Image: Coeur D’Alene Resort
Coeur D'Alene Resort
Big groups often fare best at summer-camp style resorts, whose bread-and-butter have always been large families and corporate retreats. The Coeur D’Alene Resort in northern Idaho, located on a lake, will lower its rate by as much as 30 percent for every five rooms booked.
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updated 5/26/2009 11:13:27 AM ET 2009-05-26T15:13:27

This year certainly did not get off to the best start, but chances are you’re not the only one who’s been forced to cut back on billable hours this year — so have your friends and family. And while a romantic weekend in Paris for two might seem like a wasteful expenditure, pooling the resources of your best friends from college for a sun-soaked get-together in Miami feels much more manageable.

In those halcyon days before the downturn, travel for small groups of friends offered few benefits, unless you were stuffing six spring breakers into a single room in Cancun.

But a penny-pinching 2009 is hitting the travel industry hard, and some of the world’s most exclusive hotels and resorts are working overtime to fill rooms. The result is that group travel offers never-before-seen benefits aimed at families and friends instead of weddings or conventions.

More upgrades, better service, and knock-down prices are available to anyone who can get at least six people to decide on the same destination (a feat in itself). If you can fill 10 rooms — the new magic number — you’re looking at rates like $275 per night at the ultra-glamorous Delano on Miami Beach, $129 per night during summer months at the retro Pearl Hotel in San Diego, or $169 a night at the Four Seasons at Whistler; depending on when you book, that could be a 50 percent savings. Similar discounts are available at such multistar hotels as Coeur d’Alene Resort in Idaho and the Healdsburg in Sonoma.

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Although many of the discounts are for summer 2009, keep in mind when you’re booking that the lowest rates come from those empty periods just before or after a high season; a late weekend in September or May is always substantially less expensive than any weekend in the months of July, December or January. And stay away from school holidays, which can rocket your flight fare into the stratosphere.

Always call and negotiate; 2009 is the year when haggling came back into style. Many hotels never publish their group rates, but with a simple phone call and a general idea of how many rooms you can fill and when, you might be able to snag unpublished deals.

For example, when we contacted Ace Hotels for this story — whose boutique hipster hotels have sprung up in Portland, Palm Beach, Seattle and New York — they were unable to give exact rates, but promised group rates that are “significantly less” for weekday stays.

The solution to dealing with hotels that won’t, or can’t, publish their group rates is simple: Pick up the phone and call them.

Keep costs low by remaining in the U.S., Caribbean or Mexico — domestic flight prices have never been better, as airlines battle for the remaining market share. Flight aggregator sites like Kayak.com offer a “fare alert” e-mail, so you can pick your date and wait for the price to drop until you buy.

As always, blackout dates apply, including major summer holidays, and rates are subject to change without notice, but with a little bit of planning you should be able to make everyone in your entourage happy.

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