If you’ve never arranged a trip for a large number of people, then you’ve been missing out on the pain and suffering that comes with booking groups with airlines. Airlines have created special rules for travelers that fly in groups with 10 or more people, and while there are benefits, it’s not an easy process. Delta realized this and decided to do something about it for domestic travel. For some reason, however, it’s not being entirely clear on what it’s testing here. The reality is that it is just treating groups like regular individuals, but according to an airline spokesperson, it has done this:
We are testing a new booking process this summer for customers travelling in groups of 10 or more within the U.S. This new process gives customers more control over their booking and can be managed through delta.com or the Fly Delta mobile app. This change also frees up Delta reservations specialists to assist with increased summer call volumes. This test does not affect the booking process for international group bookings or Delta’s Meeting Network and managed travel agencies who have Delta Global Sales contracts and an assigned Delta Sales Executive.
The spin is thick here, as if it’s some kind of magical enhancement. I don’t understand why Delta isn’t just saying “go book it online like everyone else, punk.”
There are benefits to doing that, for sure. People will now be able to manage the trip online (couldn’t before), and Comfort+ and Premium Select can be booked (again, couldn’t before). Group-issued tickets also couldn’t be upgraded previously, but these can be. Most importantly, it cuts down on the cumbersome groups process. All the hefty paperwork and ticketing issues go away. You just shop and buy like anyone else.
Won’t people lose out on those sweet discounted group rates? To that I say… what sweet discounted group rates? I haven’t found the discounts to be all that good. In some cases, depending upon the size of the group and availability, it can even cost more to book as a group than to book individually. (When you factor in airline group ticketing fees or the cost of using a travel agent, that makes it even pricier.)
I realize this sounds like group travel is terrible and this change is good. For many people, that is the case, even though it means that you’ll need multiple reservations for the group. (Delta won’t allow more than 9 to be booked in a single reservation.) Where it’s bad, however, is for those who need flexibility.
Group travel may be a pain to book, but it provides real flexibility that doesn’t come with regular tickets. Groups, for example, do not need to ticket right away. The fare is locked in until a certain date before travel. Even better, the number of people isn’t locked in. You always have some leeway on adding or subtracting people without penalty until ticketing is done. Name changes are far easier as well. (You can read some of these rules on Delta’s terms page.) This doesn’t matter for every group, but it does matter for some.
I first heard about this from someone who used to book travel for a minor league hockey team. Minor league teams in any sport thrive on group bookings for two reasons. One, they have a lot of people traveling. Two, they need flexibility on who travels. For a minor league team — where people are constantly going up and down to the big leagues and/or getting hurt — this flexibility is key. Delta is now not an option for teams like this.
What would I like to see happen here? I wish Delta would keep some sort of domestic groups product for those who value the flexibility. It can be smaller than the current groups program, but it would still serve a vital role. I also wish Delta would just clearly say what it’s doing instead of playing the spin game on creating a new process. But that may be wishing for too much.