Virtual payment in corporate travel is ready to break out. You’ve heard that before? With Concur about to announce virtual card capability for self-booking tool users, it feels like the end of the beginning.
Virtual payment finally is moving beyond the familiar use cases that usually don’t involve self-booking — hotel reservations for contractors, interviewees, new hires and other infrequent travelers. V-card providers said a growing number of airline transactions are paid through such means. That’s for both low-cost carriers that often require instant purchases and major network airlines.
For the Concur Travel client base, an announcement is expected during next week’s Global Business Travel Association conference. Concur officials wouldn’t provide details. According to a product release video announcement, though, virtual pay as a new payment option within Concur Travel will start with “GDS hotels,” followed by flight and rail. Conferma is the tech partner.
“As with Concur Travel, approved users will be able to use virtual cards when booking GDS hotels via the mobile device,” according to a Concur user guide updated in late June.
The guide noted that a virtual payment routine for hotel bookings within Concur’s Compleat mid-office tool went live in 2016. The plan is to add air bookings this year. That routine, Concur added, supports Conferma and CSI GlobalVCard, and works “regardless of source, including agent-initiated transactions.”
For Concur Travel, the guide suggested users review their form of payment configuration to be sure there’s no conflict between virtual cards and pre-existing ghost cards. It also indicated that users must work with their travel management companies for proper configurations.
When users change hotel reservations, updates would go to Conferma using the same virtual account number. Cancelling a booking cancels the virtual card, unless the hotel levies a cancellation fee (which would be charged to that card) or if the reservation was pre-paid.
Concur wrote that it can import virtual card transactions into its expense tool. It also brings in data from MasterCard and AirPlus card feeds. Discussions for the same with American Express and Visa are “underway.”
While it would broaden v-card’s availability through the leading self-booking tool, this won’t be the first time virtual payment appeared in Concur Travel. A few Concur partners previously announced the functionality. Grasp Technologies claimed to be the first.
“We have been in production for almost a year now,” said Grasp virtual payment solutions director Michael Duffy.
Grasp also works with other online booking systems, but Duffy declined to name them. He said Grasp took an agnostic approach by adding virtual card info automatically to credit card data fields within traveler profiles. Most online booking tools, Duffy said, “have a profile base.”
He pointed out that within that profile base, guest profiles often are used for those without their own. GraspPay works for those, too.
To appeal to Grasp’s TMC users and their clients, Duffy said, the process has to be touchless (i.e., lower-cost) and cause no disruption to the traveler’s booking flow. He also said customers didn’t want card swapping; the virtual card number used for the booking would be the one used for payment. Duffy said that was necessary because “sometimes hotels won’t see the form of payment adjustment that happens afterward.”
Asked about lessons learned in the past year, Duffy mentioned the nuances and various business rules associated with user companies. For example, more companies than Grasp expected wanted to use virtual payment for subsets of travelers, maybe sales and marketing teams for example, or only for non-profiled travelers. Grasp changed some of its programming to accommodate such customization.
In April, Gant Travel Management announced that its Strategic Pay system integrates with Compleat and Conferma. It allows virtual payments for both Concur Travel and agent-initiated bookings. Harmony Healthcare is up and running and Gant president Patrick Linnihan said more clients would be ready to go once they iron out banking relationships.
The system is live for hotel bookings; support for air bookings is expected soon. Gant’s Strategic Pay project leader Penny Spangler said work is underway with BookingBuilder and Conferma to handle virtual payments to low-cost carriers.
Linnihan said the process for self-bookings in Concur and agent bookings is similar, leaning on “homogenous integration at the mid-office level.” Client travel managers determine the criteria dictating when virtual cards should automatically be applied. “We have greater flexibility with that trigger,” Spangler said.
Among other recent developments, AmTrav Corporate Travel Management hooked up its new booking tool to enable payments through CSI globalVCard’s virtual accounts. It’s initially covering hotel reservations. Support for airline tickets and car rentals is “forthcoming.”
GlobalvCard Travel SVP Juliann Pless told The Company Dime that her company also is “agnostic” in terms of booking tools. “Our integrations take place through the mid-office robotics/automation process,” she wrote in an email. “Through our TMC partnerships and mid-office partners we can work with the TMCs’ booking tools of choice due to where our integrations sit within each partnership type.”
Like Grasp, U.S. Bank and partner Adelman Travel use the credit card field in traveler profiles to facilitate virtual payment for mutual customers. U.S. Bank SVP Bradley Matthews said the configuration might be different for individual bank clients. The duo offers virtual accounts for air and hotel bookings. “This is a comprehensive solution, for both the one-off needs of infrequent traveler and also the mainstay traveler going through a booking portal,” Matthews said.
According to an Adelman official, virtual payment “is not dependent on a single booking tool.”
Matthews noted that more customers than anticipated wanted virtual card transactions, particularly for air, to appear in individual travelers’ expense reports. That allows users to allocate expenses. He said U.S. Bank worked with Adelman and Concur to make that happen.
Meanwhile, in February, New Zealand-based booking and expense system provider Serko announced a new virtual payment partnership with Conferma.
World Travel Inc. also uses Conferma. According to the TMC’s May newsletter, for corporate self-bookings World Travel can switch virtual pay functionality on and off based on specific traveler names and other criteria. “Or, if you already have a hotel guarantee card set in your travelers’ profiles, the system can be programmed to recognize that card number and automatically replace it with a virtual card,” the agency explained. As it processes the booking, the TMC’s system requests from Conferma a virtual card number allocated to that client and inserts it into the passenger name record.
“We see a lot of demand for air,” said Conferma CEO Simon Barker, speaking during the May 2017 episode of The Company Dime Teleconference. “It started with non-GDS air but that has propagated into traditional ARC-based air. As air becomes more fragmented — whether a direct connect or through some form of switch — the drive is to unify the data across all possible air booking channels and deliver that in one place.”
Additional info: According to the Concur user guide, custom trip fields are not supported for virtual payment, “but it is something Concur is considering for the future.” Concur also noted that Conferma “typically” charges a fee for each virtual card number it generates and stores data in its data center located in the United Kingdom.
Two education sessions at next week’s GBTA conference will focus specifically on virtual payment (more info here and here). The association previously assembled a virtual payment task force with various industry constituents. Citi is a participant. “The idea is to figure out standards for how virtual cards would be implemented in travel,” according to Citi managing director Gonca Latif-Schmitt, also speaking during the May Teleconference. “The demand is pent up.”