How to book group flights for a company retreat

One of the basic steps of organizing remote retreats is booking flights. With so many employees from around the world, it’s also one of the crucial elements to get right.

And trust us when we say it:

It’s NOT as easy as it may seem.

In fact, we hired some agencies to take care of group flight booking in the past, only to realize very few of them can get it completely right. This is why now we do it ourselves for our customers.

If you’d like to book group flights yourself, you can give it a go. Below you’ll find lessons we’ve learned along the way, backed by our experience of organizing retreats with more than 100 participants. We’ll answer questions like:

Should I buy the plane tickets as a group or let each employee book their own?

How does ticket pricing for groups work?

When is it a good idea to book our own private plane?

When should I let an agency take care of the logistics?

Can you PLEASE just tell me everything I need to know before booking flights for my remote team?

Yes, we can. Keep scrolling and have a safe flight!

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Booking group flights: Would I get a discount by booking all the tickets at once?

Before doing anything, you should try searching for group tickets in the same way you would for yourself – by using a flight search tool like Google Flights. The price per flight you'll see is the price per person. You may be thinking: if one ticket is 100 EUR, 30 tickets should be 30 x 100 EUR, right?

Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.

Each airline has several pricing tiers for their flights, usually 10-15 of them. This means 10-15 different prices, based on when you book. The first price could be as low as 80 EUR, while the final price could be as high as 160 EUR per person. Once the airline sells out the first segment, they move on to the following, pricier one.

So, what’s the actual price you'll end up paying?

Since you need to buy a large number of tickets at once, some airlines will simply charge 30 tickets at their highest price tier (160 EUR). Others will take an average value of the segments and multiply it by the number of tickets.

Whichever the case, bear in mind that:

  1. You won't get the same price as you would on a consumer search website.
  2. You can never really make an accurate prediction on the final ticket cost.

At this point, you may be thinking: "Why would I even bother booking a group flight? I’ll just have the employees take care of it themselves."

However, there are certain benefits to flying as a group.

What are the main advantages of booking flights in bulk?

The main benefit of flying as a group is that airline companies will allow changes or additions to names on tickets as late as the day before the flight. An extra fee may apply if the tickets have already been issued, but if done in advance (3-5 days before departure), there are no additional charges.

Another advantage of flying as a group is that everyone will be seated together. Most airline companies will go out of their way to make sure all booked tickets have seats next to each other.

Finally, buying in bulk will grant you special treatment with most airline companies. This means having a dedicated support person you can talk to – not a phone machine that you have to wait for 30 minutes to talk to.

What should I take into account when booking group flights for remote teams?

If you have a group of people all departing from the same spot, booking flight tickets is not that big of a deal. However, many Surf Office customers are remote and distributed companies with employees scattered all over the world.

In these cases, finding the right retreat location is half a job well done. This location needs to have minimal stopovers and average flight length. By making the right choice of destination, you will make large savings on your ticket spend.

Besides the location, finding the right date also makes a huge difference in the final cost of the ticket. If you don’t have fixed dates, you can avoid public holidays or large events (e.g. sports events), saving additional money in the process.

Should I book a private plane for our retreat?

If you have a large enough group (70+ people), you can book your own private plane instead of buying tickets. As odd as it sounds, it may be a more affordable alternative to buying individual tickets. Moreover, the biggest benefit of charters is that you can choose the time of departure.

Booking a charter differs from one airline company to the next. For example, some companies will charge you for any seats you’re not using, while others will charge you only for the occupied ones.

If you want to book a charter, we strongly recommend contacting an agency to take care of the arrangements on your behalf. However, if you want to do it on your own, you can contact an airline that operates in the direction where you’re going.

When it comes to charters, you can never really estimate the price of the flight. The reason is that there are many factors involved – whether the airplane stays at the airport, how long it stays parked etc.

How do I know if I should hire an agency?

If you’ve decided that booking a group flight is simply too much work, you can go the agency route and hire someone else to do the heavy lifting for you. While finding the right agency can take some time and effort, finding the right one will pay off.

Agencies can advise on the best options, plus they're familiar with all the nuances of group travel. They can tell you which airport and airline to choose or avoid, in turn saving your team tons of time and money.

How should I prepare in advance?

If you have a larger, distributed team, one of the best ways to get started is putting everything in one place. Create a spreadsheet that contains all the people and the locations and you can get going from there. If you're using some sort of HR software, extract the data from there instead of entering it manually.

Once you have your entire team in the spreadsheet, share it with them and ask to enter their preferred main and alternative airports to use. You should also use it to set your desired arrival and departure dates and times (morning, afternoon or evening) along with some alternatives. If the dates are not fixed, alternatives can save quite a lot of money.

As you can see, booking a group flight for a remote/distributed team is no walk in the park. Whether you’re booking by yourself or with the help of an agency, it takes time and effort to get it right, and the difference between saving and spending a fortune on a ticket could be in minute details.

If you run a remote or distributed company and you’re looking to book a group flight for your next remote retreat, make sure to contact us at Surf Office. Whether you’re flying in 10 or 100 people – we’ve got your back.

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