Fly Away from Lone Eagle Planning

By Julie Sturgeon

Do you think buying airline tickets online for your sales force is the most cost-effective solution? Online ticketing dangles several tempting carrots – quick confirmation of flight availability, 24-hour booking and unique discounts. Heck, the airlines themselves push their Websites, cajoling passengers to type in their credit card numbers in the secure purchasing environment.

So who could blame you for delegating an hour of clicking to the sales department’s administrative assistant to arrange your next meeting? George Coyle, to be specific. As product manager for group and meeting travel at American Airlines, he cringes every time he hears about sales managers who took matters into their own hands. “The Internet deals are incredible for individuals, but it is a nightmare to wait for those prices for a scattered sales force,” he says. Inevitably, you end up with discounts for half the group, premium price tags for the other half who were unable to get discount seats because they filled too quickly, and between the two a blown budget.

Pick up a phone to call an airline’s group sales department any time you plan to move more than 10 people to a single meeting spot. The airlines understand they need to fight the Internet’s do-it-myself attraction, so these branches, too, woo you with perks such as negotiations (or, to coin a popular Internet phrase, name your own price), refundable fares, delayed ticketing, name change allowances – olive branches you can’t grasp through the electronic channels. American Airlines even throws money between you and your computer keyboard. “If somebody thinks they can get a lower published fare on their own, we’ll provide an additional discount,” Coyle says.

But don’t erase your airline site bookmarks just yet. These URLs do come in handy to provide the ammunition you need to get that particular reward. And they provide an excellent starting point for bid proposals – simply copy and paste your meeting requirements on the electronic forms the airlines provide, then sit back and let them pilot your savings.