Every Penny Counts — Getting Discounts on Commercial Airlines

Hello Brides and Grooms! It always surprises me that wedding couples so rarely ask me about helping to get them discounts with airlines and rental cars when we’re talking about the services I provide. It’s like nobody knows that the big airlines give group discounts for special events like weddings. Not all the commercial airlines offer discounts, and they don’t offer them all of the time — but it’s absolutely worth asking. Ten percent is a nice little savings when you figure how many of your guests will benefit from it.

If you’ve got a wedding planner, he or she should be able to help you with this. It’s a time-consuming and frustrating process and something that will completely stress you out. With that said, your wedding guests will be most appreciative when they receive information about your wedding that includes a special code for airline discounts when they book their tickets.

If you’re planning your own wedding, here are a few tips for getting commercial airline discounts.

When you call the airline, don’t waste your time trying to figure this out with a regular agent; ask to be connected to somebody who handles group reservations. They don’t have a minimum number of people who have to book in order for you to take the discount, so inflate your numbers a bit. Always tell them you have at least 50 guests you expect to fly their airline. With smaller weddings, that’s the only way you’ll get a discount. If you tell them you want a discount for your 10-12 guests, it isn’t worth the agent’s time to do the paperwork so they’ll likely blow you off. If you say you’ve got 50 plus guests coming, they’re more cooperative.

Before you start, identify two airlines that are most likely to be used by your guests traveling to your wedding. For example, if most of your guests are flying to San Juan from the East Coast, try American Airlines and United Airlines and Jet Blue. Look for airlines that have the most direct flights from the cities where most of your guests originate. Have a list of a few to try so you won’t be totally disappointed if one won’t give you a discount code.

Don’t rule out the bargain basement airlines, but make sure you know what you’re dealing with. If you’ve never flown Spirit Air, for example, you should be aware that it’s basically like a big school bus with wings. Its upgraded service isn’t first class; it’s just a school bus where you get free peanuts. But it costs a lot more than coach. With that said, many of your guests wouldn’t care if they were riding on the back of a giant bird all the way to Puerto Rico as long as they can save some money while they’re doing it. Do the research. When I sent out the travel and accommodations information for my wedding, I featured a 10 percent discount from American Airlines and the information that at the time they were receiving the packet, Spirit Air was offering tickets from DC to San Juan for $200 roundtrip.

Rental cars are another tricky item for a Caribbean wedding. Some of your guests will shy away from getting cars out of fear of driving on the island. It’s understandable because the laws are different all over and some of the islands drive on the wrong side of the road (in our opinion). But on some islands, it’s not an option. Every guest needs access to a rental car because of the lack of reliable public transportation on the island.

Tourists from the states have a habit of always renting cars from the brand-name agency on the island (if there is one), like Avis, Hertz and a dozen others you see in every major airport. But these car rental agencies usually charge premium daily rates and are nowhere near the bargain you can get by dealing with a local. Local car rental agencies are competing with the big boys and in many cases, the owners take a lot more pride in their vehicles and are willing to work with groups to establish good discounts in order to steal the business away from the big boys.

If you’re working with a planner, the planner should know who has the best deals on rental cars, and should be willing to research to find out who actually has enough cars available for your guests the weekend of the wedding. On some islands, there’s a serious shortage of cars so be careful and make sure there will be enough cars for your guests if you choose a busy in-season weekend to get married without significant lead time. Sometimes you have to be flexible with your date if you’re not planning your wedding a year in advance. Again, a good wedding planner can guide you through this.

The secret to getting discounts on accommodations is to book early. If you have enough guests to take over an entire small hotel or B&B, and if they don’t yet have bookings for your weekend, you can work some really great deals on your guests’ rooms. If you want to get married at the accommodations, perhaps on the terrace or the pool deck, they’ll sometimes be willing to drop the standard event fee if your guests are filling the entire hotel. Don’t be shy about asking for a discount if you’re taking over an entire property.

Let’s say you’re booking your in-season wedding only three months in advance, and you don’t have the luxury of taking over a property because everything on the island is already close to fully booked. You’re going to have a tougher time getting discounts on hotel rooms for your guests because it’ll be catch as catch can with the rooms, but ask. You might find it’s to your benefit to do some research on houses or villas available on the island that weekend. If you find a good rental agent who represents numerous properties, you can ask for a discount on the weekly rental fee for guests from your party and provide the rental agent’s contact information to your guests with their travel and accommodations packet.

There’s no quick and easy way to get discounts on airlines, rental cars and accommodations, but it can be done. Part of what you’re paying a planner for is to take the stress off of the wedding couple, so take advantage of the planner’s experience and recommendations.

If you decide to do it yourself, arm yourself with a fresh pad of paper, and spend time researching all the numbers you’re going to need before you start calling. Keep careful notes so you can go back and contact the best deals after you’ve called everyone. And make your decisions quickly. If a commercial airline can set up a discount, do it while you’re on the phone. Better to have discounts on several airlines than none. If you make your calls to rental car agencies on Monday, make your decision about who to use Monday night and call back Tuesday to confirm the details. Tourism is fluid and another wedding or large tourist group may call and steal all of your cars from right under your nose if you wait until Wednesday.

With regard to booking accommodations, only call for discounts at properties that really interest you. Don’t waste their time, or yours, calling every hotel on the island. Some won’t meet your standards anyway — do your research in advance. If your friends are air-conditioning whores, don’t bother hotels that don’t offer A/C in every room. If your guests can’t live without television or phones, strike those venues off the list, or make sure that you have alternatives that do offer those features. The same goes for Wifi, although more properties are offering now than ever before.

Good luck! It’s a nightmare of a process but well worth your effort if you’re able to save each and every guest some money on airfare, rental cars and accommodations. Your guests will thank you for it, and it will help your overall budget in the end.

Happy Wedding Planning!

Sandy

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