In August fifteen of our Scouts and leaders are off to visit Kandersteg International Scout Center in Switzerland.
We started planning and raising money last spring. Lots of research has gone into constructing a budget, planning the trip and making reservations.
There is very little reliable information to be found about group air travel and the rules seem to change pretty regularly.
In the hopes that I may be able to save anyone planning group air travel some time and trouble I’ll tell you the story of our quest to fly to Switzerland.
I started trying to learn about group travel last spring. I looked at airfares on all the typical websites, searched for agents who arranged group airfares, talked to well-traveled friends, gathered a number of quotes and talked with airline representatives for hours and hours
Groups of less than 40 or 50 don’t get discounts. In fact booking a group can be slightly more expensive than individual fares but it does guarantee the group will be on the same flight.
Booking in advance guarantees the space but does not guarantee the final total cost (this was a big, unpleasant surprise!)
If you look at any of the online airfare sites you’ll see two figures associated with an airline ticket. One figure is the fare, the other is the combined taxes and fees – the two combined equal the ticket price. The fare is usually around two thirds of the final price.
If you book in advance (you’ll have to place a deposit) the fare is set, but the taxes and fees may change; and they are probably not going to decrease. When we received our final invoice for the seats we booked last fall the taxes and fees had increased the total fare by 15 per cent!
We planned our entire budget and our ground reservations in Switzerland around our air reservations. How else could we make reliable plans? There’s no use reserving rooms or activities if you aren’t sure of when you are arriving or leaving.
Our budget planning did take into account there could be fluctuations in the exchange rate but we were totally unprepared for the airfare increase. We made our reservations months in advance so we’d have a predictable cost – that was a big mistake.
Fortunately we had chosen a very helpful, principled agent who was equally upset that our ticket price had increased by so much. She was able to help us make adjustments to our arrangements that resulted in a 5% rather than 15% increase and that makes the whole thing a bit easier to swallow.
My advice, after all of this, is to reserve and pay for airfare at the same time because a reservation does not equal a price guarantee.
I also think it is wise to use a reliable agent to help thread your way through the often confusing process. We used Consolidator Group Travel and I cannot recommend them highly enough. I was always able to reach an agent by phone and they were happy to explain things anytime. They also worked very hard to mitigate the tax and fee increase with the airline and made sure we had arrangements that did not break our budget.