Expenses, Hotel, Policy, Technology

Basic Economy Fares are Not ‘Logical’, and Nobody Will Convince Me Otherwise!

I read with interest a recent article in The New York Times suggesting that the major U.S. carriers, American, Delta and United either had or would soon be offering fares designed for the purely price sensitive customer (full article here).

These ‘Basic Economy” fares as Delta calls them, strip away things like advance seat assignments, bags both checked and carry-on and inflight entertainment, in an effort to match fares offered by the likes of ultra-low cost carriers Spirit and Frontier. 

This seems like a reasonable response to a competitive threat and on the surface what’s the harm in a new lower class of fare, provided the other fare options normally offered are still available.  But as I considered the managed travel program and how many are guided by airfare policies based on the ‘lowest logical airfare’, I wondered if Basic Economy could be viewed as ‘logical’ for a business trip.

My short answer? No! These fares are not logical for business travel, but despite my protestations (travel managers didn’t listen to me five years ago, so they’re not likely to now), I believe these fares will become part of the consideration set for many a managed program. 

As if often the case, many of the business travel issues we face are not new, and this one is no exception.   Almost five years ago yours truly opined in a piece for Business Travel News, about the definition of lowest logical airfare and how it was about to change forever.  It was still relatively early in the days of change and ancillary fees, and at the time I suggested that travel managers were missing the mark and needed to take action.  My exact words were:

Today's travel managers must expand their definition of "logical" beyond price, scheduling and corporate discounts--to the benefit of both business travelers and their organizations.  

Fast forward to 2016, and has that happened?  I don’t think so.  In a recent Phocuswright business travel study, the responses to the question of a travel manager’s top priorities have not changed much if at all. Cost containment and compliance were the overwhelming priorities, with duty of care a fairly close third.  Only 31% of respondent suggested ‘improving traveler satisfaction and well-being’, which ranked it just below getting their arms around their data.  As someone who finds himself on the road quite frequently, I take offense to the thought that the travel data I produce is more important than I am to my company, but that seems to be the case in many instances.  

With that in mind, if the economy doesn’t react favorably in the future, will CFO’s looking for ways to manage expenses be tempted by the savings provided by Basic Economy fares?  

Given the historical knee-jerk reaction to cut travel expenses without much reflection, I say they will definitely be on the table despite the hue and cry of the company’s travelers. As to the question of should they, you know where I stand -but putting personal feelings aside, my answer is still no.  Maybe they are ok for a short day trip, with no bags, not enough time to work, and for a traveler who uses mobile devices for everything.  Obviously that’s a pretty narrow use case and there might be others, but regardless, my recommendation is that travel managers get in front of this situation and modify their policies to ensure these basic economy fares become the exception and not the rule.   That’s right, it’s time to put travelers ahead of data.  Trust me; they will thank you for it!

 

 

 

Expenses, Events, Policy, Technology

New Year's Resolution for Travel Managers

This year I’m going to establish the value of travel and my travel program to the executive management team at my company, based on metrics that go beyond the cost.

As we discuss in our latest video, at many companies the knee-jerk reaction to any negative economic news is to cut expense, and travel is often a primary target. The traditional thought process for many companies is a belt tightening exercise that often includes either reducing or eliminating travel.

This would suggest that the executive in charge believes travel’s impact is primarily on the expense side of the ledger, or that much of the travel being done is not critical to the company. And let’s face it – cutting expenses is a very good way to impact the bottom line.

Having been in sales roles for many years, I can attest to the value of the in-person meeting. No matter how good technology gets, nothing replaces the value of sitting and getting to know that critical decision maker. But how do you quantify the impact of that meeting on your results? That has been an age-old problem for the travel manager, and as an industry I don’t think we’ve done a good enough job of quantifying the impact. In fact, we might overweigh “cost containment” as the primary objective of the travel program, which right off the bat suggests it’s some kind of necessary evil that has to be controlled.

Over the years, GBTA and others have conducted studies that mostly measure the impact by gauging “perceptions” which are often thought of as “soft” assessments versus hard facts. While most would not argue that in-person helps, can we definitively say that a meeting or series of meetings was the reason why a deal was closed? Can we even say with certainly that it was 50% or 75% responsible? 

To counter that perception, maybe it’s time to turn the conversation around by making some positive statements based on real information. What if you took a measure of your travel expense and associated it to company revenue, revenue growth, or some other hard metric used by your company as a key performance indicator? Then you take a backwards look and compare travel expense to performance against the key indicator of choice across a period of time that includes good and bad years. Call it the travel-to-revenue ratio. If the data works and a trend appears, maybe that would allow the travel manager to position the travel program differently.

In addition to focusing on cost containment and savings, they can also talk about maximizing value and how travel creates opportunity. The trend data might allow a travel manager to say, “A historical review of our revenue suggests a direct correlation to travel. The more we travel the higher the revenue,” or something like that. And when times turn a bit negative and the boss comes looking to reduce expenses, the armed-with-data travel manager can say, “Please note that by cutting travel expense, you could be cutting our revenue.” This might cause the knee to stop jerking. For a travel manager and program, that would be a good thing.

 

 

 

Technology, Events, Hotel, Expenses

We’re About to Ring in a New Year, but for Hotel Bookings, it Feels Like 2010…

I find it almost impossible to believe that as we are about to turn the page on another year (I could swear I was just heading out east for a long Memorial Day weekend), travel managers continue to struggle with their hotel programs. Most readily admit to having program leakage that ranges anywhere from 40-60%. I ask myself, how can it be that after all the time, resources and focus applied to the corporate hotel program, in many cases more than half of a company’s hotel bookings are escaping the managed travel environment?

Some would suggest it’s the millennial effect, or the AirBnB effect, or the suppliers-more-overtly-going-direct effect – all fairly recent developments that could be assumed as contributing factors.  But after reflecting on this a bit, I’m not buying that millennials, the sharing economy or direct bookings are the cause here.

I say that because as I was doing my research for this piece, I Googled the words “hotel attachment rates,” and found the top search result was a blog posting written by yours truly way back on October 4, 2010.  You can read the whole piece here, but apparently hotel program leakage was a problem before AirBnB and these non-conforming Millennials appeared on the scene.  

Not much has changed in five years, so what should we make of this? Can the problem of hotel program leakage be solved? History would suggest not without making some changes, but what changes should be made? 

If you’re a travel manager looking to fix this problem, do you take Concur’s TripLink path by admitting leakage is a way of life and then try to capture those bookings made outside the program? Do you go for incremental savings on the bookings made within the program by introducing TripBam’s solution? Or do you get the eCommission Solution to ensure you’re getting your negotiated rates and all the commissions your program is due? Or maybe you outsource the whole procurement and booking process to HRS, and let them help you figure it out. One thing seems certain: The time for a business-as-usual approach is over for any travel manager who really cares about their hotel program. 

 

 

Air Travel, Policy, Technology

NDC….a long time coming, still nowhere in sight

For those of you following the saga of IATA’s NDC initiative (I know you have better things to do, and so do I, especially because this moves at a glacial pace), I’m sure you noted the latest study focusing on the perspectives of global travel managers.

Prepared by Festive Road and commissioned by IATA, the study suggests that concerns still exist among the buyer community. True the sample size was very small (17 in total), but my independent anecdotal random review of the situation corroborates the findings that suggest that buyers remain concerned (at worst) and on the fence (at best), relative to NDC. 

Their concerns fall into three primary areas: the potential lack of fare transparency across booking channels; the ability to effectively manage ancillary services; and the continued access of corporate negotiated rates.

After all this time spent trying to educate and quell the fears of the travel community, concerns over NDC still exist. In fact, not much has changed.  

The report concluded by suggesting that buyers need more information, and further recommended ways to change the prevailing perceptions. 

But I have a different recommendation based on the old sales axiom, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression:” Scrap the entire project. IATA should wait six months, and then reintroduce the exact same program, renamed TBAAP (Travel Buyers Ancillary Assistance Program). What travel manager would be able to resist a program designed to help them manage airline ancillaries better?     

Policy, Technology, Security

Be Not Afraid

As technology continues to evolve, we’re finding out how easy it is to access information quickly from anywhere. I have a friend who calls his mobile phone the Google-augmented mind. Business travelers are no exception to this. In fact, more frequent business travelers carry smartphones than the average consumer. This makes communicating with your travelers more of a critical priority than ever to help you achieve your travel program goals.

 In our industry we love to talk about millennials and how we need to talk to them differently. I don’t think that recognizes the reality of the connected traveler that crosses generations while they crisscross borders. Our travelers today are connected and they are more aware of the variety of travel options than ever before. Let’s connect with them differently and bring them ‘in’ to our travel program. 

 Be open – share the “why” for your travel policy, not just the “what.” The more that your travelers understand the rationale behind your decisions, the more they will understand the broader goals you are trying to achieve. This can be especially true when you switch preferred providers that employees have grown to like. While employees may try to save money by going outside the travel policy, they do not see the bigger picture of what you are trying to accomplish. Explain how policy compliance will result in a larger savings for the corporation, and ultimately, a better travel experience for everyone. 

Have you brought your travelers “in” to the program?

Air Travel, Policy

Delta’s Putting Their Money Where Their Mouth is for Corporate Travelers

By Tony D'Astolfo

I read with interest an article about Delta offering to issue annual credits up to $250,000 to their corporate accounts if their on-time performance lags their two biggest rivals, American and United.

True, Delta is dealing from strength here, as their performance currently ranks well ahead of both UA and AA – and has for some time – and they’ve added enough caveats to make this a less risky proposition. But these things aside, I applaud them for taking a stance.

When you have an advantage, you use it. Today, Delta has the advantage. I’m sure there will be some who will point out the caveats and dismiss the program as nothing more than an attention-grabbing gimmick – and maybe it is a little gimmicky, but so what?

The fact is that Delta’s performance is better, and if this program helps call that out, it’s already a success without being launched. And if it is a gimmick, then let’s see the other guys match, because anything that focuses the industry on better performance is ok in my book. 

 There are already laws on the books that punish airlines for excessive delays, and there are companies, two of which presented at The Travel Innovation Summit at Phocuswright Europe (AirHelp and refund.me), that will help you get your just due. However, delays still occur at an unacceptable rate to most travelers, so for an airline to step up like this without being forced to do so is laudable.

 Who knows, maybe AA and UA will match and fuel a race to the top that will create an unprecedented level of on-time performance in the industry.  Does anybody have a problem with that? 

Policy, Technology, Events

It’s Almost Time … 5 More Reasons to Attend the GBTA Conference!

Everybody who is anybody in business travel will likely make the trek to this year’s GBTA conference in Orlando. Sure, there’s the networking, education, thought-provoking panels and huge trade show area, but here are a few more reasons to visit MCO:

  1. You need to stock up on the latest in travel tchotchke’s
  2. You want to see the perplexed look on people’s faces as they listen to keynote speakers who have no clue what GBTA actually does
  3. Who doesn’t  enjoy simmering in the mid-summer heat of central Florida?
  4. You plan to drink, eat and drink some more without spending a dime (and then declare everything in a hefty expense report)
  5. You want to see if any of the limo companies on the trade show floor will drive their vehicles directly over the Uber stand

Jokes aside, it will be a hot time in many ways – one you won’t want to miss! 

Technology

Wearables for Business Travelers*…really?

*Yes, and some other surprises from a recent Phocuswright report on business traveler behavior.

I have to say that I was surprised by some of the results from a research study we conducted this past October. While a few of the findings were pretty obvious and expected (94% of business travelers own a smart phone – I’ll admit, at times I’m envious of the 6% who don’t), some results were surprising and others somewhat shocking.

On the somewhat shocking side was the follow-up question to wearables, which suggested that 64% of business travelers plan to acquire one in the next few years. Given what I’ve seen so far, I can’t fathom a world where two in three business travelers talk to their watches anytime soon – but hey, technology advances so quickly these days that I probably shouldn’t be taken aback by those numbers.

Unsurprisingly, nearly six in 10 millennials use their smartphones for itinerary management and check-in, but I was startled to learn that almost half also use it to shop and buy travel. I suspected the number was a lot lower, but for this demographic the smartphone is clearly the device of choice.

Still on the smart phone, any reluctance to make purchases with their phones are rapidly disappearing as more than six in 10 business travelers expressed comfort here either using stored payment information (66%), or by entering credit/debit card information (65%).

No stunner that, on the social media side, Facebook is the platform of choice for more than eight in 10 business travelers, with the most prevalent use case being to post comments or photos from a trip.  Looking for (41%) and sharing (28%) deals is also a major social media pastime. Business travelers have also realized that suppliers respond very quickly to customer service issues shared over social media, so its impact is likely to continue to grow.

I’m not sure if the travel buyers out there are tracking mobile use cases, social media adoption, or the demand for wearables among their business travelers, but if they’re not, they should probably start.  The report is chock full of interesting data that will open some eyes, so if you’d like to give it a look click here.

Air Travel, Security

Is It Time for Another Way with the TSA?

As someone who has blogged quite frequently in the past about the TSA, I can’t help but comment on the latest news about the agency. In case you missed it, the chief of the Transportation Services Administration was “reassigned” based on an embarrassing report that documented persistent and considerable failures in airport security screening.

The report alleges TSA officials failed to stop undercover agents carrying fake explosives and banned weapons a remarkable 67 out of 70 instances.

Reflect on that for a minute: The TSA, a government agency with a $7 Billion budget that employs 45,000 screeners tasked with securing our airports, failed to detect a security breach 95.7% of the time.

To be fair, the tests were conducted by the “Red Team,” a group of undercover federal agents working for the Department of Homeland Security, whose job it is to devise security breach scenarios designed to keep the screeners sharp. Former TSA Administrator John Pistole told Congress in 2013 that because the Red Team is so familiar with TSA policies, they are able to get past security in ways not even the best of terrorists would be able to do. Even so, to fail at a rate of 95% is far beyond reasonable. And I’m not sure some of the scenarios were all that advanced. The report sighted an instance when the magnetometer went off, but in the subsequent pat down a bomb-like device taped to the Red Team member’s back was undetected by the TSA agent.

Does that sound like something a terrorist wouldn’t be able to figure out?

Come to think of it, while I remember lots of articles sighting instances of aggressive pat downs, I don’t recall any of them involving the back. The groin and chest areas –  yes – but the back, not so much.

Now, if you’re as shocked and alarmed as I am, fear not. The TSA has been instructed to immediately implement a series of actions addressing the issues raised in the report.

(How about this one for starters: “When the machine beeps, PAY ATTENTION!!!”)  

Snide remarks aside, as a taxpayer who ultimately helps fund this mess, I’m disgusted. 

I have to think we would get better results by taking this $7 Billion and outsourcing airport security to the private sector. I can’t fathom a scenario in which they wouldn’t perform better than the TSA, and if they don’t, at least they would be fired – not “reassigned.”

What do you think? Should we continue on the same course, or is it time for a change?  Drop a note and let us know what you think.

 

Policy

Start With A Corporate Travel Philosophy

philosophy
fi-los-uh-fee
noun
a. a system of principles for guidance in practical affairs.
b. an attitude of rationality, patience, composure, and calm in the presence of troubles or annoyances.

Maybe instead of focusing on policy … or even the softer term of guidance, companies should start first by defining their corporate philosophy as it relates to business travel. 

The full definition of the word philosophy includes investigation into understanding truths of humanity and defined systems of thought. In the grand scheme of our existence, these certainly are paramount.  However, I think the underlying nature of the word captured in the two parts of the definition I’ve included here are entirely applicable to the subject of corporate travel, too. 

First, a corporate traveler should be given a rational and simply stated set of principles that guide their choices. This will help them understand the reasons the company directs them to certain ways of planning business trips, the information that is collected along the way, and the goals underlining the policies guiding the specific rules the company sets. I think it should be common that a traveler can be asked at any point what the philosophy of their company is towards business travel and that they can reply with a set of simple of points. 

Second, a philosophy is an attitude. The philosophy your company has towards business travel will define how you deal with disruptions, industry changes, new technologies and economic shocks.  A corporate travel philosophy will help your company decide how to react to the sharing economy, consumer technology being used by travelers and if and where open bookings could fit into your program. If you are struggling with these topics today, maybe you need an attitude adjustment (e.g., a refined philosophy) to get you through successfully.

What is your company’s travel philosophy?

If you have one, I’d love to hear what it includes. If you don’t, but agree it is a sound way to define and communicate your travel program to travelers, what are you going to do?

Policy

Defining Policy

pol·i·cy
ˈpäləsē/
noun

a:  management or procedure based primarily on material interest
b:  a definite course or method of action selected from among alternatives and in light of given conditions to guide and determine present and future decisions

Policy has been a foundational part of almost every managed travel program. It is often the first question asked when one endeavors to learn more about a particular travel program, as in “What is your travel policy?” The answer could be, “We have a loose (or strong) policy,” or even, “We don’t have a policy,” but we start almost every conversation with the word “policy.”

Tenets like cost management, control and compliance have formed the foundational principles for those whose responsibility it is to watch company expenses. So the word “policy,” or following a definite course of action to come to a decision, brings a lot more comfort than a general rule or piece of advice.  But if you put yourself in the shoes of those consuming the travel program versus those building it, things change quite a bit.  

For that reason I think it might be time for a subtle but important change.     

Guideline: guide·line
ˈɡīdˌlīn/
noun
a general rule, principle, or piece of advice.

While some would argue there is very little difference, the thought of providing a piece of advice or a general rule is a pretty dramatic shift, particularly as one gets further from the place where the travel program is built and run.

Travel, even for work, still has a very personal component to it. While it can be exciting, it often involves sacrificing time away from family and giving up a full night’s sleep. As such, the process of buying it has always been more complicated than buying other corporate products (e.g., PC or office supplies) and services (e.g., company provided health insurance). Reacting to the demands of their employees, many companies have modified their approach when providing employee services to accommodate for personal taste. It was not that long ago that Apple products were only found in schools, art studios or at home, as corporate IT departments found supporting multiple operating systems inefficient and costly.  Today many companies support a “bring your own device” mantra, which reflects a concession to the requests or in some cases, demands of their employees.  

Fueled by advances in technology and newly introduced business models, today’s travel program is moving in the same direction. Make no mistake, all the chatter today about ground transportation is fueled by travelers and their personal preference to use a ride-hailing app – and what they view as a more efficient travel experience, versus something coming from the travel department.  

I therefore think the days of starting the conversation about a travel program with a question about policy are rapidly drawing to a close. The informed travel manager, when asked about their travel program, will say, “My role is to provide the best possible advice to the travelers I support so they can get their job done,” and, “while I’m doing that, I’m also negotiating preferred relationships with suppliers who understand and support the goals of my travelers.” 

 Policy or guidelines?  What do you think?

Technology, Policy

Think Global, Act Local … Advice That Still Makes Sense for a Managed Travel Program

Recent business trips took me to Singapore, Berlin, Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro (and before you make any assumptions, yes, I did spend time on both Copacabana and Ipanema Beach engaging with the locals, but I also had multiple business meetings as well).  Observing the business travel landscape in each of those markets has me quoting noted philosopher Yogi Berra who said, “It was like déjá vu all over again.” Allow me to explain.

Many years ago when I was in the online booking tool business, taking a travel program global was all the rage. Companies were expanding into new markets and procurement executives were eager to aggregate spend into deeper discounts and streamline processes to create efficiencies. In theory it made sense, but at the time, I advised clients and prospective customers that they should not be so fast to deploy any solution on a global basis.

My thought at the time was that while taking a global approach to the process of managing travel made sense, trying to find solutions that worked across all regions would result in some very bad outcomes. Having one global sourcing strategy, one customer service and support strategy, a well-defined data management process, and then applying those “principles” on a local basis was the way to go.

All these years later, despite breathtaking advances in technology and information management, I still don’t think much has changed with respect to a managed travel program.      Take the basics … the big infrastructure requirements (TMC, payment solution), and the supply side (air, hotel, rental car) … does anyone successfully do this on a global basis? The mega TMCs and credit card companies tout their global capabilities, and they do have very formidable solutions, but they also still have gaps that cause pain for the traveler, local manager or both.

Despite a contraction in supply (think airline mergers and bankruptcies), better aggregation of content (think independent hotel solutions), and advances in e-commerce, I’d argue that life is more complicated and not less. How do you deal with emerging technology and new business models fueled by a more independent consumer?

The answer is that you think global and act local.

Does anybody agree? Disagree? Too busy trying to weave together a global supplier program to share your opinion?  Please weigh in and in the meantime, I have some photos from my visit to Rio that I need to curate.

Air Travel, Security

Expanding TSA PreCheck … A No Brainer (or Maybe Not)

A few months back, the TSA put out a request to solicit private sector applications to assist them in growing public enrollment to the TSA PreCheck program. The program currently has about 950,000 members. Former TSA administrator, John Pistole, and others would like to grow that number significantly.

Reacting to privacy advocates’ concerns about private sector companies executing this extension, as well as concerns from GBTA, ACTE and others, the TSA withdrew the request for proposal. At issue is the access these companies would be given to program applicants’ criminal and other government records, directories, press reports, location data, and perhaps their retail purchases as well as the information they post on blogs and social media sites.  

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for protecting an individual’s privacy, but in this age of social media and the growing use of big data that we live in, isn’t the horse already out of the barn? Does anyone really believe that anything is completely private these days? In the case of TSA PreCheck, I willingly forfeited some degree of privacy when I applied to the program, and in return get expedited processing at security checkpoints when I travel. I’m fine with that (actually I love it, especially when the regular lines are long and I can fly through security). I’m also fine with willingly providing my contact information in return for a special offer from a retailer, or any other entity that trades on information. Isn’t that what the opt-in process is all about?    

Of course, opting in doesn’t mean I want someone selling my information or using it in some way that I did not authorize. But if you read the fine print of even something like the Apple iOS Software Licensing Agreement we all agree to when we initiate our iPhones, there’s a lot of vague language regarding the use of private data. As one example, did you know that everything you say to Siri can be used and shared? The reason cited is to understand and recognize you better as a way to improve the service, but who knew there was so much leeway in that agreement? I did not, but can certainly appreciate why the language is there. I also trust that Apple is using the data as suggested, although I’ll probably stop playing  “Fun with Siri,” a little game I invented involving asking Siri crazy questions to see what responses I get.  

Generally speaking, I think we’ve gotten pretty lax about limiting what we share and trade with respect to personal information. We do so for a number of reasons, one of which is to foster a more “personalized” relationship with the technology or entities we interact with. 

So, I think the blustering over the privacy of data is really overblown. 

As to the concerns about private sector involvement and execution, I have to think that the proper steps will be taken to safeguard the information, regardless of whether it’s the government or a private company doing the TSA PreCheck screening. Does anyone really think the government does a better job or protecting data than anyone else? (If you do, you’re probably one of those people that have a personal email server set up in your home.)

This concern, in my opinion, is also overblown. 

That said, I am emphatically against anything that opens up the TSA PreCheck!   

The reason is very simple. I like my security lines short or not at all!

Just don’t tell anybody, because that information is private.

Policy

Do You Bleisure Travel?

We recently concluded a research project surveying business travelers for a deeper understanding of how they view business travel and how we can make it better. The survey included 2,800 travelers across seven countries. We only included people who work for mid-size to large corporations and who had taken at least five business trips in the last year. 

 There were many interesting and helpful findings that will become an important input into our product strategy. For example, it was great to see that 79% of those surveyed either enjoy or greatly enjoy traveling for business and find it both personally and professionally enriching.  However, there was one discovery that surprised me and has added a new term to my vocabulary: BLEISURE. 

 Bleisure is the combination of leisure or personal travel with a business trip. And of the travelers we surveyed, 55% said that they do. The majority (44% of the total) incorporate personal activities within the time of the business trip while 11% of the total travelers said that they will extend their trip to spend additional time in a location.

 Here are some of the insights about those that bleisure travel:

 ·       Those that travel moderately are more likely to include personal activities than those that travel weekly or only once every few months (60% of moderate travelers include personal activities)

·       Younger travelers are more likely to include personal activities than older travelers (58% of 25-34 year-olds)

·       Upper and middle management is the most likely to include personal activities during their trips (60% of both C-Level Executives and Directors)

·       Single travelers are the most likely to include personal activities in their trips at nearly 60%

·       Those that really enjoy taking business trips are much more likely (63%) to include personal activities than those that rate travel poorly

There are implications all across the travel management landscape for this reality. How can companies accommodate this into their programs to improve service to frequent travelers? What can travel suppliers do to promote leisure activities and extensions to business trips and keep these business travelers loyal when they expand their trip? Can the TMC offer activity planning and booking services to business travelers when they make their plans for the business trip?

 Do you bleisure?

Expenses, Policy

Is an Automated Expense Report Better Than a Points Program?

No one will argue that a company benefits from high usage of the corporate card. It drives data and economic benefits that can have a material impact on the bottom line. 

 For many years, the rewards or points programs attached to corporate cards were positioned as the ideal incentive to drive card usage among travelers. The idea was simple: If the cardholder could realize personal gain from using the company-issued card, they would choose to use it more than a personal card. However, with time, card issuers and companies began to realize that the costs associated with these programs when reward redemptions start to accelerate often erode the economic gains. And as a result, they have declined in usage over the years. 

 But maybe there’s a better tool to capture more travel spend on the corporate card and realize an even bigger uplift in the benefits of the program: the automated expense report tool that integrates corporate card data and allocates expenses automatically.

 For many travelers, the expense report is the worst part of a business trip – collecting receipts, manually entering transaction data, allocating and splitting expenses. The challenges of a manual process continue through to the employee’s manager and the accounting team that needs to review, approve, and capture the data. Studies show that the average end-to-end time to complete the process is over 75 minutes per report – with most of this time spent by the traveler. 

 Now imagine a process that enables travelers to capture data and receipts while traveling: a mobile device and an expense report that uses card data and information captured while traveling to prepare an expense report almost immediately ready for approval and processing.

 For most travelers, the promise of a quick and automated process based on usage of the corporate card would absolutely drive up usage of the card. I would rather wait in line for a cab that accepts my corporate card than spend time when I get home entering details for a cash fare. I use the same discretion when picking a restaurant or other vendors along my journey. 

 So while some may still be willing to take the time (and potentially face the increased scrutiny from corporate finance) to earn points or rewards while using their personal card, I think, overall, the percentage of travel spend captured on the corporate card will increase – leading to all the company benefits that come with it. Therefore, I surmise that investing in an automated expense report with automatic integration of corporate card data beats the costs of providing a rewards program to drive up card usage. 

What do you think?

Automate and Pre-pop for Expense Success

There’s a study that we run in the commercial payments industry every other year that looks at different trends in business travel payments. One of the areas we research is how companies are managing the expense claim and reimbursement process.  

 We’ve seen a steady growth in the number of companies using an automated expense tool with pre-populated data coming from their corporate card. Across all companies surveyed in North America – from the small to the very large – today, 44% have installed an automated system with integrated card data. 

 If that last sentence didn’t make you pause, read it again. Less than half of companies in North America have implemented a fully automated and integrated expense management system. If you work at one of the 44%, you should be very happy – you may think the product could be better, but you’re already way ahead of the rest. If you’re still running on a system that requires manually inputting information (and please tell me it is not into a spreadsheet) and sending off paper copies of receipts and invoices, wake up!

 There are many reasons your company needs to upgrade to an automated expense management system – but I‘ll just hit three of the bigger ones for now.

 1.     Tremendous time savings. Multiple studies from different sources repeatedly confirm that the time it takes to complete and process an expense report from beginning to end would be cut in half or more through an automated tool that is prepopulated with card data. We’re talking about cutting out an average of 30 minutes per expense report. If your travelers, their managers and your accounting teams don’t have better things to do with their time than deal with a manual expense report, I’m shocked.

 2.     Reduced audits and reduced fraud. With prepopulated data and an automated system that can scan and spot suspicious or out-of-policy transactions or entries, the opportunity and instance of fraud or abuse of expense money will drop significantly.

3.     It’s easier than ever. Today’s top solutions are web‐based, in the cloud and mobile.  Integration of card data is standard, and making these tools work with your accounting systems doesn’t require a major system overhaul. If you thought the project would be too big to justify the benefits, look again. 

  Let’s make the expense report a tool to drive a successful travel program and not the most hated part of business travel. 

Air Travel

Please say it isn’t so … 10 seats across in economy on a 777?

A recent article cites that United Airlines is considering putting 10 seats across the economy seating section of the 777. As a 6’4”-tall man, I cannot imagine being in such a configuration on a long-haul flight. I was curious if other airlines were doing the same and found that many already do. On SeatGuru, I found 10-across seating for at least eight well-known carriers … and I’m sure there are many others. 

Personally, I’m fortunate that my company allows me to fly in business class for longer flights, but it really makes me wonder how likely it would be for a business traveler to arrive rested and ready to concentrate for work after a long flight in a seating configuration like this. Especially when there is a 40% chance of sitting in a middle seat on economy! 

I also wonder how many travel managers take this into account when developing policy or when advising business travelers of their flight options. And not just the 10-across seating – what about the ongoing chatter around standing seats or other attempts to get as many passengers onboard a flight as possible?

For me, if the only option for a coast-to-coast flight is economy with 10 seats across, I think I’d look into traveling like NFL coach John Madden … in an RV.