From The FieldBringing competition and rewards into travel programs is a debatable practice. Some don’t see reason enough to incentivize employees for following the rules. Others see room to drive engagement and policy compliance in a fun, employee-centric way — and save money at the same time. For those leaning toward the latter mindset, Philips Latin America regional business travel manager Fernão Loureiro has a playbook.

Much has been said about gamification in theory, but few of us had the opportunity to deploy it. It is the kind of initiative that gives our travel program visibility and takes management to another level of maturity, but it’s hard to find the time. In this post I will share a model used at one of my former companies. It is not perfect. Some parts may not fit your company or your travel program, but it can give you a good idea how to get started.

The most difficult part is undoubtedly the “political sewing” required. That means working with your organization’s board and several other departments. In particular, human resources has to give its endorsement since gamification involves competition between employees. Compliance must be involved because it usually includes rewards. (Are you buying tickets to be given away as prizes or getting them from the preferred suppliers?)

Measurement source: There are a lot of errors in reporting from our travel management companies, but it is still the best option available. The alternatives are online booking tool reports (which, for many companies, do not include offline transactions) or credit card reports.

Periodicity: Do not calculate employee performance by quarter, semester or year. Making it monthly will keep people interested and instigate competition between them.

Target audience: Will you calculate by department, cost center or project, or for each individual traveler? In the case of travelers, if the winner has an assistant who makes the reservations, will he or she also be rewarded? Will approvers also be rewarded? Can a board member be rewarded if he or she is an exemplary traveler?

Fernão Loureiro, Philips
Fernão Loureiro, Philips Latin America regional business travel manager

I suggest a structure with three rewards: the most compliant traveler, the most compliant booker and the most efficient approver (perhaps the boss of the best traveler).

Travel frequency presents a problem. The HR assistant who travels once a year cannot compete with the sales manager who travels 30 times. Consider categorizing travelers based on how often they travel: fewer than 10 trips in a year, 11 to 20 trips and more than 20. Identify winners for each category.

One option is to exclude from the competition those who take fewer than 10 trips annually, but first analyze your data. If 30 percent of your volume is generated by those people, you should keep them in the competition.

Earning Points

Airline Ticket Purchases

• Purchasing tickets further in advance than policy requires: +2 points
• Purchasing tickets as far in advance as policy requires: +1 point
• Purchasing tickets closer in than policy requires: -1 point
• Purchasing the lowest fare, or a fare under the company’s approved cap for the route: +1 point
• Traveling with a preferred airline: +1 point
• Exchanging a ticket that requires paying a fee and the fare differential: -2 points
• Exchanging a ticket that requires paying a fee but no fare differential: -1 point
• Remembering to request a refund, when necessary and if applicable: +1 point
• Finishing a trip within a single day, no hotel needed: + 2 points

In the case of ticket exchanges, the idea is to reward (or not penalize) those who organize trips with exactness, and therefore don’t need to make exchanges. Of course changes sometimes happen beyond the traveler’s control, but if we allow for the many exceptions, they end up swallowing the whole project and the game loses its meaning.

Ticket refunds can come with fees levied by the airline or the TMC processing them, but travelers earn a point for recovering company money.

Hotel Reservations

• Booking further in advance than policy requires for air: +2 points (this is very important for guaranteeing preferential rates and availability)
• Booking as far in advance as policy requires for air: +1 point
• Choosing the lowest rate, or a rate under the company’s approved cap for the city: +1 point
• Staying at a preferred brand: +1 point
• Staying at a preferred property: +1 point
• Booking via the online booking tool when booking the air ticket (to avoid paying two TMC fees, which may depend on contracted TMC pricing, and to maintain visibility): +2 points
• Booking via the online booking tool, hotel only: +1 point

Car Rental Reservations:

• Booking further in advance than policy requires for air: +2 points
• Booking as far in advance as policy requires for air: +1 point
• Choosing the lowest rate, or a rate under the company’s approved cap for the city: +1 point
• Using a preferred supplier: +1 point
• Using an economy class car: +1 point
• Booking via the online booking tool when booking the air ticket: +2 points
• Booking via the online booking tool, car only: +1 point
• Avoiding fines: +2 points
• Returning a rental car (or a company-leased car) undamaged: +2 points

It would be great to also recognize travelers who save by forgoing GPS device rentals and returning cars with full tanks. However, some of this post-booking information needs to come from the rental company itself.

Other Ideas:

For the potential point-earning items below you will need to consult other sources to help improve measurement and engage your colleagues.

• Participating in satisfaction surveys (conducted internally or by the TMC): +1 point for each response
• Claiming expenses within the period determined in the travel expense policy: +1 point for each timely claim
• Participating in travel training, workshops, travel days, etc.: +1 point for each
• Calling emergency or special services unnecessarily when a regular travel counselor would do: -2 points for each interaction.

There is no perfect formula for gamification within a travel policy. We can establish a general base for processes and ideas, but each company (and each department) has its own reality. As you develop your program, recognize that it will be hard work.

But as the old adage goes, we won’t get different results by always doing the same things.

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  1. Great article. For those with a travel program that would benefit from gamification, some reporting tools have built-in metrics and scoring to make this an easy program to implement – once you are through the internal approval hurdles!

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