Travel Planning Budget Myth Busting—Part 2

Tom Merrill • Travel/Festivals • February 2, 2018

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In the last issue we started to tackle some budget-related student travel myths, to help you as a director better address many of the typical questions parent boosters will pose during the travel planning process.

In this continuation of that topic, we’re going to dive right in to one of my personal favorites.

But I saw on the internet that (fill in the blank). A friendly hint: there are few phrases that will lead a travel planner to bang their head on their desk as much as this one. And 9 times out of 10 this is related to the cost of air travel, so let’s tackle two myths at once.

MYTH #1: “It’s cheaper online.” When people look at air travel costs online (or see ads elsewhere) they are seeing costs related to a limited number of individual seats, a restricted travel pattern, or any number of other parameters that may work for yourself or your immediate family—but not 50 people or more. There’s parallel examples as well; Broadway show or discounted attraction tickets that are advertised at tremendously low rates are usually also in tremendously low quantities or may have restrictions on how many you can purchase, when they can be used, etc. (No, you’re not going to get your entire group in on the Hamilton ticket lottery.) The airline group rate will often be higher than average prices seen online, which leads to…

MYTH #2: “We’re buying a bunch of seats, so we should get a discount.” You do, sort of. Airline pricing is one of the most difficult to understand and unpredictable aspects of group travel. Generally, the way it works is each flight has a set cost and revenue goal. Seats are offered at different prices based upon what different markets (business, leisure, etc.) will bear. What’s more, seat prices will change over time depending upon how demand plays out, adjustments to fuel costs, and other factors. Group costs often are based on a discounted average of prices at multiple levels.

Another “buyer beware” note: a well-designed website can make almost any hotel look like the Ritz-Carlton. Trust your travel planner to know the ones with a good reputation that treats student groups well, not the lower cost ones that look “good enough” online.

The internet is full of lots of information, misinformation, and information open to interpretation. That’s one of the tremendous values of working with a trusted travel planner—they wade through all the fine print and know what’s real to keep you from unpleasant surprises.

Remember…just because you saw it on the internet doesn’t make it so. BUSTED.

If we have multiple travel companies bid on air travel, we’ll get the best deal. This is one that I’ve seen perpetuated by school boards and administrators more than parents, and in fact have a first-hand experience from several years ago to outline what can happen. First, a quick airline economics lesson.

Airline seats are a finite commodity. There are generally going to be only so many seats available from point A to point B on any given date. Because airlines are catering to both business class flyers (with expense accounts and can pay more) and leisure class flyers (paying from their pocket and wanting lower cost) they base their pricing on the demand they see in the market…and that pricing can fluctuate as they see demand rise or fall. That’s Economics class 101: supply and demand.

Here was the situation: the school board insisted that all parts of the tour—including air seats—be put out for bid consideration between multiple travel planners. What this meant was there were multiple parties all trying to get the same seats at the least expensive rate. Making this worse was the fact that it was a very large group—over 200 people—flying out of a smaller airport which inherently meant smaller aircraft and fewer flights.

So, what we had were several requests from various sources (demand) for the same limited number of seats (supply). And here’s when Econ 101 takes over.

The results? When they looked at the land portion of the tour…meaning everything but the air transportation…my proposal was the one they liked the most and selected for the business.

But I only had some of the best priced seats. As did Travel Planner B. As did Travel Planner C. And we all had a bunch of really expensive seats that were out of the budget range for the group. It gets worse. When the other companies released their seats back into inventory, once they were available for me to book the price had increased dramatically…because of perceived demand.

Ultimately, we solved it by playing the waiting game…letting the market simmer down and dividing the group into smaller batches of seats which meant being on more flights. Not ideal, but it helped us stay on budget. However, it was a couple of worry-filled months waiting and hoping.

The moral of the story? Before any air is reserved for your group, choose your travel planner FIRST based on the ground package and who you feel will provide the best experience. The air seats will be the same pretty much no matter who ends up securing them for you. BUSTED BIG TIME.

Tom Merrill is the executive director of Festivals of Music. He has over 25 years of experience as a music educator, travel planner, and festival organizer.

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