 

The earlier you pay, the more options you have. 

Group airfare can be complicated, so should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to drop us a line below!