Second of two parts
You’ve got your travel club up and running. Time to start stalking those group travel deals.
In Part 1 of this series, we looked at what it takes to organize your own travel club — and as you saw, it takes a lot more than the snap of your fingers and the click of a mouse.
But you’ve done it. Everything is in place. You have your first members, your first officers. You’ve even decided as a group when you want to take your first trips and where you want to go.
Now you can start planning those trips, and stalking the bargains that are unique to group travel.
Airlines, cruise lines, railroads, bus lines, rental car companies all do group sales, as do hotels and resorts, worldwide. Likewise, there are travel agencies, tour operators and a host of other travel providers that routinely handle group travel.
The same also applies to sellers of the various forms of travel insurance.
They all love nothing better than knowing that on a given day, they can count on a large number of customers, which is why they’re willing to reward clubs like yours with discounts.
In addition to conventional airlines, there also are charter outfits that fly many of the same types of airliners as the Americans, Deltas and Uniteds, but deal only with privately arranged group trips. Instead of fixed schedule, they go when you want, where you want.
You provide the passengers and the payment; they provide everything else.
THE DEVIL AND THE DETAILS
However, organizing group travel will be a little different from planning trips for yourself.
For one thing, the process itself is a lot less automated. Whether via a company Web site, email, “snail mail,” phone or some combination thereof, making these arrangements will require you to deal with real, live human beings. Old-school travel planning.
And you can bet the Devil will be lurking in the details.
To that end, make the trip planning a team effort. Get your club officers and other members involved. Having more than one set of eyes looking everything over could avert costly mistakes.
You’ll need to determine with each provider how many travelers, in their view, constitutes a “group.” That number will vary from one provider to another. But don’t worry. Whether your group can barely fill a van or is large enough to fill a cruise ship, there are group travel providers out there who will gladly hook you up.
Even after your numbers are established, group rates can still vary, depending on whether yours is a leisure, educational, business or religious group.
Lead time is going to be important, and you’ll need plenty of it. Group travel, especially for large groups, is seldom something you can set up on a spur of the moment.
Many group travel providers will want everyone’s name and initial deposit several months in advance, and will insist on final payments at least a month before your travel date.
All of the above is just for trips within the United States. Planning a group trip out of the country becomes even more involved, starting with passports. Everyone will need a valid passport. Men, women, children, right down to the newest of newborns.
But what constitutes a valid passport? Having one that’s not expired may not be enough.
Some countries require you to have at least three months left on your passport after your visit begins or ends. For many others, it’s six months. If your passport is too close to expiration, the host country may refuse to issue you a visa.
Travel providers in this post-9/11 era are increasingly strict about this, and since new or renewed passports are good for ten years, there’s really no excuse. Show up with a passport that’s “short,” and you won’t even be allowed on the airplane, much less in the country.
Remember that Devil? Something as small as a typographical error can destroy a trip.
Let’s say you’re planning a Caribbean cruise or a flight to Ghana. The tour operator or travel provider will want a list of all the travelers in your group.
If anyone’s name on that list doesn’t match exactly how their name appears on their passport, that person won’t be allowed to travel. No excuses. No exceptions. Nothing.
You need to make sure that every member knows all the rules governing passports and visas, and doesn’t get tripped up.
DID YOU KNOW?
If you are behind $2,500 or more in child support payments, the feds will not give you a new passport nor renew an expired one until you pay up. Word to the wise, fellas.
Then, there’s the issue of health. Make sure club travelers have the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about what vaccinations or medications might be needed for certain parts of the world, and urge them to talk to their doctors. Also advise them to check with their health insurance provider to see what kind of coverage they have ojtside the United States.
Everything I’ve laid out might make group travel planning sound horrendously complicated. But as if does with most things in life, the web is ready to help with trip planning sites designed specifically for group travel.
Some group travel planners available online include:
DON’T DO IT YOURSELF?
Many travelers are already familiar with Tripit, using it for their individual travel planning.
Perhaps, after reading all this, you’re hesitant to get directly involved in planning a group trip at all. In the words of the Travelstormer site: “Travel planning is 90% decision-making. Try it with a number of people and you’ll reach chaos in no time.”
Wouldn’t it great if there were someone out there who could handle all this for you? Well, there is.
There are professional Group Travel Planners out there who will handle the trip planning for your club, just as travel agents do for individual travelers. And like travel providers specializing in groups, they can offer some pretty cool perks.
Example: Bring a travel planner a certain confirmed number of bookings in your group and the group leader gets to travel for free.
As you would any other vendor with whom you’re not familiar, you need to check out these planners through the usual filters — TripAdvisor, the Better Business Bureau and so on. Due diligence, always.
Never deal with any travel provider with whom you don’t feel completely comfortable and confident.
Once it’s all done, the only thing left is to hit the road, ride the rails, take to the skies or set sail.
Next stop: The trip of a lifetime, just you and your small — or maybe large — army of friends.
ALSO CHECK OUT:
Travel Clubs: Make it happen