Get the best group rates to Italy

Make up your own group and bring it to Italy

Could be hauling over friends and family for that dream Italian wedding, or setting up a reunion of your college buddies, bringing your extended family on a Tuscan vacation or your high school Italian class on a grand tour. Or, if you are particularly masochistic, bringing your Boy Scout troop to Europe for the summer (it's been a decade, and I'm still a bit exhausted from that one).

Whether it's a family reunion, alumni association, church group, corporate retreat, or graduation trip, if you can get ten people to take a vacation together, you can get group rates.

Yes, for most purposes, a "group" is really ten or more people. That's when the lion's share of the discounts kick in to save you money on everything from airfare to hotel rates to museum admissions.

Note that many tour and travel companies will offer you a free trip for every 10 people that you bring to them—which is a mighty incentive for you to put together an ad-hoc group tour, since, as organizer, you'd get to travel for free.

Where to arrange for your private group travels ( - Specialist in group hotel bookings (it's the group booking engine used by Travelocity and Kayak). It works a bit like those Lending Tree commercials — you put in your details (city, dates, number of people in your party), it lets hotels compete to offer you the best deal and package.

PartnerIntrepid Travel (www.intrepidtravel.comPartner) - This phenomenal tour company is devoted to traveling as an independent traveler does, with a strong focus on the cultural experiences and sustainable tourism. You can either book one of their existing itineraries as a private tour for a group of at least 8 people (though for 10 people, you all get an automatic 10% discount), or work with them to custom-tailor an itinerary and activities around your interests, one which will then be led by one of their excellent professional guides. One drawback: you'll have to arrange airfares to and from Italy on your own.

PartnerAuto Europe ( - Rents the otherwise hard to come by seven-passenger and nine-passenger vans in Italy and elsewhere in Europe. (www.onetravel.comOneTravel) - Major online travel agency has a special group sales department. ( - This discount airfare giant has a special group bookings department.

PartnerSTA Travel ( - Students often travel in groups, and so the premier student travel agency is aces at scaring up good group rates. I've even used it myself (well, its predecessor Council Travel, which STA has since absorbed) when arranging to take that Boy Scout troop to Europe.

Donna Franca Tours ( - Italy specialist, offering independent vacations, escorted tours, and the ability to put together your own, personalized touring program, for yourself or your group. Not the cheapest, but of impeccable quality. Donna Franca and her team really know their stuff.

Liberty Travel ( - One of the biggest old school travel agencies, with offices across the country—and with an adept group sales department. The kind of place where you call up and arrange everything in person. May not be the cheapest, but impeccable quality and pretty much guaranteed to run smoothly.

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