From The FieldThere are many lessons to learn by looking through travel program data. The more you dig, the more insights you’ll pick up. Travel Leaders Corporate president Gabe Rizzi lays out some of the genres you should read up on and describes how each can help optimize travel program management.

Corporate travel managers today have a treasure of booking and expense data at their fingertips to view, dissect and analyze. But are you up to date on your reading list from your travel data? Let’s look at some you shouldn’t miss:

• The ‘how-to’: How you can keep reducing your T&E and meetings budgets
• The sexy bestseller: Ways to negotiate better deals with airlines, hotels, car rental agencies and meetings suppliers
• The classic detective story: Investigating which travelers are ignoring your corporate policies and rules, including those on preferred vendors
• The lifestyle piece: Looking at booking data to determine how to make your travelers’ lives easier and more productive
• The mystery novel: Find out about hidden costs and hard-to-track spending
• The ‘must-read’: How you can ensure the safety and security of your travelers
• The economic forecast: Where your company’s overall business cycle is headed

Keep Reducing Costs

Continually reducing your airfares, hotel rates, car rates and meals is a good story that never gets old. But first you need the basics: a modern, sensible travel policy with guidelines or rules that strongly encourage or require travelers to buy airfares in advance, stay in preferred properties, limit meal spending, save on booking fees by buying online and more.

Take the practice of booking in advance. During the June 2018 quarter, we looked at more than 3 million reservations booked by our corporate clients. The average fare booked 21 days in advance was almost 27 percent cheaper than the average for tickets booked within 14 days, and the average fare booked 14 to 20 days in advance was about 18 percent cheaper. Unfortunately, our analysis also showed that only one in four tickets were booked 21 days out. That’s a tremendous opportunity for savings. You should check out your own advance-purchase savings potential by studying your booking data.

Boost Your Supplier Deals

Maybe it seems like you’ve already negotiated all you can from your travel suppliers. But you may find some new room for savings by thinking about the very nature of your travel and then analyzing your associated booking patterns.

Travel Leaders Corporate president Gabe Rizzi

For example, if your travelers are racking up rebooking fees because the nature of their business requires last-minute changes, perhaps you’d be better off negotiating discounts on refundable fares instead of or in addition to nonrefundable fares.

Have you studied your spending related to meetings and combined it with transient spend for extra negotiating leverage? Another best practice: Source at least five properties for meetings in order to get a competitive comparison of available rates and amenities. It’s also a good idea to employ a third party to benchmark any rates you’re offered against what other companies pay that vendor.

End Noncompliance

Here’s your chance to do a bit of investigative work! Your travel data should identify who is ignoring your corporate policies and hard-won negotiated rates with preferred suppliers. Look for employees booking directly with suppliers – thereby forgoing negotiated deals. You’ll likely find that many do this to rack up points in supplier loyalty programs. Then there are those who follow the rules and book with the designated TMC. But that’s only half the story. Follow the trail to ensure they’ve actually stayed at a preferred hotel. Your expense data gleaned from credit card reports is another great source to learn what’s actually being spent versus what’s booked.

Rewarding Travelers

The best source to gauge whether your travelers are happy is their direct input, often from surveys. If you don’t have that information at hand, look at the hours and times of day they’re traveling, and the frequency of cancellations and disruptions. Then look at the level of service they’re receiving. Next, have a conversation with their managers or directors to find out if these travelers are highly productive for your company. Are they star performers when it comes to closing deals and pulling in revenue? If so, you may want to explore special travel policies for this subset of travelers that allow them to book a better seat, purchase early boarding privileges or stay in an upgraded hotel room. If your company allows traveling executives more leniency, why not reward super-productive sales folks the same way?

Greater Insights Into Spending

Card and expense management data can shine a light on otherwise mysterious categories that traditionally fall outside the scope of business travel. This data will reveal other costs such as dining, parking, mileage, ground transportation and small meetings. This is another opportunity to control costs and establish preferred partnerships.

Good Data Improves Safety

Keeping your travelers safe and secure is the top priority in our uncertain world. For this reason, many companies invested in software that immediately shows the whereabouts of traveling employees. You can also turn to your air and hotel booking data to help locate travelers. But that’s where many companies come up short because about 50 percent of business travelers book hotels on their own instead of via a TMC or other designated channel. When speaking to your travelers about the benefits of complying with travel policy, weave in the message that it will help keep them safe, too. When sourcing hotels, study crime statistics for property locations. Also make sure the hotel has emergency procedures to keep their guests safe during incidents.

Forecast Business Trends

Analyzing your travel data can also help your company monitor business trends. Generally, it’s been my experience that a company’s level of business travel is very closely aligned with its business cycles. There are exceptions, but when business travel falls, it’s usually a sign that market conditions are deteriorating. The reverse is true, too. Recently, the head of a Fortune 500 company told me he was cutting back on travel. Yet he quickly followed up by saying that tactic wouldn’t be sustainable. Employees will eventually start traveling again to create business opportunities. With your bird’s eye view of corporate travel spend, you can be a valued advisor to the company on overall business trends.

There’s no reading between the lines here. Your travel data has many stories to tell. If you pay close attention, you can leverage that information to bring greater value to your corporation, reduce risk and benefit travelers. Happy reading.

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