The desperate drive to slash costs and
streamline operations at U.S. airlines during the past few years
has affected group travel programs that have long benefitted
meeting, trade show, convention and incentive planners. Are free
tickets, guaranteed seating blocks and airfare discounts going the
way of the biplane? Not quite, but cutbacks are afoot, and planners
might find several of the changes unwelcome.
“Because of financial troubles in the airline industry, some
carriers have moved away from some group products,” says Mark
Nickells, managing director for group and meeting travel with
Dallas-based American Airlines. “And now, most people traveling as
a group are looking for the lowest fare. You've seen that across
Indeed, changes to group offerings at some carriers have been
dramatic - up to and including the entire elimination of meeting
programs. Why? The so called “legacy” carriers (those that were
around before industry deregulation in 1978) in general use a
hub-and-spoke model of operations that has proved more expensive to
run than the point-to-point model used by younger airlines. Worse
for the legacies, their hungry low-cost competitors have largely
suppressed airfares while an unyielding rise in jet fuel prices has
nullified cost-cutting elsewhere by the industry's old guard.
“When you have the juxtaposition of historically low fares,
which are at 1988 levels, and historically high fuel prices, every
airline has a problem,” says John Heimlich, vice president and
chief economist with the Washington, D.C.-based Air Transport
Association. “You cannot fill half a plane, or even three-fourths
of a plane, with 1988-level fares and expect to cover the cost of
$72-per-barrel jet fuel.”
Even low-cost carriers face the challenges of high fuel costs
and sharp-elbowed competition. These harsh economic realities are
not predicted to improve anytime soon: “Overall, the industry
should post $1 billion to $2 billion in net losses in 2006,” says
Heimlich. In light of these woes, following is an updated look at
the products and services both legacy and low-cost airlines are
offering to the meetings industry.
Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air
Group Travel Desk: (800) 445-4435
Horizon Air Group Travel Desk: (800) 547-3209
On Alaska Airlines, the country's ninth largest carrier (with
hubs in Seattle; Anchorage, Alaska; Los Angeles; and Portland,
Ore.), groups of 10 or more traveling together on the outbound leg
of a trip may qualify for fare discounts, with the exception of
some busy holiday periods.
Group & Meeting Travel Desk: (800) 221-2255
American offers reduced fares
for site inspections.
American offers one of the most comprehensive group travel
packages in the industry, with a group travel desk and programs
tailored to association meetings, company meetings and group
incentive travel programs.
AA's Group & Meeting Travel programs for association,
corporate and incentive events offer special savings and bonus
discounts on published airfares for 10 or more passengers traveling
to the same meeting or convention when AA is designated as the
event's official airline. Attendees are granted a 5 percent
discount on published fares, which applies to travel originating
from various North American cities to a common destination in North
America, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America or the Pacific.
American also guarantees economical fares from various
geographic zones of departure to a common destination for groups of
10 or more traveling to association or corporate events. These
discounts run as deep as 40 to 70 percent off full, unrestricted
coach fares. However, zone fares do not require a Saturday-night
stay, so they're best suited to midweek meetings and events. Zone
travel fares are valid for flights beginning in the United States
and Canada and destined for North America, the Caribbean, Europe,
Latin America and the Pacific.
Negotiated rates for blocks of seats are available, whereby a
planner may negotiate a rate with the group travel desk over the
phone. “You will receive a contract within hours,” says Nickells.
“A signature is not required for discounts and zone fares. A block
space agreement requires a deposit, and you must sign and return
Event, meeting and convention planners also can secure
reduced-rate fares for site inspections, with the discount based
upon the meeting's potential to generate business for the
Furthermore, association staff members may qualify to earn
airline tickets based on the number of travelers booking under that
association's group account (STARfile number). If more than one
event is booked, association staff ticket allocation will be based
on accumulated passenger totals.
For bookings made up to 11 months in advance, groups of more
than 10 can block space together when traveling to the same city.
Along with the break on fare, such groups can assign passenger
names 30 days prior to departure, are allowed one name change per
ticket, and do not require a Saturday or minimum stay.
American also offers a service whereby groups of 10 or more
passengers booked on a single reservation can check in with a
self-service machine, thereby avoiding lines at check-in.