Author Archives: David Jonas

About David Jonas

David in 2006 co-founded business media firm after ten years as a journalist with Business Travel News. David rejoined BTN in 2010 as executive editor when its parent company acquired ProMedia, and in 2014 co-founded The Company Dime.

Who Speaks For You? (And What Are They Saying?)

Many groups advocate for a wide range of travel issues. Some relate to corporate travel, but who speaks specifically for the corporate travel industry?

Sixty attendees to the Association of Corporate Travel Executives’ New York event this week answered that question as part of an informal poll. They mentioned ACTE, Airlines for America, the American Society of Travel Agents, the Business Travel Coalition, the U.S. Travel Association and a few of their own organizations. Airline reps pointed to their companies’ active government affairs departments. Some said no group really represents the industry voice. By a wide margin, the most often-mentioned organization was the Global Business Travel Association.

That’s no surprise, even among attendees to an ACTE conference.

GBTA is active in Washington, at the local level and in Brussels. It runs a yearly legislative affairs event in Washington, during which members can meet U.S. senators and representatives. The 2017 edition happened this week. GBTA’s government relations committee is co-chaired by travel buyers. The group claims its political action committee is “the only federally recognized PAC representing the business travel industry.”

During a phone interview last week, new GBTA vice president of government affairs Andrew Meehan said there could be room to work with other groups on certain issues. That would please a few poll respondents who gave GBTA better grades for its efforts than for results. Some pined for stronger advocacy through a more unified voice.

“In any position that I have worked in during a decade of government relations, I have found there never is a shortage of coalitions to build,” Meehan said. GBTA recently worked with flight attendant groups on a successful fight to ban inflight cell phone voice calls.

He pointed to the pursuit of expanding (or at least maintaining) the Visa Waiver Program. That position has broad support. Proponents include Airlines for America, the American Hotel & Lodging Association, ASTA, GBTA, USTA and various chambers of commerce.

Andrew Meehan

GBTA vice president of government affairs Andrew Meehan

Despite its advocates, the VWP “comes under constant scrutiny,” Meehan said.

When asked which travel-related issue should be a greater priority in Washington, some poll respondents mentioned visas and border crossings. Anything that impedes travel is of course a concern for industry suppliers and companies that send people out on the road. Travel visa issues (potentially affecting both inbound U.S. travelers and Americans traveling to Europe), the “laptop” ban and the “Muslim travel ban” unnerve travel people. A tarnished image of America only hurts the country’s tourism sector.

Everyone wants a safe and secure aviation system but new rules sprung on the traveling public raise many questions. Both ACTE and GBTA issued statements asking a number of them. For some, though, such statements didn’t go far enough.

To push the message, ACTE executive director Greeley Koch last week spoke at a hearing convened by New York City Council’s Committee on Economic Development. He was there to discuss the travel and tourism ramifications of the travel bans. Koch pointed to a recent ACTE survey showing that “uncertainty regarding travel to the U.S. was suddenly affecting travel agendas.” He said businesses and their travelers “abhor uncertainty.” It leads to cancelled trips. That uncertainty, he said, “needs to end here.”

Thirty-eight of the 60 respondents to The Company Dime poll said they were worried about the Trump Administration’s impact on business travel.


The most-cited issues by polled ACTE attendees were FAA reauthorization and closely related air traffic control modernization. FAA has operated with 23 short-term extensions, the current one set to expire on Sept. 30, 2017. GBTA said Congress ideally would pass a long-term reauthorization before that happens.

It’s hard to find opposition to a “NextGen” air traffic control system. It’s of primary concern to Airlines for America, GBTA, USTA and others. President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint calls for the Federal Aviation Administration’s air traffic control function to “shift” to “an independent, non-governmental organization, making the system more efficient and innovative while maintaining safety.”

Several poll respondents said travel taxation needs more attention. Airlines for America wants the tax burden on air travelers reduced, claiming that would “help keep airfares affordable.” Specifically, the association wants Congress to repeal the commercial jet fuel tax (currently 4.4 cents per gallon), reject any increase to Passenger Facility Charges and stop any proposals regarding “a value-added tax approach to airlines’ optional services.”

GBTA argues that more of the security fees paid should go to actually improving aviation security. While Trump’s budget blueprint calls for an increase in the percentage of collected funds directed toward aviation security, “having any amount of this fee go towards deficit reduction or other needs unrelated to the travel industry is too much,” according to a GBTA statement.

“We should all pay our part to cut the federal deficit,” Meehan added, “but security fees are supposed to help TSA recover costs to pay for aviation security.”

He talked up the idea of expanding biometric-based security screening at airports. By leveraging technology, Meehan said, it’s possible to “create a seamless, frictionless screening environment that is more secure than what you have now.” Trusted traveler programs like the Transportation Security Administration’s PreCheck and Custom and Border Protection’s Global Entry are key components.

Discriminatory taxation has been one of GBTA’s biggest pet peeves. Voiced for years, including during congressional hearings, the association’s position is that state and local taxes — notably levied on car rentals — paid by business travelers should not be used to fund projects unrelated to business travel. ASTA has a similar position.

Another travel tax issue relates to airline customers not recovering paid taxes and PFCs when unused tickets are refunded. A key question is whether these are levied on the sale of the transportation or the provision of it. It’s an age-old frustration that came up recently in a Travel Weekly column by industry lawyer Mark Pestronk. It seems corporate travel buyers have a beef but no one is speaking out.

Similarly, why should hotel customers be charged occupancy taxes and such when they no-show or don’t cancel in time? No group is openly complaining about that, either.

Laundry List

Perhaps certain issues don’t rise to the top because the catalog of gripes is long.

Passenger rights: Improving the travel experience and protecting passenger rights always has been an important issue. After the recent United Airlines incident, a few poll respondents said this is the travel topic that needs the most attention in Washington.

Business Travel Coalition said it supports Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s (D-Conn.) proposed Airline Passenger Bill of Rights.

GBTA polled members on the topic and “the three themes we got were dignity, transparency and fairness,” Meehan said. He suggested long-winded airline contracts of carriage full of legalese should be more accessible and understandable.

The American Society of Travel Agents said that while it has supported previous consumer protection initiatives by the U.S. Congress and Department of Transportation, “this disturbing incident should tell us loud and clear that more needs to be done.” ASTA called for “increased protections for overbooked and bumped passengers,” among other things.

Alleged protectionism: The Partnership for Open & Fair Skies opposes additional U.S. services by Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways. The group’s members include American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and various airline employee unions. Their argument is that the United Arab Emirates and Qatar infuse billions in subsidies into their state-owned airlines, creating unfair competition. Because of that, the group wants the U.S. government to “enforce its Open Skies agreements” with those countries.

For obvious reasons, Airlines for America also implores the U.S. government “to play its role in ensuring U.S. commercial aviation is operating on a level playing field with foreign competitors.”

BTC is on the other side of this issue, asserting that Open Skies deals do and should continue to foster competition. The Big Three U.S. carriers, BTC argues, are an oligopoly out to protect their dominant position in the transatlantic market.

Similarly, BTC fought against the Big Three U.S. carriers in advocating for approval of Norwegian Air International’s request to add U.S. services. Norwegian won rights to continue expanding here.

Home-sharing: Airbnb is a growing player in corporate lodging. GBTA and others have researched the home-sharing concept but no corporate travel association has come out in opposition. The American Hotel & Lodging Association has. “Rein in illegal hotels” is one of its three top agenda items, along with supporting hotel workers and promoting travel and tourism.

“AHLA believes that there should be a level and legal playing field within the lodging sector, and that regulations and taxes with respect to short-term rentals should be strictly enforced,” according to the association. “We support the rights of property owners to occasionally rent out a room or their home, but commercial operators within the short-term rental industry should not be allowed to operate outside of the law.”

Additional info: GBTA’s Meehan previously worked as the policy director for Keeping Identities Safe and as acting CEO for the Identification Technology Association, a nonprofit representing the biometrics industry. He has been involved with various groups, including some local BTA chapters, on the implementation of the Real ID Act.

Holly Woodruff Lyons is deputy general counsel for the House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and also staff director for the aviation subcommittee. According to GBTA, she told attendees at the Legislative Summit that the committee’s work toward FAA reauthorization “is up against many barriers such as budget constraints, reductions in force, lack of order in Congress and the fact that there has been no stand-alone travel appropriations bill since 2006.” Regarding the NextGen air traffic control system, she added that there have been “pockets of success” but “no real progress.” Lyons also said that committee chair Bill Shuster (R-PA) proposed the creation of a independent, not-for-profit organization responsible for air traffic control. GBTA said it will share its position on this topic “in the near future.”

Also speaking during the GBTA event, CBP deputy executive assistant commissioner John Wagner said new biometric technologies will be deployed for arriving and departing passengers. He said a test in Atlanta using facial recognition is working well without adding time to the process.

Like GBTA, ASTA routinely meets with Congressional leaders to discuss items of importance. Those include advocating for full disclosure of airline fees at travel agency points of sale, opposing new taxes on travel agency services, fighting the U.S. Department of Labor’s plan to end an exemption for travel agencies regarding federal overtime rules and adopting travel insurance standards. ASTA’s 2017 Legislative Day on Capitol Hill is scheduled for June 6-7.

Trump’s budget blueprint calls for reducing Amtrak subsidies. All federal support for long-distance rail service would be cut, allowing the rail operator to “focus on better managing its state-supported and Northeast Corridor train services.” The blueprint also proposes eliminating funding for the Essential Air Service program.

Disclosure: The Company Dime has a partnership with ASTA.


‘Laptop Ban’ Prompts Review Of Travel, IT Policies

Messy Handling Of Global Entry Eligibility Mirrors Wider Chaos Following Executive Order

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Fox World Travel Teams With Professor Brad Seitz For New School

Topaz International CEO Brad Seitz is leaving the travel auditing company he led since 2003 to build resources for corporate travel pros. The idea is to do some consulting, create a buyer community, conduct research and, along with Fox World Travel, formulate an education curriculum.

The last part would address both newbies and those looking for ongoing professional development.

For those entering corporate travel for the first time, there are a few collegiate programs out there, like at Metropolitan State University of Denver. The Association of Corporate Travel Executives’ Around the World program offers entry-level training and internships for beginners. The Global Business Travel Association runs a course on travel management fundamentals and the Ladders mentoring initiative. Sometimes local GBTA chapters get active with area colleges.

Feedback from Fox clients pointed the travel management company down the path. It plans to launch the Fox Travel Manager Institute in the second half of this year. Fox World Travel vice president of client solutions and event strategy Michael Farrell described a two-week pilot class as “extremely successful.”

“The industry is evolving,” Farrell said. Rather than travel agents filling corporate travel management positions, “other departments are starting to inherit those responsibilities — human resources, procurement, finance. Those professionals don’t have a baseline understanding of all the intricacies of the industry.”

The Fox Travel Manager Institute will offer week-long 101-like classes for employees of its clients involved with running travel programs. Fox expects eventually to market the service beyond its customer base.

The program also will offer one- and two-day classes. These more advanced sessions will dive deeper into specific industry topics. Both Seitz and Farrell mentioned contract negotiations and duty of care as potential subject areas.

Brad Seitz

Brad Seitz

“Travel Management 101, that’s easy,” Seitz said. “Where it gets difficult is going deeper, and trying to pique interest of people who have been at it for a long time.”

A professor of business at the University of Southern Maine, Seitz will be one of several instructors. Farrell said some Fox employees also will get involved, shadowing Seitz to gain teaching experience.

The plan is to conduct classes in multiple U.S. cities. There may be a virtual learning component, but Farrell said “that’s not our preference. There are lots of webinars out there. We feel learning in-person will be best.”

Farrell would not divulge the university with which Fox has had conversations, but he mentioned a possible partnership with the Society of Collegiate Travel and Expense Management.

“We haven’t spoken to GBTA yet about this program,” he added, “but would not be opposed to having our classes be part of their certification process.”

GBTA offers the Global Travel Professional certification, the Global Leadership Professional designation (via the University of Virginia Darden School of Business) and the Certificate in Meeting Management (in conjunction with Meeting Professionals International).

ACTE’s Around the World also includes a program for travel pros looking to learn more. The Institute of Travel Management for the United Kingdom and Ireland has workshops for buyers and administers the GTP exam for partner GBTA. The Institute for Supply Management has certification programs for purchasing pros.

Beyond The Classroom

The educational work with Fox is one component of Seitz’s new venture. He called his company Agilis, Latin for “agile.” It is “built on the premise that travel programs need to be more agile in what they do,” Seitz said.

Another pillar of his plan is a consulting service, taking on specific projects or designing outsourced travel management functions. Seitz agreed that there is no shortage of consultants in corporate travel and acknowledged the challenge. “It would be at a high level,” Seitz said, “not the minutiae.” Before Topaz, Seitz spent 10 years managing travel at Xerox. In between he worked for Carlson Wagonlit Travel and Rosenbluth International. From 2005 to 2009, Seitz volunteered as ACTE’s treasurer.

A first step for the new company will be building a community of travel buyers. Within it, members will exchange information and hear Seitz’s industry observations and product reviews.

Seitz anticipates collecting subscription fees that are tiered based on the number of participants from a given company. He declined to specify pricing.

Independent research would enrich a travel manager’s membership. Access to it will be part of the subscription fee. There will be no sponsors. Seitz said the needs and wants of the community will determine research topics. One that has “nagged” at him for 10 years is an examination of the financial benefits of online booking versus agent-assisted booking. It would get into the costs associated with each, as well as time and productivity studies.

Additional info: Distinct from the new Fox Travel Manager Institute, the TMC also runs the Business Travel Institute. It is one of several schools designed to train travel agents.

GBTA Ladders is coming to the local chapter level. The Silicon Valley BTA, for example, “will find the industry veterans from our membership as mentors and then form a group of mentees,” according to SVBTA vice president Makiko Barrett.

At Topaz, current vice president and part-owner Tricia Wischmann will take the reins.

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International SOS Covers Emotional Rescue

Caring for a traveler who gets sick, injured or kidnapped is a visible side of travel risk and medical services. Residual trauma also can occur even if an employee is physically unscathed by a car wreck or security incident. Frequent long-distance travel itself can weigh heavily. Culture shock is real for expats and their families.

Emotional support services generally are the province of human resources departments and employee assistance programs. Recognizing a need to loop in travel risk management, International SOS partnered with EAP provider Workplace Options to offer “rapid response psychological support” around the globe.

“While we provide ongoing, regular EAP services, we are frequently asked by our clients to assist them in fleshing out duty of care services,” said Workplace Options SVP Mary Ellen Gornick. “In our current business, we still work a lot with HR as the main contact but increasingly we are seeing the travel team become more interested and involved in making successful overseas assignments.”

Anxiety, stress or depression can affect productivity and performance. Long-term assignments can and do fail. When they do, it’s costly. Gornick said expats or assignees may need help acclimating to new environments, adjusting to day-to-day living there or mitigating reverse culture shock when returning.

International SOS VP of global alliances and partnerships Sally Wang said the joint service is part of a proactive approach embedded within the company’s core medical and security offering.

Client employees get one number to call for medical, security or emotional assistance. This includes counseling for employees and their families. It is available in 60 languages by phone, video call or face to face. Specifics vary by client type, be it an oil and gas company, NGO or academic institution.

International SOS

Image: Thinkstock

Robert Mintz is a former travel agency owner, a long-time travel manager and current member of the Global Business Travel Association’s risk committee. He said every traveling employee is unique when it comes to handling stressful situations.

“You can’t judge people,” Mintz said. “You need a system to accommodate the broad spectrum.” He said the new service addresses that while playing to the International SOS strength in global medical services.

Health and travel assistance company On Call International said it also provides emotional and psychological support around the globe. According to president Tom Davidson, it does so through a partnership with an unnamed behavioral health crisis and disaster management company. He said the most common issue addressed by the service is pre-existing mental health disorders exacerbated in unfamiliar cultures.

While On Call typically works with HR, Davidson said travel, risk and corporate security departments also get involved.

Davidson said organizations may bring in a counselor to talk with employees after a terrorist attack. “Does the employer need to do this?” he asked. “Not necessarily, but organizations are learning that the investment in their employees’ well-being is a smart move on many fronts – from workplace culture to reputational risk to employee retention and productivity, just to name a few.”

Some traditional U.S. employee assistance programs also extend beyond borders. Chestnut Global Partners, for example, uses a network of local providers for its expatriate assistance program. It includes pre-departure support, “outreach check-ins and cultural adjustment coaching,” and help upon repatriation, according to its materials.

Chestnut managing director Matt Mollenhauer said tackling these issues early is critical. “In general, if you sit back and wait for expats to call for help, they won’t,” he said. Maybe it’s a high-profile assignment and they don’t want to draw attention.

Mollenhauer said employers also tend to take a more passive approach. They focus on the logistics of the travel or relocation, and then become reactive. He said exceptions come from academia, where schools establish emotional support programs before placing students in foreign countries.

For expats and long-term business assignees, “adjusting to the move always is the number one presenting issue,” Mollenhauer said. One misconception is that an assignment for an American worker in the United Kingdom or Europe won’t be as tough as one in Asia, Africa or South America. “People don’t ramp up coping the way they should,” he said. “They underestimate the adjustment.”

Employee awareness is a top challenge. “In this space, we are frequently an afterthought in the benefits world,” Mollenhauer said.

Mintz said training is paramount. Some “best-in-class” companies make it a prerequisite for travel.

“Just because you have a traveler tracker and you checked that box, don’t think you are done,” he said. “That’s baby steps. Everyone has to know the number to call, what the communications capability is and who is at the other end.”


International SOS Commissions New Duty Of Care Code As GBTA Preps TRM Tool Update

Study Shows ROI On Travel Illness Prevention Programs

Travel Friction And The Diminishing Returns Of Cost Savings

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Air Canada Moves To Blunt Rising Commissions

Air Canada reduced travel agency compensation on certain fares, effective April 1. The change followed increases in the airline’s sales and distribution costs as a percentage of passenger revenue in each of the past three years.

A spokesperson confirmed that the carrier reduced commissions paid on some international airfare types, including interline and business-class fares. The moves, which impact only “Canadian” agencies, came despite an international expansion plan that includes more intercontinental flying and a bunch of new U.S. transborder routes.

Air Canada also bumped up agency compensation on certain fare types, the official said. “In some cases other changes will increase overall compensation for agents,” according to a written statement.

It’s not unusual for airlines to modify the methods or amounts of agency compensation. Industry consolidation offers leverage to reduce payouts. Air Canada dominates its home market, though rival WestJet has made significant gains over the years.

In 2009, WestJet and Air Canada went back and forth in announcing new or revised commission levels for certain fare types. After a few weeks of activity, both settled on 7 percent for affected fares. For Air Canada, these were its lowest, or Tango, rates. In 2015, Air Canada reversed this decision.

One agency source speaking on the condition of anonymity said Air Canada replaced that 7 percent program with a “monthly guarantee on Tango. This way the payment is ‘hidden’ from the other carriers.” Now, the source said, the airline is “foolishly” going to zero.

The Air Canada official confirmed the change for North America Tango fares as well as a commission reduction on international Tango fares.


Image: Air Canada

Another TMC executive said that regarding the commission change on Tango fares, Air Canada tells agencies they should instead sell higher-priced Flex or Latitude fares. “The view in the market is that if you don’t want us to sell these fares, then don’t put them out there, and understand you are not competitive,” the source said.

For travel agencies, commission cuts on premium-class international fares hurt the most. When the front-end commission is knocked down by four or five percentage points, that can mean hundreds of dollars for a single booking.

“Air Canada says they have very aggressive global expansion plans and they need the travel agency community to support them,” said one TMC leader. “Then they cut back our commissions on high-yield international travel. There is a lot of mistrust in the travel agency community.”

The executive noted that back-end override programs also took a hit. This source indicated that all the changes, on balance, mean lower overall compensation.

Competition has been pushing commission expenses northward, according to the airline’s financial reports.

Air Canada in 2016 incurred CA$845 million in sales and distribution costs (including regional operations). That was up 15 percent from 2015. The airline’s annual report indicated the increase reflected “higher commission expenses” partly due to more tickets sold and “new and enhanced competitive incentive programs.” Air Canada also sold a higher proportion of tickets outside Canada, driving up “transaction costs.”

As it had in years past, Air Canada noted that its competitors “continue to pursue commissions/incentive actions and, in many cases, increase these payments.” A decision to match “competitive actions,” it added, could “have a material adverse effect.” At the same time, also according to the 2016 annual report, Air Canada continued “to undertake sales and distribution initiatives in an effort to increase revenues and reduce overall costs of sales.”

Asked why Air Canada made the latest changes, the spokesperson wrote:

Air Canada continually refines its agency compensation structure for a variety of reasons, including market conditions, for competitive reasons and due to strategic considerations. The overall aim is provide a structure that balances the ever changing interests of our agency partners and those of the airline and our customers. We expect this evolution to continue, but that agencies will remain a valued partner for our company long into the future.

Within Canada, WestJet is Air Canada’s only sizable competitor. In December it announced updates to fares and change fees but kept base commissions unchanged. The lowest fares generate no commissions with the rest ranging from 4 percent to 8 percent. WestJet in March also announced a renewed travel agent portal, including a booking tool.

According to its 2016 annual report, WestJet’s sales and marketing costs increased nearly 10 percent from 2015. This increase outpaced revenue, which grew 2.3 percent. The carrier cited higher ancillary revenue partially offset by downward pressure on fares resulting from the depressed energy sector. Revenue from “managed corporate business,” though, jumped 15 percent.

Canada’s No. 2 airline last year began seasonal service from six Canadian airports to London Gatwick. Air Canada’s leisure-oriented Rouge brand competes on a few of those routes. Mainline Air Canada serves London Heathrow from six cities in Canada.

More Costs Of Sales

According to its annual reports, Air Canada’s sales and distribution costs — including commissions, GDS fees and credit card fees — amounted to 6.4 percent of its total 2016 passenger revenue. That was up from 5.9 percent in 2015, 5.7 percent in 2014 and 5.6 percent in the two previous years.

For the year 2015, the carrier noted those costs increased partly due to “a higher volume of ticket sales generated through global distribution system providers.” But some of that was “offset by the impact of more favorable distribution rates negotiated in 2015.”

The airline had announced new deals with Amadeus (in 2015) and Travelport (in 2014, renewed in February 2017).

Air Canada’s relationship with Sabre is complicated. Last fall, the companies marked progress in selling the carrier’s paid seats. At that time, a Sabre announcement said the development “solidifies both companies’ collaboration” on personalizing offers. A Sabre official said the company “is distributing Air Canada’s full content to its subscribers.”

However, collaboration was not a theme in Air Canada’s February 2017 court filing related to the US Airways v. Sabre antitrust case. It said the parties were no longer using a “full content” agreement. Air Canada claimed to have “endured substantial year-over-year price increases imposed by Sabre, making Sabre’s booking fees almost twice what Air Canada pays to other GDSs.” Its current Sabre deal, Air Canada added, prohibits expanded work with “other, lower-cost GDSs.”

In both 2013 and 2012, Air Canada reported lower commission expenses, offset somewhat by “higher transaction fees paid to global distribution service providers.”

Additional info: Air Canada in 2016 began 12 new transborder and 15 other international routes. This year it started or announced eight more to the United States. “On routes between Canada and the U.S., [Air Canada] now accounts for 45 percent of seat capacity with WestJet its nearest rival [at] 19 percent,” according to Airline Network News & Analysis. “Both Delta Air Lines and United Airlines have just over 9 percent of capacity.”


Airline Consolidation, Other Factors Further Squeeze Travel Agency Commissions

Amadeus, Air Canada Reconcile

New AA Travel Agency Incentive Favors Higher Fares Over More Passengers

Airline-GDS Negotiations Heat Up As Parties Try To Sway Lawsuit’s Outcome

Sabre Sees An ‘Inflection Point’ On Ancillaries Via Travel Management Companies

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United States Requires Virtual Cards In Next Federal Payment Program

The largest charge card program in the world is getting with the times, or maybe ahead of them.

Bidders for the third generation of the U.S. General Services Administration’s SmartPay must include virtual cards. Until now, they have been an optional component in the governmentwide program. SmartPay2 runs through November 2018. SmartPay3 will pick up from there. GSA issued the request for proposals in February and finished collecting bids last week.

The SmartPay program encompasses purchase, travel, fleet and integrated card programs. The current, second generation is furnished by Citi, J.P. Morgan Chase and U.S. Bank. Virtual accounts have been considered a Tier 2 “value-add” feature. For SmartPay3, virtual cards will be a Tier 1 “core” feature. Each federal agency will determine use cases. Government travel management contractors, including TMCs like CWTSato and tech providers like Concur, will need to support them.

In the corporate world, the application of virtual payment for travel has been somewhat limited. Companies that do not have younger employees or non-employee travel are less likely to appreciate the benefits.

Consultants including Andy Menkes of Partnership Travel Consulting and MW Travel Consultancy principal Martin Warner said virtual payment is becoming more common in corporate payment solicitations. Better collaboration between travel management, finance/treasury and procurement helps uncover payment pain points and improves RFPs, said Warner. Still, virtual travel payment has had hiccups. In the United States, it still is mostly used for hotel stays. A few other industry consultants said most clients haven’t gone down the path.


Image: Thinkstock

“Companies with more established card programs seeking advanced fraud protection or other improvements might see virtual payments as a core RFP element,” according to Debra Moss from Acquis Consulting Group, “but they’re the minority.”

According to a GBTA Foundation survey in early 2016, sponsored by U.S. Bank, 6 percent of 179 buyers said their companies apply single-use virtual accounts for transient travel or meetings. Another 20 percent expected to do so in the coming two years. Nearly two-thirds said they weren’t sure when, if ever, their companies would.

For GSA, virtual cards are among SmartPay3’s “new, innovative solutions and avenues for incorporating appropriate future payment processes.” GSA is focused on getting better data, reporting and analytics; fraud detection and security measures like tokenization; and program efficiencies.

Other new Tier 1 elements relate to mobile capabilities. Mobile apps “shall, at a minimum” let users make purchases, pay invoices, get alerts and view statements and payment info.

Also required are EMV chip cards (PIN is the preferred verification method, but agencies can request a signature-and-PIN set-up), declining balance cards and ePayable supplier-initiated payments. Contractors must support authorization controls that can deny transactions at domestic and international points of sale.

Like SmartPay2, SmartPay3’s travel component will include centrally billed and individually billed accounts. GSA said federal agencies and organizations “generally” use travel CBAs for airline ticket purchases via such third-party systems as the GSA E-Gov Travel Service and the Defense Travel System. The “tax advantage travel card” is a new account type in the SmartPay3 solicitation. “It provides a means for agencies to obtain tax exemption at the point of sale for rental cars and lodging,” according to GSA.

Like SmartPay2, SmartPay3 contracting card companies must provide programs supporting the GSA City Pair Program and FedRooms, with lots of data reporting for both.

GSA intends to award multiple SmartPay3 contracts. If all contract options are exercised, they will run until 2031.

Additional info: How big is SmartPay? Big. It currently supports 3 million accounts across more than 560 federal agencies and organizations. In fiscal 2016, 91 million transactions generated $28 billion in spending, including $8.1 billion for 43 million travel card transactions. Since SmartPay began in 1998, it has handled $432 billion in federal spending, earning rebates of more than $3 billion.

GSA noted that while state and local governments currently are not authorized to take advantage of SmartPay3, they may be in the future. Bidders must be able to support that possibility.


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Riot Games Coping With Corporate Travel’s Virtual Card Adolescence

Sabre GetThere Latest On Corporate Travel Virtual Card Bandwagon

GBTA Speakers Attempt To Answer Virtual Payment’s Questions

CWTSatoTravel Wins 20 ETS2 Accounts, Preps Government App

Defense Department Identifies Concur As Vendor For DTS Pilot

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‘Laptop Ban’ Prompts Review Of Travel, IT Policies

[UPDATE, April 19, 2017: Emirates cited revised U.S. government policies for its decision to reduce flight frequencies on five U.S. routes. In May the airline will begin reducing to five weekly from daily the flights to Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. In June, it will trim twice-daily Boston and Seattle services to one per day. The same reduction will impact Los Angeles services, effective in July. “The recent actions taken by the U.S. government relating to the issuance of entry visas, heightened security vetting and restrictions on electronic devices in aircraft cabins have had a direct impact on consumer interest and demand for air travel into the U.S.,” according to a memo to travel agencies. “Over the past three months, we have seen a significant deterioration in the booking profiles on all our U.S. routes, across all travel segments.”]

Checking laptops and tablets isn’t just an annoying hit to productivity. In many cases, corporate policies don’t allow it. How do organizations reconcile those policies with new aviation security rules that ban all but small electronic devices from airplane cabins on inbound flights from certain Middle Eastern and North African airports?

Half a dozen travel managers from multinational organizations told The Company Dime how they’re reacting to new U.S. and U.K. restrictions. One way around is obvious: Don’t book itineraries involving the affected airports. The U.S. electronics ban covers flights from Abu Dhabi, Amman, Cairo, Casablanca, Doha, Dubai, Istanbul, Jeddah, Kuwait City and Riyadh.

When it’s not possible to avoid those airports, companies may consider policy modifications or exceptions allowing travelers to check devices. That won’t sit well with those concerned about theft, data privacy and damage. Switching off devices and using encrypted hard drives may help.

To work out workarounds, some travel departments are coordinating with security, risk management, legal and IT. A first step is filling in impacted travelers on the particulars. Point-of-sale messaging can direct them to book a different itinerary when necessary or inform them of other steps. Travel confirmation emails and pre-trip reports can provide destination-specific info. Authorization tools and travel agency mid-office systems also play a role.

So do mobile apps provided by travel management companies and risk management firms. BCD Travel SVP Yannis Karmis said the TMC sent messages to impacted travelers via the TripSource mobile app “within minutes” of picking up information about the new restrictions.

Beyond communication, one approach is giving travelers “clean” laptops housing only the basics. Or, they’re instructed to back up data to the cloud or removable storage devices like thumb drives (not banned from cabins) before wiping their own laptops. In these ways, sensitive corporate data isn’t exposed in transit.

Image: Dubai International Airport

International SOS EVP Tim Daniel said some industry sectors are more prepared than others when it comes to traveling with proprietary corporate information. Where there are no protocols in place, “people are sort of scrambling now,” he said. “For travel managers, it has not been a well-addressed topic. This is a teachable moment and a chance for travel managers to talk with colleagues.”

According to a travel manager at a large tech company, “We do discourage checking laptops and are concerned about the security at baggage claim. We are looking into a loaner program and having everyone leverage cloud storage and email, which may be the wave of the future.”

Another travel manager said travelers are advised to check laptops after securing them with TSA-approved locks. “IT said that if this is long term we need a long-term strategy,” the travel manager relayed. “They may want loaner laptops in those regional offices.”

In a letter to members, Association of Corporate Travel Executives executive director Greeley Koch wrote that some companies expect to run computer exchange programs.

Issues related to IT policies are one thing; travel operations are another.

One travel manager asked, “Do we pay to book away from those carriers” affected by the new rules? To answer the question, the travel manager now is running models to determine average ticket price differentials.

This kind of thinking, by individual travelers and corporate managers, could have ramifications. Should the restrictions stick, “certain Middle Eastern hubs may become structurally disadvantaged over time,” according to a March 23 research note from J.P. Morgan analysts. At the same time, European hubs may “extract yield premiums in exchange for making better use of business travelers’ time.” They pointed to “the tech-heavy corridor between the United States and India” as an area where consequences could be “material.”

“We are watching for fare increases and inventory management challenges” at U.S. and European carriers, according to one multinational buyer.

BCD Travel’s Karmis said he doesn’t expect travelers “to engineer incremental connections to avoid the ban.” While travelers planning to connect through an impacted airport may decide to connect elsewhere, Karmis said BCD hasn’t yet seen big shifts.

Nor has American Express Global Business Travel, said Jeremy Quek, airline practice lead for the TMC’s consulting team.

But should traffic patterns change, travel managers will have to consider the repercussions for airline contracts. “If people change to alternate options, does the company have negotiated discounts on those routings?” Quek asked.

There’s no telling when — or if — the United States and the United Kingdom will lift the new rules. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said current restrictions are in effect “indefinitely.”

According to International SOS, “this measure or something like it will be a feature of international air travel for quite some time.”

IJet International suggested “a moderate likelihood” that U.S. or U.K. officials modify the list of impacted airports “in the coming weeks.” There also is “a moderate-to-high likelihood” that other countries announce similar restrictions.

IJet added that restrictions likely won’t change until authorities deploy new ways to screen larger electronic devices at passenger checkpoints.

That’s what the International Air Transport Association wants, and soon.

IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac on Tuesday bashed the U.S. and U.K. restrictions. “Even in the short term it is difficult to understand their effectiveness,” he said in a speech to the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations. “And the commercial distortions they create are severe.”

Additional info: Travel managers discussing this topic mostly did so anonymously. They cited sensitivities around government policies and their organizations’ security procedures. Some admitted to cynicism. They wondered if the reasons for the restrictions are political. Among the carriers affected by the U.S. policy are Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways. Those three have faced a public relations and lobbying battle waged by American, Delta and United. The U.S. carriers claim the Middle Eastern airlines enjoy unfair government subsidies.

The U.K.’s ban excludes Abu Dhabi (Etihad’s base), Doha (Qatar’s base) and Dubai (Emirates’). It includes Tunisia and Lebanon, which have direct service to the United Kingdom but not the United States.

Some affected airlines, including Emirates, are allowing travelers to gate-check electronic devices.

Here are fact sheets from DHS and the U.K. government.


Mitigating The Information Security Risks Of Travel With Mobile Devices

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No Show? No Commission

Industry practice stipulates that hotels don’t pay commissions on penalty charges when travelers don’t show up, even if the rate they booked was commissionable. Yet, one expert said some travel management companies get hotels to stray from the standard practice. No-shows are fairly rare, but the topic could become more relevant if hotels continue to tinker with cancellation policies.

When no-shows occur, or if travelers try to cancel after the cut-off time, hotels typically impose a fee equal to the first night’s room rate. Hotels account for this revenue differently than they do for consumed room revenue.

“The commission payment tools, and indeed the philosophy in the industry, do not support paying commissions on non-room revenue any more than paying it on food and beverage charged to a guest folio which also ends up outside of room revenue,” explained one hotel industry insider. “I’m not saying it is right, but that is the logic behind it.”

no-show commission

Image: Thinkstock

Similarly, hotels typically don’t count paid no-show fees toward a corporate account’s volume goals.

Clients of hotel commission specialist Onyx CenterSource include travel management companies, hotels and corporate buyers. Commissions on cancellations and no-shows “is a topic we are involved in with our customers on a regular basis,” said chief sales officer Trond Sorensen.

Though hotels as a rule won’t pay commissions in those cases, Sorensen said some TMCs try to get exceptions written into their agreements. “It’s not frequent but it does happen,” he said. When it does, “the hotel is obliged” to pay commissions.

Hotels refusing to pay commissions on no-shows “is a big pet peeve,” said Jack Reynaert, manager of global travel and meetings for Meritor. He said requests to hotels for those commissions “always fall on deaf ears.” However, Reynaert, who runs a program using the ARC Corporate Travel Department designation, said he sometimes can convince hotels to count no-show fees toward his overall volume goals. “I show them how much we spent with them,” he said. “Even though we didn’t occupy the room, they still got revenue.”

Again, these are exceptions.

Hickory Global Partners president Chris Dane hasn’t seen agencies contractually secure commissions on no-shows. “You may be able to negotiate the commission on an individual no-show at an individual property,” he said, “but I never heard of if being done as a policy for any particular agency.”

Paul Hoffmann, CEO of eCommissionSolutions, said his firm can present to agency clients the opportunity related to hotel no-show commissions. “I can’t confirm or validate their success or rejection of their results,” he said, “but it is a topic that is being addressed often.”

For many, the challenge involved in uncovering the associated commission dollars and convincing hotels to pay isn’t worth the trouble. No-show rates in corporate travel are pretty small. Sources suggested they account for anywhere from a few percentage points of a company’s total hotel bookings to under 1 percent. Special corporate rates negotiated for individual accounts usually are not commissionable anyway.

For big travel management companies and corporate buyers who get commissions passed through, though, the dollars can add up. Business travelers book plenty of commissionable stays. TMCs bank on it.

The Corporate Solutions Group provides hotel commission collection services. Partner Bob Langsfeld said corporate clients who more aggressively try to recover commissions sometimes will look at no-shows and cancellations. He said the data trail on those can be hard to follow, further complicating the already challenging task of commission collection.

“There are ways to try to recover depending on the level of activity,” Langsfeld said. “You need your ducks in a row and knowledge about the property, the chain and the TMC.”

Upwards of 50 percent of client contracts with TMCs, he said, stipulate that commissions collected by the TMC will be returned to the client. But clients shouldn’t always expect to see it all. There can be a lack of transparency. For the TMCs, hotel commissions can be “a big deal,” Langsfeld said. “It is one of their last vestiges” of revenue from suppliers.


Hotels Consider More Cancellation Policy Tweaks

Sources: Hilton Stops Dickering Around With Reduced Commissions

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ARC Data Showing Promise For Buyers

Prism data is the basis for corporate deals with the big U.S. network airlines. It will be for the foreseeable future. But it has limitations. The Airlines Reporting Corp. designed new tools for corporate buyers and agencies that better detail activity and marketplace benchmarks. This can prepare them for contracting. In an early use case of ARC Corporate BI, a company used the tool to tweak some policies, reinforce others and secure more favorable contract terms.

“The data sources that most companies negotiate on — TMC data and Prism — are decent sources,” said KesselRun Corporate Travel Solutions vice president Krissy Herman. “But so often there is more information that can help strengthen an organization’s position in negotiations with an airline, or shed light on certain behaviors that occur within an organization that they should take action on to help better support airline partners.”

The consultants at KesselRun in 2016 applied ARC data for an undisclosed multinational client to optimize its air program and rework contracts with two airlines. Benchmarking was a first step.

Made available last year, Corporate BI taps into ARC’s immense data repository to provide transaction-level detail. It includes a company’s volume, cabin mix and average price paid — by airline and by origin and destination. Users can compare themselves to the entire corporate market and to peer organizations spending about the same. Benchmarking by industry sector is in the works. ARC bases corporate-travel datasets on dedicated ARC numbers associated with corporate TMCs and individual companies.

Prism data shows average ticket price by market. While travel management companies can break it down by classes of service, sometimes they need “a little more heavy lifting” to pull, verify and use granular data, Herman said. Especially if the client has some atypical citypairs, the TMC data sample may be too small to offer much insight.

KesselRun’s exercise showed the client had performed well overall but had room for improvement. “It’s one thing to say to a client, ‘Book in advance and save money,’ ” Herman said. “It’s another for a client to pass actual data up the food chain. ‘Here’s proof that based on our patterns we can save x amount by tweaking policy and behavior.’ ”

ARC data

Beyond corporate travel, comparisons against the entire spot market could show if contracted rates are worth it on specific routes. Spot market data represents everything in indirect channels not booked through the client’s designated TMC.

Herman explained that the client’s previous contract included a flat fare for business class on a transatlantic route that “more often than not” was higher than what was available in the spot market.

Those sorts of observations can prepare the buyer for airline negotiations. “If you are not making share on a certain term,” Herman said, “maybe the airline wasn’t giving you the best fare in that market. Now we can make that argument.”

KesselRun partner Brandon Strauss added that ARC’s ability to break down average ticket price by route and by carrier makes it “a real leverage tool.”

ARC managing director of product management Arun Gupta said ARC BI tools define O&Ds exactly how airlines do. Cabin-class mapping matches up. Reports are available weekly, which he said is more frequent than what TMCs and airlines typically provide. All of that can help overcome some of the complexity in how often airlines tweak pricing, fare classes, fare basis codes and the like.

“Corporates are disadvantaged,” said tClara managing director Scott Gillespie during a panel discussion at an ARC event in October. “You hear constantly from travel buyers that Prism datasets don’t really match their own TMC data. So where is the gap? Who is right? Who has a vested interest? It’s never terribly clear. In that sense, the corporates are behind. That gap will close, as it should.”

BCD Travel senior director of supplier relations Jeffrey Blaszyk also spoke at the ARC event. “A lot of times, it’s our data versus theirs,” he said. “But when we can bring in third-party data that maybe correlates to what we are showing, it helps us when we go back to [the airline] if we are seeing some discrepancy.” He said it “shows we’re doing our homework.”

United Airlines director of sales products and programs Joe Tibble added that better data in the buyers’ hands has meant more meaningful conversations. “Traditionally we would go in and say, ‘Here are your four or five opportunity areas,’ ” he said. “Jeff already knows those opportunity areas, so the conversation has shifted.”

For KesselRun’s client, the analysis showed “significant differences in average ticket price between airlines” in several key markets. That led to increased discounts.

In the Charlotte-Shanghai market, for example, the client expected its volume to grow in the coming 12 to 18 months. Using the ARC data, KesselRun found that the company’s business class ATP on that citypair was $1,100 higher than the corporate market average. Though the client allowed first class on those flights, and its first class ATP beat the market average, the numbers showed “a compelling business case” to move all travelers to business class. Doing so, according to KesselRun, would generate as much as $9,000 in savings just on that one route.

The analysis also spotlighted which carriers offered the best fares within each class of service. That aided negotiations by uncovering where airlines should improve discount levels to remain competitive. It also showed the client how shifting share can help meet contract goals.

Meanwhile, benchmarking the client against the spot market identified where travelers may have indicated they “found this fare cheaper online.” As a result, the client worked with its TMC “to ensure agents are checking all available avenues for best faring,” according to KesselRun.

One Piece Of The Puzzle

The ARC Corporate BI product isn’t an airline corporate sourcing tool that allows for forecasting, what-if scenarios and comparisons of airline contract offers. It currently doesn’t include quality of service index (QSI) measurements. Airlines use QSI (sometimes called fair market share, or FMS) to state what they believe their fair share is in a given market based on various weighted factors. They reward clients who deliver above and beyond. QSI formulae vary by carrier. Some big TMCs and industry consultants have their own.

VP of product Doug Mangold said ARC is exploring how to facilitate more sourcing functions within Corporate BI. It’s working with an unnamed partner to bring in QSI.

Advito vice president Bob Brindley said that while more information can only benefit buyers, ARC data is just one piece of the puzzle. He said there’s an opportunity in the market to go further by incorporating data generated after ticketing: on-time performance data, ancillary spending and so forth.

GoldSpring Consulting partner Neil Hammond said ARC datasets can be valuable as clients search for good benchmarking info. As an independent data source, he said, the ARC tool can assist in clearing up discrepancies in Prism data. Prism data feeds show an airline what it’s getting from a company and, lumped together, what that company gives everyone else. “It tends to be high level with not a lot of detail,” Hammond said. “It can be frustrating.”

Besides contract modeling, Hammond would like to see ARC Corporate BI include data from non-U.S. points of sale. With the International Air Transport Association, ARC compiles Bank Settlement Plan data from around the globe. That’s part of the separate Direct Data Solutions product.

Within the United Sates, direct bookings on sites are missing from ARC Corporate BI data. A lot of Southwest Airlines’ corporate travel sales, for example, go direct. The same is true for Prism (owned by Sabre), though United and Concur recently worked out how to bring in TripLink data.

Additional info: ARC Corporate BI is a subscription-based product. Pricing, which ARC did not lay out, is determined by client volume. 

ARC also offers Faresight, which provides a far less detailed view at a lower price point. ARC now is working to develop one-page airline performance reports. They will show corporate-specific market shares, average ticket prices and QSI. Snapshot reports on specific city pairs didn’t get much traction, Mangold said.

Gillespie’s tClara firm gets ARC data for its Air Clarity reports. Analytics firm Prime Numbers Technology, part of Atlas Travel & Technology Group, recently announced a licensing deal to use tClara’s fair market share data with sourcing clients. According to Prime Numbers, tClara calculates FMS “using global flight schedules, rigorous connection logic and user-defined parameters.”


ARC Aims To Clear The Air On Benchmarking

Sourcing Tools Help Big Buyers Tackle Air Market’s Twists And Turns

New Reporting Takes TripLink A Step Forward

How Non-BSP Airlines Create Inefficiency For Travel Management

New American Airlines Discount Structure Puts More Business Under Contract

AA Changes Basis For International Discounts

GBTA Airline Request For Proposals Template Aims For Better Total Value Comparisons

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Airlines Diverging On Custom Corporate Bundles

Delta Air Lines in 2015 started offering tailored packages of products and services to corporate accounts. It’s not doing that anymore. It has other ways to enrich commercial relationships with add-ons. The change in strategy reflects two different ways airlines view the concept of corporate bundles.

Travel managers for a while talked up the idea of fares specific to their companies that include extras useful for their travelers. It would help them show value and avoid ancillary spend-tracking headaches. When booking trips or submitting expenses, travelers would be clear on which supplemental services were in bounds.

Travelport has been providing related functionality through its merchandising suite of services. CEO Gordon Wilson during a Feb. 21 interview said the company has seen “progressive uptake in line with two things happening.” One is travel management companies adopting the latest agent desktops, like Travelport’s Smartpoint. The other, he said, is corporate booking tools coding to APIs.

Travelport global product and marketing head Ian Heywood said the company has been testing the provision of bundles through some of those booking tools. Agents using desktop systems other than Smartpoint can access the distinct corporate offers through Travelport’s Universal API, he said.

“One of the biggest problems is, the airline and the corporate can do a deal but is the agent aware of it?” Heywood asked. He pointed out that airlines can craft special products and pricing for agencies, too. For example, Travelport materials indicated that Air India presented to U.K. travel agents the opportunity to add limo service to business-class bookings.

Amadeus since early 2015 has offered airlines a tool to personalize the corporate travel experience. Using Altéa Corporate Recognition, an airline can specify which airport and inflight benefits should be provided to a given account’s travelers. A spokesperson noted that the tool now is integrated with Amadeus systems for corporate agents and the Cytric self-booking tool. Lufthansa was an early adopter. Amadeus said “several” other European carriers use it while airlines in other regions will implement this year.

corporate bundles

Image: Thinkstock

Lufthansa also is working to provide customized corporate offers via direct connections.

Finnair “recently” took a first step toward corporate bundles, according to an official. It was for the carrier’s “economy comfort” product, normally sold as an ancillary. The official said corporate interest in economy comfort has been stunted by policies that disallow separate ancillary purchases and by the “complicated TMC buying process.” Now, though, Amadeus agents can book it for clients more easily than they could before. The airline is working on bringing the functionality to Sabre and Travelport agents.

A next step is wrapping Wi-Fi into corporate fares for long-haul flights. “Later in 2017,” according to the Finnair official, “we will be able to tailor bundles that match each corporate’s needs.”

Farelogix CEO Jim Davidson is a fan of the bundle concept. He envisions personalization based on many dynamic variables. For example, a traveler going to London for a meeting on a Tuesday would be entitled to a certain set of services, based on airline inventory. Those services could be packaged in for free as part of the corporate fare, or at an extra but discounted cost based on negotiations.

That vision is part of the promise of IATA’s New Distribution Capability.

The Farelogix Sprk agent tool has an NDC API underneath it. Some corporate buyers “love it” when they see how the system brings in content, Davidson said. “But corporate booking tools say, ‘Great, but I take everything from GDSs.’ ” Providers of those tools, owned by GDS companies in a few notable cases, “don’t seem to be willing to make connections outside of the GDSs to get this content,” he added. (Some online booking tools have had trouble accessing standard bundles, even when made available in the traditional GDS channel). Farelogix is getting the content via direct connections to Lufthansa and others.

Other developments apparently have lessened the desire for specialized corporate packages. At least in the United States, the big airlines have been adding standard benefits to commercial deals without negotiating them individually. Delta through its Edge program, for example, provides priority boarding and standby, more favorable upgrade positioning and other advantages.

“Travelport gave us a framework for supporting branded fares which could be part of a corporate contract,” a Delta official explained. “Now, though, Delta offers branded fares and access to Delta Comfort Plus and first class directly through our TMC partners.”

The official confirmed that Delta no longer is crafting custom deals like it did in 2015 for client Micron Technology, which included lounge access and paid seats.

American Airlines and United Airlines also aren’t currently customizing baskets of products and services for specific customers. “We don’t have information to share on corporate bundles at this time,” according to an AA spokesperson. At United, “what is available now is available to all via,” an official wrote.

The Big Three also have been developing online portals for corporations and TMCs to manage soft-dollar points. Through them, accounts can allocate points for a particular perk for a particular traveler. Some small business programs offer the same for non-contracted accounts.

At JetBlue, the corporate sales team hasn’t seen many requests for custom offers, according to a statement from corporate sales director Robbie Mehoke. “The top needs, like free Wi-Fi,” Mehoke indicated, “are already included in the fares without additional charge.”

Then, of course, there are elite status tiers within frequent flyer programs. Those give a free checked bag and other perks to travelers. Very frequent travelers earn such status themselves. Companies including Relx Group also work with airlines to grant elite status to senior employees.

“We are simply asking our travelers to buy lowest logical fares at the time of purchase,” said Relx global travel director Jim Sisco. “The things they would get in a bundle they are getting anyway, mostly based on elite frequent flyer status.”

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Next Time, Avoid The Snow Disruption

[UPDATE, April 19, 2017: Rebooking service Freebird announced reseller deals with Altour, Options Travel, Safe Harbors Business Travel, Short’s Travel Management, Travel and Transport and Upside Travel. It also picked up additional funding from venture capital firms General Catalyst and Accomplice, and named industry vet Ellen Keszler as another advisor and investor.]

Did today’s blizzard in the Northeast wreck your travel plans? There are a number of developing services that can help corporate travelers avoid such problems.

A first step may be knowing the likelihood that a flight could be disrupted before booking it. Flightsayer, a service from Resilient Ops, presents a score for each flight where 1 represents the smallest chance of a disruption and 10 represent the highest. Scores are based on predictive analytics made possible by algorithms and machine learning using a variety of public and proprietary data sources.

There’s a consumer-facing website. Mobile apps are coming. Flightsayer now aims to penetrate corporate travel.

“It’s really about taking our API and plugging it into third-party technology that TMCs bring to their customers,” said travel business vet Michael Jacques, who in January became the company’s chief commercial officer. He said there has been some interest from a couple large TMCs. In addition to giving clients better information, maybe they’d use the predictive capabilities to know when to staff up.

Jacques also said a few corporate customers are using the service. “Some travel managers will only want to book flights that show up as Flightsayer 1 or 2,” Jacques said. “That could help optimize corporate contracts by taking out the ones that make less sense.”

Jacques said one GDS is testing Flighsayer’s API. He also indicated possible use by airlines themselves, which could make their operations more efficient.

The service for now is focused on the United States and Canada. Jacques said expansion to Europe would occur in the next three to six months, followed by the rest of the world.

Once you booked and are prepping for the trip, maybe bad weather strikes. Or an airline IT or mechanical issue sidelines your plane. Or some other unforeseen event occurs. Now what?


Image: Reuters/Kamil Krzaczynski

Using predictive analytics, Flightsayer also informs users about these issues and presents alternatives.

That’s the primary mission of another relatively new player. For a fee, Freebird gives domestic U.S. travelers protection. It automatically presents to travelers via mobile devices the opportunity to instantly book a new flight once their original is officially cancelled or delayed at least four hours, or if they miss a connection.

Co-founder and CEO Ethan Bernstein during a November interview claimed Freebird can “detect the likelihood of disruption hours and sometimes days before others.”

The company has a direct-to-consumer product but lately it has been focused on TMC reseller arrangements. Flight Centre’s corporate travel division and Casto Travel already have signed up. Bernstein said others are in the pipeline.

Freebird said clients of TMCs can apply the service for specific employee groups (maybe VIPs), for certain types of trips (customer-facing meetings, speaking gigs, etc.) and for specific sets of routes.

Integration is accomplished via APIs. In that way, travelers get messages through whichever platform their TMC uses.

Once travelers accept the alternative flight presented, Freebird does the booking. It integrates with GDSs. All passenger info from the original booking is used for the replacement booking. Freebird uses the TMC’s pseudo city code so the TMC gets credit. The new passenger name record goes directly into the TMC’s systems. Freebird sends a message to the agency’s mid-office informing them of the new PNR. TMCs still handle customer support.

Clients and TMCs can configure Freebird so alternative flights abide by corporate policies. Freebird, though, encourages corporate and TMC users to “open up their policy and not restrict availability in those moments of disruption,” Bernstein said. “Let travelers pick what is best for them.”

The service is priced by flight ($19 one way/$34 roundtrip during an introductory period) or as a subscription. Bernstein said the latter is more suited for corporate travel, with client costs calculated based on a year’s worth of travel data.

He described a “risk model” that the company has been working on. The goal is to understand how likely delays and cancellations are for specific flights and price the product accordingly. For example, Los Angeles-Phoenix in the summer is a much different risk profile than Chicago-Boston in the winter.

A future product expansion would see Freebird using the risk model to inform agencies and travelers about expected delays before they occur. That would allow for more proactive itinerary adjustments.

Marc Casto of Casto Travel today indicated that Freebird is soft-launching for some clients this week.

Travel and Transport also is working on making more informed booking choices. A planned enhancement later this year would enable its point-of-sale information system to estimate the risk of a missed connection. “It would give the agent insight and highlight if there is a back-up,” said vice president of customer solutions Joel Bailey. The first flight choice “may still be the best option for the traveler, but this will allow the agent to consult with them.”

Disruption management is crucial for TMCs. Some have been improving their services in this area. Travel Leaders Corporate, for example, now offers a monitoring and rebooking service via mobile devices. Called Travel Leaders Connect, it informs travelers when flights are disrupted and puts them in touch with a live agent for rebooking.

Airlines, too, have been refining disruption services. Delta, which claimed a first in 2011 when its mobile app began facilitating cancelled or delayed flight rebooking, is working with Travelport on another app, according to Travelport CEO Gordon Wilson.

Wilson played out a scenario during a Feb. 21 interview: “There’s a weather front coming and you are not going to go tonight. You need to have a hotel. We are live-testing an app with Delta at the moment which enables their passengers — according to tier, status or whatever — to get accommodated in real time at a hotel. They don’t have to stand in line.”

Delta officials declined to provide details.

In another recent development, United today announced a new online portal that empowers corporate and TMC clients to, among other things, easily access info on weather waivers.

Additional info: Resilient Ops is about two years old. It received funding from NASA to help build an air traffic control system that addresses both manned and unmanned aircraft. Freebird received funding from General Catalyst, Accomplice and Slow Ventures. Bernstein also mentioned a few angel advisors, including Carlson Wagonlit Travel CEO Kurt Ekert, TripIt co-founder Scott Hintz and travel industry vet Mitch Gross.


Coming From A TMC Near You: Proactive Trip Disruption Services

Airlines Ease Disruptions With New Systems, TMC Processes

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Business Travel’s Personal Toll: Identity Threat Or Reality Check?

Those who travel for business view warnings about the mental and physical hazards either as an “identity threat” or a “more concerning reality check.” This was a finding from an academic study published last week on the reaction to an earlier study exploring the “darker side of hypermobility.”

The first study argued that the perceived glamour of frequent travel overshadows the actual physiological, psychological and social repercussions. It was published in 2015 by Scott A. Cohen from the University of Surrey and Stefan Gössling from Sweden’s Linnaeus University.

Many media outlets reported on it. We alluded to it as part of an exploration into so-called traveler friction.

Due to the large number of user-generated comments from the public about the findings, the researchers took the next step. University of Surrey’s Paul Hanna joined them in authoring “The dark side of business travel: A media comments analysis.”

The trio analyzed 433 comments on 20 news articles about the original study. They found a roughly equal split of positive and negative viewpoints about frequent business travel. They also discerned two “key identities” characterizing the responses.

They called the first group the “flourishing hypermobile.” These commenters saw business travel as “integral” to their identity and their happiness. For them, there may be a bit of “romanticism” in being a world traveler.

They deny business travel’s health implications. Or, they at least do things to overcome them — like diligently exercising and eating well. They don’t dwell on the snafus but rather take “pleasure in overcoming adversity.” They also may show a tendency to try to “outsmart” their employer. “Instead of complaining about having to travel,” wrote one commenter, “embrace the opportunity you have been given to explore different places on your company’s dime!”

personal toll

Image: Reuters/Carlo Allegri

The researchers described this identity type as demonstrating “how control and agency have enabled strategies (pacing oneself, avoiding extra segments, selecting particular flight times)” to minimize business travel stressors.

Flourishing hypermobile commentary also “is littered with tropes of social status symbols.” These related primarily to frequent flyer program tiers and premium classes of service. “All function as an active challenge to the presentation of the negative impacts of frequent business travel,” according to the study, “and help to mobilize and maintain the position of the flourishing hypermobile.” The same is true of free travel earned through loyalty programs.

There also are skeptics in this group. One commenter called the original study “more bovine droppings from ‘academics’ attempting to justify their existence and their large budgets of ‘funding,’ i.e., taxpayers money being squandered on rubbish research.” Another wrote that business travel isn’t the biggest psychological risk; rather, it’s “doom and gloom claims” from researchers with “far too much time on their hands.”

The study’s authors suggested these cynics may be in self-defense mode. It happens “when an individual is faced with the disjuncture between their identity as an individual that participates in a particular activity, and the presentation of evidence that suggests that identity is undesirable.”

They also wrote that those in earlier stages of their careers are “far less likely” to denounce their lifestyle, which would lead to cognitive dissonance.

On the other end, veteran travelers are more likely to criticize frequent travel, perhaps “even regretting their earlier lifestyles.”

The more seasoned are more likely to associate with the study’s second identity type, the “floundering hypermobile.”

These commenters “seek solace” in public discourse highlighting business travel’s risks. They recognize how, for them, it “engenders a fragmented and problematic identity.” Those in this camp want to travel less but emphasize that they can’t.

Some of their remarks convey disempowerment, disorientation, loneliness and distress. “Just the thought of getting on a plane filled me with dread and anxiety,” wrote one. According to another, business travel is “cramped and tiring, [with] crap food and a punishing work schedule in a different time zone.”

There were mentions of coping mechanisms, like drinking alcohol. Sacrificing a home life was a major theme. “Family life?” asked one commenter. “What family? They don’t consider me as one of them!”

Some of those in the floundering group took issue with the notion that business travel is glamorous. In their comments, nostalgia for the idealized view is “presented as an irrational way of thinking,” according to researchers.

“I still know a lot of people who take perverse pride in being stuck on airplanes for a significant proportion of their lives, just as coal miners used to feel macho about going down the pit to get pneumoconiosis,” according to one comment. “Self-deception may be vital when you have no control over your travel plans but for the rest of us avoidance is the nicest strategy of all.”

According to another, “Everyone, including my x-wife (sic) thought I was having ‘the time of my life,’ always in first class, always upgraded, always expensive steak houses, cool cities, top-tier hotels … etc. Reality is it sucked.”

A recent LinkedIn discussion accentuates why people view business travel as either a benefit or burden. It was about a survey finding that 30 percent of respondents would take a pay cut for the opportunity to travel more. The original post drew hundreds of comments. Several were dumbfounded by the data. Some questioned the reliability of the survey’s source. Many guessed that respondents answering that way must have been younger workers who probably have no spouse or children. Clearly the stage of life that people are in highly influences their perspective.


The Cohen, Hanna and Gössling study points to an “emerging research problem” regarding whether and how concerns about well-being affect changes in travel.

The authors painted a rather defeatist picture. Their research indicated that “such changes are unlikely: flourishing hypermobiles are unlikely to change behavior, while floundering hypermobiles viewed reductions in business travel as beyond their perceived locus of control.” They added that it would be hard to change the public perception that business travel is an occupational perk.

As a result, they argued that a “repositioning” of how business travel is perceived must stem from “structural transitions” within organizations.

Getting there may require a few things. For example, “new lines” of study should tie together human resources management, travel management, safety regulations and a deeper understanding of the health consequences of frequent travel.

More tangibly, the study suggested organizations adopt more employer-friendly policies: encouraging remote conferencing when in-person interaction is not crucial; limiting employees’ nights away from home and how often they travel long distances; allowing premium class on those long trips; requiring rest between them; bundling multiple trips into single itineraries when geography permits; and disfavoring connecting flights.

Additional info: The authors noted that public discourse on business travel is “overwhelmingly” positive. Though some studies have addressed the negative effects, they are “far less prominent.”

Though the original study discussed frequent leisure and business travel, the follow-up focused on comments in “direct response to media reporting on the business travel aspects” of the study.

The authors pointed out that the 433 comments reviewed are “not representative of the wider population.” They came only from individuals who (presumably) read one of the articles and were willing to publicly post a comment. These individuals “almost exclusively” were current or former frequent business travelers, leaving out the perspectives of frequent travelers’ family members. Demographics of those submitting comments were not available. Skews based on gender or geography, for example, “are not objectively identifiable.”

The researchers analyzed comments on articles published about the first study in these media outlets: Daily Mail, Der Standard, Fast Company, FAZ, Financial Times, Frugal Travel Guy, Huffington Post, Lawyers Weekly, Mashable, ND TV, News Medical,, One Mile At A Time, Science 2.0, Smart Company, Smarter Travel, The Advertiser, The Economist, The Telegraph and Zeit Online.

Here’s the second study’s formal citation: Cohen, S.A., et al. The dark side of business travel: A media comments analysis. Transport. Res. Part D (2017)

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Defense Department Identifies Concur As Vendor For DTS Pilot

The U.S. Department of Defense finally identified the commercial travel system it’s been piloting since June 2016. No one should be surprised that it’s market leader Concur Travel and Expense.

A DOD official told The Company Dime that the pilot is designed to evaluate “the out-of-the-box capability of the commercial-off-the-shelf, software-as-a-service product to meet DOD travel requirements.” The official said the pilot isn’t “a new Defense Travel System, and this is not a new procurement.” Rather, the pilot will inform “future procurement strategy for travel system modernization.”

Primary DTS contractor Northrop Grumman supports the pilot under an existing contract.

The pilot started with a “simplified rule set” taken from the Joint Travel Regulations. It is scheduled to run for about 18 months.

According to information sent by the official, DOD is using “an agile implementation approach.” That means no customization.

“This will allow the department to assess the feasibility of the COTS/SAAS solution as well as identify opportunities for policy simplification and changes to current DOD business processes,” according to the representative.

Defense Travel System

Image: Thinkstock

The next steps are to add users, expand the rule set and test connections to DOD’s financial systems.

Scores of civilian federal agencies use the E-Gov Travel Service. Current vendors are Concur (part of Germany’s SAP) and CWTSatoTravel (part of Carlson Wagonlit Travel). Asked if DOD looked at implementing ETS2, the official wrote: “In making their recommendations for DOD travel system modernization, the U.S. Digital Service considered other travel systems, including systems used by other federal agencies. Their recommendation was to test the feasibility of using a commercial-off-the-shelf, software-as-a-service product for travel reservations and expense management.”

According to a U.S. Digital Service December 2016 report to Congress, DOD spends $8.7 billion on travel annually. DTS accounts for $3.5 billion.

Officials from Concur and CWT declined to comment for this article. Both supported last week’s GovTravels 2017 event organized by the National Defense Transportation Association.

Marques Tibbs-Brewer, a Concur regional sales executive, spoke there during a panel discussion. Later, on NDTA’s Facebook page, he discussed DOD’s new approach. “Right now, the government uses very specialized products that the rest of the world isn’t using,” he said. “Getting access to the commercial environment will allow them to refine their processes based upon best practices throughout the travel industry.”

More effective policy implementation and “access to innovation,” Tibbs-Brewer said, would mean a better user experience. He added that a commercial approach improves access to data, and therefore decision-making, “as opposed to arbitrarily making decisions based on assumptions or presumptions or even reputation.”

Tibbs-Brewer pointed to security as one challenge. Protecting information is important, he said, but not “over protecting it to the point where it doesn’t result in a good user experience.”

Meanwhile, DOD is gearing up for future travel management company solicitations. A request for information in January sought input. Listed interested vendors include Atlas Travel and Technology Group, BCD Travel, CI Azumano Travel, Cornerstone Information Systems and Sun Travel.

DOD also is piloting its first centralized lodging program. It began in summer 2015 with seven sites and, as of January 2017, had grown to 50. The program will run through 2019.

According to the DOD official, the lodging pilot so far has helped the department save $640 million.

Preferred properties have a 78 percent customer satisfaction rate, according to DOD traveler surveys last year. DOD also noted that it began conducting site inspections to ensure properties meet its safety standards.


DOD Piloting New Defense Travel System, Asking For Travel Management Company Capabilities

CWTSatoTravel Wins 20 ETS2 Accounts, Preps Government App

With Its Replacement Under Consideration, Old Defense Travel System Gets New Lodging Capability

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Chasing Lyft And Uber, Ground Transportation Industry Pools Resources

[UPDATE, March 10, 2017: In another example of ground transport convergence, Hertz Europe aligned with Blacklane to provide cars with professional drivers. The “first stage” of an international roll-out brought the program to nine European countries. Customers can request airport transfers, limousines and other chauffeured services via direct Hertz sales channels. The company said it’s aiming to provide “increasingly comprehensive transportation solutions.”]

A lot is happening in the B2B ground transport sector, with operators and supporting technology firms converging. Much of the action is in response to transportation network companies Uber and Lyft. When the dust settles, customers will have wider access in more distribution channels to cars and drivers providing pre-reserved and on-demand services.

It will be too late for some players. Ask travel managers about ground transportation and they invariably start discussing the ride-hailing companies. Traditional operators many times are an afterthought.

To be sure, there will be fewer black car and limo operators as the fragmented market consolidates. Among the biggest, London-based Addison Lee recently bought Flyte Tyme, one of the largest chauffeured transportation providers in the United States. There’s also plenty of activity among the industry’s software and platform providers. Some focus on systems integration for operators. Others are marketplaces. A few are both.

When Marcou Transportation Group in January announced that it bought GroundLink and Limo Anywhere, it tied a lot together. Marcou is the parent of Dav El Boston Coach, operator of the largest U.S. chauffeured fleet, according to LCT Magazine. GroundLink uses technology to connect customers with executive black cars, and has an on-demand service running in Chicago and New York. The service is in beta in Los Angeles and queued up for Dallas this summer. Limo Anywhere provides reservations and dispatch software to 4,000 limo and black car operators.

“We are on a dual track,” said Scott Solombrino, president and CEO of Dav El Chauffeured Transportation Network and Boston Coach. That means building global supply for corporate customers and also aligning technology. “You can’t do one without the other,” Solombrino said. “We want the technology, we want the bricks and mortar and we want to own distribution.”

Scott Solombrino

Scott Solombrino, president and CEO, Dav El/Boston Coach

The movement in the market “is really a technology push, with Marcou at the top and Uber at the bottom,” said GoldSpring Consulting’s Bill Knepper. “They are approaching the same market from different sides.” The union between tech firms and the bricks and mortar, he said, is “about scale and taking cost out.”

Before buying Flyte Tyme, Addison Lee in 2016 purchased Tristar Worldwide. According to The Telegraph, the company made 10 acquisitions during the past six years.

Pat Charla from limo marketing agency Drive Profit said the on-demand experience popularized by Lyft and Uber “is hitting the big guys much harder” in primary business markets than in secondary and tertiary markets. At the same time, Charla said, “it’s hard for a five-car operator to compete in markets with a few dominant players.” LCT Magazine in 2017 already reported several acquisitions among local and regional operators.

Knepper thinks the industry will remain competitive — for now. “The days are numbered for small operators,” he said. “They are just too vulnerable” since they won’t have much control over technology owned by their larger rivals.

“There is a lot of instability in the marketplace,” Solombrino said. “The market is definitely shrinking. People get squeezed out everyday. We think that trend won’t change.” He said Marcou is carefully picking its spots in “an interesting battle” against the likes of Addison Lee.

Naturally, consumers in any consolidating industry fear higher prices, but Solombrino said Marcou’s growth push isn’t about that. “How can we pull in efficiencies and give corporations compelling reasons to have mandates to not use TNCs?” he asked. “It’s about mobile apps, how robust the back end is and what the front end user interface looks like.” Technology advances, he said, provide an opportunity to “maintain pricing” on a better platform.

GroundLink CEO Liz Carisone, who is staying with the company, said “people are starting to affiliate on networks to get scale. Those that are not, and don’t have access to sophisticated mobile technology,” she said, likely will be left behind.

Several other tech-enabled networks are pursuing greater reach. Like GroundLink, one of their selling points is professional drivers that help companies abide by duty of care obligations. Theirs is another kind of supply consolidation.

Chauffeur service booking platform iCars, for example, on Jan. 1 acquired, an online marketplace. The combined entity provides on-demand, near-demand and traditional reservations (depending on the market). A B2B portal has admin tools for corporate clients, who can configure the system with preferred suppliers.

ICars has a mobile app, and connections to Concur and the Sabre Red agent desktop. President Ed Silver said the company is working on deeper integration with GDSs and agency back-office systems. “We see players working more closely with each other, empowered by technology,” he said. “They can have single look-and-feel [for user interfaces], be a single merchant of record and realize benefits they couldn’t by themselves as small operators.”

Backed by Daimler, Blacklane is another intermediary. It works with 10,000 professional drivers in 250 cities around the globe. The company recently announced an agreement to connect with reservations platform GroundSpan, which in turn connects to various corporate travel points of sale.

Blacklane’s approach is to direct ride requests — from inbound international travelers, for example — to local providers. Better vehicle utilization at those providers is made possible by the company’s dispatching technology. That means cheaper rates for customers than pricing from separate, individual relationships with operators, said chief revenue officer Sascha Meskendahl.

Blacklane also has tools for admins and a mobile app for travelers. It’s connected with Sabre TripCase and the Amadeus agent desktop. Work is ongoing to integrate with the Amadeus corporate self-booking tools. The deal with GroundSpan brings it to Concur Travel, Sabre (the GetThere booking tool and Red desktop) and Travelport’s GDSs and Smartpoint agent desktop.

GroundSpan works with thousands of operators. It added Addison Lee last month. “That really speaks to the trends in the industry and the new thinking,” said GroundSpan president Tony Bonanno. “Before this, companies like Addison Lee didn’t see the value in third-party distribution.”

Bonanno claimed that new automation and liability concerns related to TNCs has meant “more attention to and consolidation of preferred corporate programs in the ground transportation space than I have seen in my 20 years in the business.” The confluence of factors, he said, has focused corporate procurement and risk management teams on providing travelers easily accessible alternatives to Uber and Lyft.

Bonanno said the company is working with a growing number of TMCs outside the United States as more corporate buyers try to globalize ground programs.

2017 Lincoln Continental

Meanwhile, six-year-old Mozio is a bit different. It brings together various transport options ranging from black cars from Carey International and on-demand services to taxis, airport shuttles, rail and even public transport. Heathrow Express and Supershuttle are participants. Mozio is aligned with Carlson Wagonlit Travel, which is an investor along with JetBlue Technology Ventures and others.

“Local transportation will always be multi-modal. You need a healthy combination of options to help navigate that,” said Mozio CEO David Litwak. He said no other corporate travel tech intermediaries are addressing public transit, “yet tons of companies have policies saying use public transit” when it is reasonable to do so.

Mozio is piloting a booking portal for agencies and end-user corporate clients. It includes traveler profiles. An iOS app is about two months out, with one for Android expected a few months later. While integration with GDSs is underway, Litwak said the bigger priority is aligning with agency back-office systems.

Describing how clients may choose to configure the system, Litwak said some “want to use this particular company if a car is within five minutes. If not, hail a different company.”

Deem is another company with designs on boosting its ground transportation service. A few months after the company acquired hotel tech firm Olset, it moved Olset’s founder and CEO Gadi Bashvitz into the lead role at Deem’s Car Service.

Bashvitz said Deem now is determining how to balance the three “pillars” of its ground transportation services: supplying back-office systems (it acquired Whisk, a provider of that technology, about a year ago), aggregating supply from operators and their affiliates, and staking a claim in the on-demand market.

Bashvitz said there is plenty to consider in terms of providing sufficient inventory, making consistent the user experience and evaluating features related to ride tracking and creative uses of global positioning system technology.

Deem’s car service can connect to other online booking tools and travel agent systems. But Bashvitz said one Deem advantage is that its core travel booking platform pairs nicely with the car service side of the house. He talked up the idea of car attachment — similar to hotel attachment — whereby travelers are encouraged to add ground transportation to the various legs of their trips.

Bashvitz noted that in the February release of the travel booking tool, car reservations now are integrated into passenger name records. As a result, if a traveler’s flight schedule changes, the car service reservation can automatically update.

Deeper behind the scenes is Gridd Technologies. It aims to be the glue linking disparate dispatch systems. The idea is to help operators and affiliates communicate and better share passengers. CEO Amir Zafar said a customer of one operator would book through, say, that operator’s mobile app and be picked up by a car from a different operator. “To them it feels like a worldwide network on the same technology even though it isn’t,” he said. “The more access to inventory and partners, the better. It allows different networks to become bigger networks.”

This means that, for example, a car dropping off a passenger at the airport is available to accommodate a partner’s client who is just landing.

Users of Gridd’s Gnet platform include reservations and dispatch software providers Fasttrack and Livery Coach. Drive Profit’s Charla, a Gridd partner, said those companies are sending and receiving pre-reserved ride requests, as are a few players in Europe. LimoAnywhere is in beta on the Gnet platform.

Charla remarked on how the tone among these players and others has become more friendly in the past year. “They know it is the way to stay relevant,” she said.


Sources: Uber For Business Premium Isn’t Worth It

Willing To Negotiate, Lyft Cultivates Friendly Image

Self-Driving Cars: Time To Update Risk Policies

Accenture Plans To Endorse Uber For Employees

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