This week I began my very first search for group airfare. The biggest group I've ever booked for a flight is my family of four, and that doesn't qualify. A group, in the travel world, is more than ten. My eight Girl Scouts plus the three adults going to Switzerland in December make eleven.
So I started with a basic google search for fares on kayak.com and just about flipped when I found a roundtrip ticket for under $700 (we're flying from the west coast.) I wanted to jump on it, to scream and rejoice, but was it too early in the game? I'd hardly done enough research yet! And I certainly couldn't charge the whole thing to my credit card without collecting from the travelers first! With my heart racing, I quickly input my search on Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, and CheapTickets. No comparable fares. I tried American Airlines, United Airlines, Swiss Air, Lufthansa, Virgin, Delta, and British Airways. No luck. Not a single ticket under $800.
The low price flight that I wanted was only available on Vayama and Airfare.com, and I'd never heard of these on-line services before. They are what are known as international travel discounters, and they sell regular published fares, their own negotiated fares, and consolidator inventory. Sounds great, until you google them and find some scary references to scams and lawsuits. But I read Nancy's advice at The Wanderkind - a trusty blog - and she convinced me these sites were okay as long as you read the fine print.
So I tried to book on Vayama and Airfare.com, but they only allow you to book a maximum of six tickets at a time. When I phoned them (after being on hold with Vayama for 22 minutes), both agencies told me I should book two reservations on-line: one for six people and another for five. I told them I was afraid that I'd book the first one and then when I attempted the second, there'd be no more seat availability. Yes, yes, that's likely, they both replied. "But for only $50 you can then cancel the first reservation!" No go. Our little Girl Scout troop is strapped enough without having to pay fees.
My next step was to appeal directly to the airlines. Every airline has an on-line form where you can request a quote for your group of more than ten people. I assumed the purpose was to offer groups a better deal, a discount. NOT!!! Delta responded with a price of $997 per ticket plus a $25 ticketing fee, per ticket. Continental replied they don't have service to my requested area. (Strange, since flights to Zurich are offered on their website.) I'm still waiting for responses from the other airlines, but I'm not holding my breath.
I'm going to try a local travel agent tomorrow (a real live person) but I haven't received competitive airfare quotes from a travel agent in years. I'm sure I'll be