A new company that focuses solely on air fulfillment for groups claims that it can offer companies significant savings. Air Fulfillment Services, Des Moines, Iowa, which was started in August 2001, focuses on such tasks as group air planning, contract negotiations, and reservations and steers clear of services such as land planning or corporate travel. At present, the majority of AFS's business is corporate, much of it focused on incentives.

The cost savings come through “effective destination analysis” of airfare and availability, “hopefully before the final venue selection,” says Yvonne Long, vice president of business development. Other savings come in terms of the negotiation process — fare savings and pitfall avoidance. AFS steers clear of contract penalties, blocked space that won't work (“For example, 150 blocked seats out of Miami, when guests are all flying in from the West Coast”), and multiple seats booked in the wrong class, which often result in undercollections.

The biggest advantage to planners? Someone who will handle the negotiating and contracting process. “Surprisingly, few people truly understand the differences between group and transient air travel and try to manage it the same way,” says Long.

The cost savings to planners versus using a travel agent are hard to quantify, says Long, because rates vary so much. AFS charges a transaction fee based domestic or international reservations, and on the method of registration — phone, fax, e-mail, Web registration, and so forth. “We have many value-added aspects, such as free and unlimited A&D lists, and pre- and post-ticketing reports, free fax and phone 800 numbers, and no hidden fees. The company also returns 100 percent of all earned tickets,” says Long.

Another benefit, she says, is flexibility. Planners work in tandem with AFS and can have as much or as little involvement as they wish. AFS air agents generally handle all the attendees' travel-related issues, although individual programs differ.