Investigate the benefits of negotiating an official airline carrier with regard to attendee compliance, cost savings, productivity awards, etc. Begin as soon as the site is selected.
Assess the advantages of using a U.S. airline over a foreign flag carrier. It usually comes down to price versus service. A foreign carrier may offer a lower price, but its service is usually restricted to a limited number of departure points in the U.S.
Prepare a profile of your travelers including, for example, geographic distribution and numbers attending from a previous program. Keep in mind attendees may travel in groups or as individuals (or both) to qualify for meeting, incentive, convention, or exposition discounts.
If attendees are coming from all over the world, you may want to work with one of the strategic alliances that include carriers from several different countries. Most major airlines withroute systems will negotiate this type of business.
Contact U.S. carriers mentioned here to determine which airline(s) or alliance has the best service (or lift) to your destination from the areas where your attendees reside. They can be reached via 800 numbers connected to special meeting and incentive desks. Many of these departments also are now accessible through their airline's Web site.
Once you have selected a short list of carriers based on service, inquire about the types of discount programs available. In the past, most airlines had comparable “deals.” But that has changed as carriers try to differentiate their product. Some airlines now customize programs to customer niches — for example, corporate or association. If attendees originate outside of North America, ask if they are included in the program.
Inquire about international zone fare programs. These are somewhat standard in the industry, although passenger minimums, restrictions, and pricing will vary by airline or alliance. Most of these programs let you lock in pricing years in advance.
Request that site-inspection tickets be part of the. This is one of the advantages of making the official airline contract a timeline priority. You can then use these tickets for site inspections to the host country.
Ask about other value-added concessions, such as air-freight discounts, beverage and headset coupons, club passes, and upgrade capabilities.
Ask the airline(s) to help communicate the value of the program to attendees, especially when they make their own carrier selection. Your efforts may be wasted if you have not “translated” the cost savings involved.
Maureen S. Pickell, CTC, manager of meeting and incentive sales, Northwest Airlines, is based in Washington, D.C., and can be reached at (888) 744-9533.