Airbase Review and Alternatives
Airbase offers a solid spend management solution with controls to pre-approve every transaction, real-time visibility of transactions, spend analytics and reporting. Yet, Airbase drops the ball in several areas that may prove to be deal-breakers including a lack of travel management and aggressive pricing.
Airbase offers a spend management tool that promises to help businesses of all sizes control company-wide spend.
This article will guide you on how Airbase works and whether you should be using it. In this article, you’ll get:
- A breakdown of Airbase’s expense management offering
- How to choose the ideal spend management software for your business’s needs
- How Airbase compares with the alternatives you may be considering, and
What is Airbase?
Airbase offers an intelligent expense management tool that empowers finance teams to track and control spending, and equip employees to spend flexibly.
Airbase features across several software categories because of the various functionalities built into it. It serves as an expense management tool, a SaaS spend management software, an enterprise payments product, and accounts payable invoicing software.
Does Airbase help you control spend?
Airbase is an A-class spend management tool built with dynamic workflows to track and manage where expensing dollars are flowing. Airbase achieves this via a combination of real-time spend reporting and custom expense cards with dynamic budgeting and limits.
Does Airbase control spend before it happens or after the fact?
Airbase has built a powerful approval engine into their product that notifies finance controllers of every transaction the instant it’s made. Pre-approvals mean that your finance team can keep a tight leash on expenses and only authorize legitimate, complaint spending.
Does Airbase control spend through prevention, punishment, or not at all?
Airbase favors a mix of outright prevention and restriction to ensure out-of-policy spending doesn’t happen in the first place. Using detailed spend rules, your finance team can designate specific controllers to review transactions, depending on pre-set factors like transaction volume and department.
Should any employees violate policies, say delay receipts for a set time duration, their access can be restricted until they get back in line.
Is Airbase easy to use for employees, or will they avoid it?
The challenge of expense management UX is designing a product that gives your finance team control without becoming a nightmare that employees actively avoid. Avoidance causes leakage, which defeats the purpose of a spend management tool.
With expense cards paired with an app on your employees’ end, Airbase simplifies the user experience to one they can adopt with minimal effort.
On finance’s end, detailed spend reports, real-time notifications, granular controls, and a welcoming UX (via mobile and web) creates an empowering experience.
Does Airbase give you visibility into spending?
The aim of expense management is efficiency. And it’s a no-brainer that you can’t optimize what you can’t see.
Airbase offers powerful real-time reporting that gives your finance team a current overview of your company-wide expenses. This is possible thanks to a reporting suite complete with real-time analytics, custom reports, and budget-to-actual tracking.
With Airbase, reports are delivered up-to-the-minute to ensure finance teams can keep a finger on the company’s pulse and track expenses as they happen. Custom reports with granular filtering empower controllers to filter expenses down to payment type, method, vendor, owner, amount, and transaction status. These reports can be exported (CSV or Excel) for further financial planning and analysis.
Overall, Airbase offers a reliable, easy-to-adopt reporting functionality for finance teams of all sizes. Using Airbase, controllers can visualize the data they need to close books with ease and keep track of reports via dashboards, filtered views, and real-time transaction notifications.
Does Airbase help you analyze spend?
Visibility is just one angle of the expense management equation. With your spend management data handy, the next step is to analyze it, pick out the trends, and discover where your finances are headed.
Budget to actual reporting appears to be the only in-built spend analysis feature Airbase offers. This means finance teams will need to export data to another software to uncover more spending trends and assess which levers the company should crank to reach financial targets.
Does Airbase work well with the rest of your software?
Spend management is just another niche in your organization’s financial picture: the better it can sync with your existing financial toolkit, the better your can harness your data.
Airbase integrates with a wide range of tools, ranging from core accounting apps to communications and control software that powers real-time approvals.
- Accounting & ERP integrations: QuickBooks, Xero, NetSuite, Sage Intacct. Airbase integrates with the major tools you need to run your financial stack and ensures all your data can flow to where you need it.
- Other integrations: Airbase utilizes Slack to powering messages and approval notifications and works with Apple Pay.
Other features and benefits
While Airbase touts itself as the premier corporate card, expense management, and bill payment solution, there’s one colossal letdown you may want to take note of before taking the dive.
First off, Airbase offers no solution for travel management. To manage business trips, employees will, on average, check 38 websites just to book a single trip.
Business travelers waste a perplexing 108 hours per year managing their business travel. Just over 13 entire days of prime productive time wasted on repeatable admin work that could have easily been automated. Now, multiply those figures by the number of frequent travelers across your organization. It only gets worse.
64% of business travelers believe self-booking wastes time, while 55% agree that it chews into their productivity.
Long story short: if your organization has a significant travel footprint, then Airbase might not be the right fit.
The Airbase card
At the center of your employees’ spend management experience is the Airbase card. The Airbase card is a VISA-powered debit card tied to a predetermined budget and funded via your Airbase balance.
Airbase cards are either virtual for online charges or physical for in-person purchases. Both card types are subject to dynamic controls so your finance team can track expenses as they happen, automatically freeze cards for suspected fraud, and enforce expense policies on every transaction.
How does the card help you control spend?
Airbase cards are subject to dynamic limits that determine how much employees can spend and on what. Expense policies on each card ensure every transaction is pre-approved before the money leaves the bank.
Does it eliminate the need for expense reports?
Thanks to Airbase’s powerful reporting functionality, employees don’t have to file for every transaction they make. Airbase’s cards automatically route spend data generated by each card to your control dashboard and eliminate the need to submit manual expense reports.
Can everyone have a physical card? Virtual card?
Airbase offers unlimited virtual cards for all pricing tiers but restricts users on the free Base plan to just five physical cards for the entire organization.
Is the Airbase card a credit or corporate card?
Airbase’s cards are corporate debit cards funded via your Airbase balance, which you have to top up with ACH.
Does Airbase offer rewards?
Users on all Airbase pricing plans get cashback on monthly spending that climbs as high as 1.5% for Enterprise users.
Airbase is easily the highest and most complicated pricing we’ve seen yet in the expense management field.
There’s a free Base tier designed for businesses that process less than $25,000 in expenses monthly. Airbase’s free tier offers unlimited virtual cards and just five physical cards—a tradeoff that might be hard to accept if you’re a small business with a growing headcount.
Beyond the Base tier, Airbase’s pricing quickly scales out of reach.
Once you process above $25,000, all the way to $500,000 worth of expenses every month, Airbase bumps you into their Growth plan. Growth plan pricing is based on a percentage of your non-payroll expenses, so you could easily clock thousands of dollars in Airbase fees monthly.
Airbase gives you just two unfavorable options: a free, lackluster plan with only five cards, or a robust overpriced growth tier.
Airbase offers support via live chat, email, and an expansive help center for users across all tiers.
Enterprise customers get a dedicated implementation manager and priority support. Here’s another area where Airbase favors higher-paying users above free users, with the latter getting just email support.
Zooming out for a bit, we have clarity on the core spend management features that should get you to use Airbase. Airbase holds a distinguished place on the spend management roster with:
- Powerful spend controls finance teams can use to pre-approve every transaction
- Detailed visibility into transactions as they happen
- Spend analytics and reporting for catching trends and insights, and
- Integrations with your existing accounting stack
Yet, Airbase drops the ball in several key areas that may prove to be deal-breakers, such as:
- Lack of travel management
- Aggressive pricing that gets you on board with Airbase’s platform and spikes once you’ve started to grow and are tied in
- Restrictive card policies that may hurt small and medium-sized businesses looking to leverage Airbase’s free tier
- Substandard support for entry-level users
Who should use Airbase?
Judging by our points above, Airbase might not be the right fit for your organization depending on the features you’re looking for.
But Airbase might work fine for your company if:
- You’re a large enterprise with a significant spend management budget
- You already have a dedicated travel management solution—otherwise, Airbase hasn’t got you covered
- You don’t mind having email as your main point of support (if you’re opting for the free tier)
But if not, Airbase might not be your best bet if:
- You’re a business with less than $25,000 in monthly expenses and expect to grow
- You prefer a travel management solution built into your spend management—to avoid the admin headache and wasted hours, especially if you’re a large organization.
- Physical cards are one of your major payment channels and you need more than five
- You expect reactive support from business-critical vendors such as your spend management platform
Now you have a clearer picture of what to look out for in a spend management solution: Real-time reporting, extensive controls, software-enabled expense cards, and robust integration with your existing accounting stack.
Perhaps now you’re thinking that Airbase doesn’t cut it any longer. Here are four of the best Airbase alternatives to consider instead:
Bill pay, spend management, and even a line of business credit—Divvy offers it all.
Divvy offers a spend management product that’s built on smart cards employees can charge while the finance team controls everything in the backend.
And with multiple virtual cards, you can dedicate one to each department or vendor. However, given the prepaid cards require employees to request top-ups manually, Divvy might not be the best option for an agile workplace with a growing headcount.
Spendesk offers an all-in-one spend management solution that combines software-enabled cards, rich reporting, and real-time controls into Europe’s foremost spend management tool.
Spendesk empowers finance teams to automate boring admin work and give employees flexible access to company funds without losing control.
The downsides are limited integrations (Slack & Xero), no travel management, and quite a hefty price tag.
Emburse is easily one of the older (and most confusing) options on our list that still does a great job managing corporate spend. Emburse offers unlimited expense cards with granular controls, in-depth reporting, robust analytics, and travel management—courtesy of a third-party provider.
Emburse offers a competitively priced expense management solution but can be difficult to get started with judging by how fragmented the product is.
We built Lola to offer the most competitive spend management solution on the planet. And it shows.
No matter your company’s size or growth stage, Lola offers powerfully simple payment tools, spend controls, and insights that empower your employees to spend as they need without your finance team losing control. Lola offers:
- Budgets that can be created and assigned per person, category, or vendor
- Real-time budget-to-actual reporting so budget owners always know where they stand
- Powerful spending policies to manage expenses before they occur
- Software-enabled expense cards—virtual and physical alike—that can be issued and adjusted immediately
- A fully integrated travel management solution
- User-friendly pricing plus a generous free tier
Lola offers a friendly alternative to four-figure software that underperforms so your business can scale with a reliable spend management solution.
Take Lola for a spin here.