by Bruce Myint | November 01, 2003
They might not have hub-and-spoke networks or supersize cabins, but low-cost airlines do have one thing: cheap tickets. And with special programs for group discounts, the prospect of signing a meetings contract with a Southwest or JetBlue can be even more alluring.
   Nearly every major low-cost carrier offers special fares for those traveling to  events. “Group fares” usually are offered to 10 or more people traveling on the same itinerary. “Meeting fares” typically are offered when 25 or more passengers are traveling on different itineraries but convening in the same city. Discounts typically range from 5 to 10 percent off regular fares.
   “It’s a nice option to offer, and I have noticed that attendees do ask about it when it’s not there,” says Christine Caci, business manager at the Waltham, Mass.-based Ethics Officer Association. Caci organizes up to five meetings a year, including a 500-person annual conference. For the past four years, she has arranged meeting fares with Southwest.
   Yet, be aware that group or meeting fares are not always the best option, even on low-cost carriers, Caci warns. She recalls several instances where better deals were available by booking nonrefundable tickets online.
   Planners should research their options before contracting with discount carriers, according to Yvonne Long, vice president of business development at Des Moines, Iowa-based Air Fulfillment Services, a company specializing in group travel management. “Make sure you not only are getting the cheapest fares, but the best value and the most practical options for each event,” she says.
   Following is a rundown of the programs and discounts some low-cost carriers offer meeting planners.