Most people would argue that best seat on a Boeing 757 is not 19-C, and that any seat in first class would be better.
But what do those seats offer that seat 19-C does not? Free drinks? If I am flying out at 10 a.m., do I really need a cocktail? More leg room, you say? Have you seen the leg room at 19-C? It is a bulkhead exit row seat with twice as much leg as first class! Being in an exit row also means “no kids.” First class isn’t sound proof. You can hear screaming babies wailing wherever you sit on the plane. By the way, Seat 19-C is the first seat to receive beverage service and, if you make nice to the flight attendant, she will give you an extra bag of peanuts — the same ones they serve in first class.
As a meeting planner, we are privileged to have the opportunity to experience first-class accommodations wherever and whenever we travel. Our expectations for every event are elevated. But if we had to pay for those perks out of pocket, would we? Should we be asking our clients to do so?
Recently, I hosted an executive retreat for my top clients on an extremely tight budget. The event was to last four days with 35 sleeping rooms. My guests were allowed to bring a guest, so I had to get really creative about saving money without shorting the attendee experience. Here are some tips on how to offer first-class amenities when your budget is better suited for coach.
Challenge No. 1: “My guests are coming in from out of town. I have to host a Welcome Reception to greet them!”
Guests flying in will be arriving at the hotel at different times. You can’t assume they’ve already eaten. And you don’t want to look cheap by just passing hors d’oeuvres. So what should you do?
Tip: Instead of providing a traditional buffet with carving station, ask to reserve the lobby bar with an open tab. Don’t be afraid about creating a budgetary bomb: You are only paying for what you spend, and the hotel’s bar/restaurant menu is cheaper than its banquet pricing. Plus, the food is delivered to your guest hot and fresh.
Here is a little secret: Most people will order less food than what you would have planned for a buffet. By arranging a tab at the bar, you ensure guests get food they want to eat. Don’t believe me? Next time you host an event, count how many beef wellingtons and shrimp cocktails go back to the kitchen untouched.
Challenge No. 2: “There’s 7,000 square feet of luxury in one spot?! That’s a must for our guest!”
Really? No … Really?
A spa treatment will cost the company at least $150 per guest. And after that guest experiences approximately 50 minutes of relaxation, they have to get dressed, return the robe and rejoin your program.
As an alternative, give your guest a welcome bag filled like a gift basket. It will have a much longer shelf life and can give the same delight, if filled thoughtfully. In fact, good swag will have people talking about what they received more than a spa treatment will.
Tip: Welcome bags should include something that relates to the venue. For example, if you are staying at a beach hotel you could include:
- Ziploc bags of snacks
- Bottled water (or reusable water bottle)
- A bottle of wine
- Wine opener
- Themed candle
- Book of matches
- Beach towel
Think about giving them a tote bag that they can use on the plane later. Make it good. Make it something you want. Not everything needs to be branded, either. I would suggest only placing a logo on the inside of the bag, the wine opener, the beach towel and the book of matches.
By providing guests with the items that they need, it gives the impression that you thought of everything. In reality, you have lowered your cost. Plus, the Ziploc baggies of food can replace an afternoon snack or keep guests from raiding the mini-bar.
Challenge No. 3: “We have to have a final banquet. How are we going to top ourselves?”
I say, “Skip it!”
It is the last night of a very long week, and everyone is going to be tired of looking at everyone else. A $40 dinner with the plus-plus added by the hotel will cost you more than $55 per person — and that does not include the alcohol.
Tip: Give them a gift card, instead. This is great for events where guests have brought significant others. The guest will think you are extremely generous because you gave them a $100 gift card. What they don’t know is that you went cheap and shaved the budget. And, if the guest wishes to spend more, it is on their dime.
The power of first-class thinking
First class is a perception. If you want to plan a first-class event, the only thing that’s truly required is that you think about your guest and provide everything they need to feel comfortable.
- Providing dinner when they arrive says: “I know you have had a long journey. Let’s make sure you are taken care of.”
- Providing a baggie of snacks says: “I know you are away from home and your eating habits are interrupted. Here’s something to tide you over.”
- Providing them with a night on the town with a gift card says, “We appreciate your time and want to say, ‘Thank you.’ Now enjoy yourself!”
Next time you are flying to an event, try to get 19-C (or its bulkhead equivalent). You might find you don’t miss those pricey seats, at all.