Today’s advisor is travel management veteran Andy Menkes of Partnership Travel Consulting. He writes that while data from travel management companies has improved over the years, travel program managers must do their due diligence. That means plugging gaps and checking everything.

President Ronald Reagan made the phrase “trust, but verify” famous in the United States back in the mid-1980s when he was negotiating a nuclear arms treaty with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The risks of relying on travel data are much less severe than a nuclear missile, but the fallout from using flawed data could impact your job security.

For decades, corporations and their travel managers have relied on TMC data as a source of financial information that can be shared internally with a high degree of confidence. The reality is that the data, which is really GDS-sourced data, has its pros and cons.

On the plus side, TMC data is a valuable tool for pre-trip cost avoidance by capturing non-compliant bookings and changing behavior before the expense is incurred. Examples include preventing bookings with non-preferred suppliers or airfares higher than the “lowest logical.”

Buyers also can use TMC data to improve the hotel “attachment” rate, which is still around 50 percent in the managed travel space.

But there are downsides.

You can comfortably rely on the accuracy of TMC data as it applies to airfares in that the ticket number, routing, amount paid, etc., map exactly to what the airline receives — unless the traveler makes a change to that PNR directly with the carrier. Ancillary revenue for the airlines exceeded $80 billion in 2017, yet TMC data cannot capture information on much more than a value-add preferred seat reserved at the time of booking (depending on the airline). Traveler purchases of priority boarding, priority seating, on-board meals, airline lounge passes or memberships and hotel upgrades upon check-in all produce spending data that is not readily available.

Partnership Travel Consulting founder Andy Menkes

The real challenges with TMC data relate to hotel and car rental spend. The TMC data (from the GDS) will show the hotel room rate and number of nights, but the total cost of that room will be much higher than reported due to local taxes and fees. Any additional charges to the room further widen the gap in data credibility.

Meanwhile, anyone who has ever rented a car knows that the $59 daily rate ends up being closer to $89 by the time you add local fees, taxes and surcharges.

It would be worthwhile to spend time with your TMC account manager to better understand how data flows from the passenger name record to the agency back office and ultimately into a reporting tool. One area of concern is changes to a PNR. If you add or change a hotel segment after the airline ticket has been issued, that updated hotel information will not be recorded in the TMC’s reports — unless the agent “forces” the PNR into the TMC back office.

Currency used and conversion rates also can further erode data quality. I highly recommend a review of global data based on those. Unfortunately, there is no single source from which to get complete data. Generally speaking, suppliers have the best data because their numbers are consumed spend, not booked spend. Suppliers have access to Prism data, GDS data (including Marketing Information Data Transfer, or MIDT) and data from other third parties.

The best sources of spend data for a travel manager are the corporate card and internal expense management system.

The key to managing all this disparate data is to identify a qualified third party data aggregator that can cleanse the data, normalize it and provide the analytics to find the gaps between booked and consumed data.

TMCs have vastly improved the quality of their data over the years, and generally speaking, you can trust it. But it’s critical that you also verify the data. Before you send out to company leaders those monthly executive travel dashboards, take the time to validate the data that you are collecting. Engage a qualified entity (which could be your TMC or an outside supplier) to audit, improve and validate the quality of the data so that you can turn it into meaningful business intelligence.

Once you have validated your data quality, ensure that you don’t fall into the trap of reporting numbers that are misleading or irrelevant. Two examples are average ticket price and average hotel rates. Unless you are comparing an identical city pair in the same cabin class, either over time or versus peer organizations, the average ticket price as a summary number for your company is meaningless. The same holds true for an average hotel rate; it will vary by city and by seasonality.

Find out what metrics your internal audience wants to see and report those numbers directly. That means comparing spend to budget, and examining compliance levels within the organization. Once you have aligned with your internal stakeholders, you can provide them with strategies to optimize their travel spend.

Don’t simply generate monthly travel spend reports that don’t tie to the general ledger — and are probably not even being reviewed, let alone appreciated.

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  1. Good piece Andy and furthers the case for a holistic approach to managing your data as a corporation. A minimum, you need to aggregate, consolidate, cleanse, and normalize TMC, expense, and credit card data. This will make sure you account for all spend and provide the additional detail needed to see the true costs of travel on an individual and organizational business. Thanks for sharing your insights!

  2. You make a good point, Andy, in advising against generating monthly travel spend reports that don’t tie to the general ledger. Good data is critical, but relevant data and its use in driving program improvement is even more so!

  3. Hi Andy, you make valid points on these “extras” and its a growing challenge now especially now that many airlines charge for meals, priority boarding, etc. Key is to bring together the card/expense/travel data which is an area we have some clients on today. Only this way do you then get the true cost I believe.

  4. I couldn’t have said it better myself Andy. What most folks don’t realize is that the challenge is not just data quality but in how the different data sources interact with one another and are managed. Data quality is an ongoing issue. Just because I get a data file in from a TMC, supplier, GDS, credit card company or expense management firm today, this week, or this month does not ensure that the next feed we get from that data supplier is 100 percent accurate, so every transaction must be audited and quality checked. Third-party data aggregators have differing approaches to how they handle data quality and data management. Much of the heavy lifting is in how the data interacts from source to source. We call this data fusion. There is tremendous value in checking for things like duplicates, parsing errors and/or missing data to ensure that when the result sets are matched and mapped back to a company corporate hierarchy that the information mirrors your GL.

  5. Great perspective, Andy. I would add that it’s important to ensure you leverage all available data sources as well. Don’t rely only on TMC data, or only on supplier data, but ensure you utilize data feeds from across your solution partners. You can then reconcile those areas that can have a significant impact to drive to desired outcomes. Good data insights can improve policy compliance, help capture cost savings, and ensure traveler security and experience.

  6. What continues to baffle me with TMC data is the degree to which all of the providers still screw up on basic data points such as: incorrect description of the aircraft cabin type (showing “first class” when the fare is actually “premium economy”), or lowest logical fares that are HIGHER than the fare paid! These things don’t show up on summary reports, but when an executive asks for details behind the numbers, it is quite embarrassing to realize that much of the underlying data is garbage, resulting in a total loss of credibility for the TM and the TMC.

  7. Great article, thank you Andy for putting this all down. I’m a huge supporter of looking at the full data set to inform decisions/executive dashboards. TMC data is one piece of the puzzle and leaves the reader woefully uninformed if that is the single source of truth. It will never tie back to the general ledger and any attempt to present it in an executive forum will lead to questions that can’t be accurately answered. TMC data cleanliness continues to be a challenge as well. Same hotel with three different variations on the name, etc. Great article, thank you for sharing this perspective.

  8. Thanks for this, Andy. Well summarized. I agree with your points, as well as many of the comments from the contributors, regarding data quality and source.

    The real issue as I see it is that there really is not singular global service platform that exists within any TMC. Much of that is driven by content parity within geographies used by various partner agencies using different content sources. With that configuration, you are going to run into anomalous data, as Michelle mentioned. Hotel data in a global offering is notoriously poor due to the source of the content and the primary TMC has no ability to control the quality of the data presented to them by the partner agency.

    I also agree that using TMC data only is just flat. Integrating with card and expense data is a little richer and taking it a step further and using your historical data to drive dynamic policy is several steps beyond that.

  9. Nice piece Andy. At its highest level the travel manager spend-related data issue is spend visibility vs GL. If you start with this question and work backwards the data requirements/gathering starts to shift. Maybe TMC data becomes irrelevant …. ?!

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