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By BILLIE COHEN: WITH summer on the way, many families and friends are starting to think about reunions and group vacations. But as anyone who has tried to organize a large group of travelers knows, the process can be daunting and can carry a big price tag. Luckily, there are ways to make group vacations more affordable and the planning process more streamlined, whether you’re trying to arrange hotel stays, cruises or airline reservations. Here are a few tips.

Cruises are perhaps the easiest gang trip, simply because once you’re on the ship, everything is right there. Cruise companies, which generally define a group as at least eight staterooms or 16 adults, will often reward such groups with discounts or perks. For example, on the Norwegian Cruise Line, groups occupying eight rooms or more can get $30 to $50 per person off the total fare, along with a certain number of amenities. A party sailing on the Norwegian Pearl to Glacier Bay in Alaska this summer would be rewarded with three points — which can be used for a group perk like a cocktail party or divided up for individual cabin perks like a $50 onboard credit for such things as drinks or spa treatments. Carnival Cruise Lines also offers perks, which might include an onboard credit or Champagne and chocolates; as with most cruise lines, the selection varies with the sailing and when you book.

Plan to reserve nine months to a year in advance since group availability can be limited; on the Norwegian Cruise Line, for instance, group discounts disappear 120 days before sailing. Also ask about special rates: Carnival has an Early Saver fare of up to 20 percent off (available up to three months ahead of time for cruises of five days or less, and up to five months ahead for longer ones). And if you’re using a travel agent, ask about further discounts. Mary Ann Moorehead, a travel consultant based in Garden City, N.Y., who works for Altour, a luxury travel company, sometimes has access to special deals and promotions; for instance, her agency offers American Express cardholders $100 back for any trip over $3,000.

Hotels , Airlines , Convention and Visitors Bureaus

Most chains have an online group-booking form and a special desk that handles arrangements for booking at least 10 rooms, often at a discount. However, if your bunch is smaller, you might still be able to work something out. For instance, a small group that recently stayed at the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center was able to secure a discount of 15 percent off the lowest available rate for three nights, said Andrew Flack, vice president for global brand marketing of Hilton Hotels and Resorts. In that case, the group was booking fewer than 10 rooms, but after explaining the situation (one guest was being inducted into the Louisiana State University Athletic Hall of Fame nearby), the hotel came up with a deal.

Since individual hotels in a chain often determine their own rates and promotions, following up with the specific location may result in additional perks. “If you go at an off time, you can sometimes negotiate your rates a little bit more or get added benefits depending on your group size,” said Laurie Goldstein, a spokeswoman for Marriott International, who specified free breakfast, parking, Internet access and even a free extra night as some of the potential benefits.

Read the full article from The New York Times

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