Choosing the Best Travel Management SoftwareBy Mike Baker
How to find the perfect corporate travel platform for your business
Technology now permeates every aspect of the travel industry, just as it does every other part of our lives. So it comes as no surprise that software specifically designed to streamline and improve corporate travel management is now similarly ubiquitous.
But there are a lot of options available for corporate travel management software — how do you decide which product is the best for you?
Features and benefits of travel management software
Historically, companies designed travel programs and policies with only the bottom line in mind. But cumbersome processes, overly stringent policies, and the resulting less-than-delightful travel experience effectively encourages employees to ignore booking policies.
Investing in travel and expense management software enables you to stop wasting time and resources by simplifying the complexities of online booking as well as increasing visibility into travel activity and spending.
In the bad old days, getting employees to abide by travel booking guidelines and getting them to submit expenses on time has been a manual and frustrating process. But with travel management software, you can automate these steps and achieve better outcomes from business travel – for the company itself, for travel managers, and for those whose job takes them away from home.
Increase business efficiencies
The right corporate travel management software is an online booking engine, but it’s also a whole lot more -- a comprehensive travel management solution to all the key challenges faced by companies trying to effectively manage everything from booking flights to controlling travel expenses and improving data collection. It is a broadly useful tool that is equally valuable for travel agencies and tour operators, internal travel managers, finance managers, and travelers themselves.
By rolling out a comprehensive corporate travel management platform, you can achieve business efficiencies in three key ways: time savings, money savings and compliance.
- A single, one-stop source for planning, booking, and itinerary management.
- Automated booking and travel expense management processes that can save significant time and help employees focus on more valuable tasks.
Automation also eliminates human error and omissions, which can lead to inaccurate bookings and jeopardize accounting and forecasting.
- Booking becomes a breeze, managing expenses takes just moments.
- Centralized booking with tons of inventory (including from all the major GDS) means no more wasted time researching optimal rates, toggling back and forth to compare prices or wading through a consumer-oriented aggregator to find acceptable options.
- Digital receipt capture eliminates the dreaded post-travel flurry of paper – receipts, etc. that accounting staff have to decipher and sort. It also eliminates incomplete financial reporting that results from missing receipts.
- More accurate bookings means fewer change fees and unredeemed tickets
- Automated travel policies and dynamic pricing mean that more travelers book within policy and there is greater predictability around travel spend
- Saved traveler profiles and business loyalty programs make it easy to earn valuable rewards and get the lowest-possible rates
- The right software both facilitates and supports traveler-friendly guidelines. Preferred suppliers, rate parameters and other policies can be built right in, so compliance is easy and correct. With in-policy choices right at the employee’s fingertips, they can book flights, hotels, and rental cars quickly and confidently without going off the reservation.
- Travel managers can be alerted immediately any time there is an out-of-policy booking.
- Mobile technology keeps everyone connected 24/7, which supports the spirit and reality of duty of care whether someone has a personal emergency or a travel snafu.
Reduce your business travel costs
Because keeping travel costs down is so important growing businesses, let’s take a deeper look at how the right travel management software can enable true cost savings.
More effectively managed travel processes and timely reporting make it easier to understand and manage back-of-office administrative costs. The ability to capture more travel-related data in real time drastically improves financial analysis and forecasting. With real-time visibility into travel spend, you can budget appropriately and better control spending to stay within budget. T&E spend can be trimmed or strategically redirected to get more bang for every travel buck.
- Companies can control expenses up front by making it easier for travelers to follow the booking policies for every business trip.
- Greater visibility makes it easier to identify and fix recurring problems with policies or processes.
- Deeper data about bookings strengthens ability to negotiate better rates with suppliers.
- Timely and complete expense data capture assures accurate monthly financial reporting as well as faster reimbursements for employees.
- Access to aggregated inventory makes it easier for travelers or travel managers to ensure they’re getting the absolute best prices without wasting time hunting through every last website.
It’s clear that effective corporate travel management software can help your company save time and money on business travel, but what else do you need to know in order to select the right platform for you?
Trends in travel management software
Large travel agencies often have their own proprietary booking platforms that their corporate clients can tap into. Large corporations with in-house travel agents sometimes use custom-designed, dedicated software tools.
But most small and mid-size companies (and many large entities as well) are starting from scratch in terms of travel booking platforms. These companies should look to the marketplace for travel management software that can improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of business travel.
There are countless products available, with more coming on the scene regularly. Some of these software tools address just part of the travel puzzle. For example Certify (among others) focuses on expense management and deductible expenses, while Airbnb for Work offers only system-specific lodging bookings. Many platforms offer a corporate travel solution that supports end-to-end services via one management tool.
But if you’re looking for full-service corporate travel management platforms, they essentially fall into one of two categories: enterprise or SMB.
Enterprise travel management platforms are usually folded into a larger suite of business tools, such as SAP Concur. Alternatively, some of these platforms are essentially modernized versions of traditional corporate travel agencies. Both of these options offer some advantages for large companies, but also come with some serious drawbacks, including:
- Clunky software that is rarely updated
- Hard-to-reach travel support
- Charges for every booking, and often every transaction or support call
Corporate travel software for SMBs tends to be more user-friendly and closer to consumer mobile apps, especially on the booking side. Unlike traditional enterprise options, travel platforms designed for SMBs tend to integrate with other corporate tools, like expense management software.
However, not all options are equal, and SMBs should consider several important questions before selecting the right travel management software for their needs.
The best travel management software has:
- Access to 24/7 support from live travel agents
- An intuitive booking interface that rivals the top consumer online booking tools
- NO extra fees for bookings or support
- The ability for employees to automatically earn loyalty points and miles on business travel
- A product that people actually love to use
(By the way, have you met Lola.com?)
What other functionality does travel management software offer?
Popular travel management software features
In addition to the overall strenths mentioned above, the best travel management software platforms all offer a collection of different features, including:
- Flight and hotel booking based on company pricing and other guidelines
- Itinerary planning and management
- Team calendar and scheduling coordination
- Expense capture, submission, tracking and reporting
- Tax payment and reporting
- Travel document storage
- Travel policy storage
- Traveler tracking/communication for safety and support — travel alerts, remote assistance, travel itinerary changes, etc.
- Mobile integration
But finding the perfect travel management platform for your company is about more than just a list of features — what else should you look for when preparing to make a purchase?
How to choose travel management software for your business
A successful travel program is vital for your company’s future. Investing in travel management software can improve your entire travel experience, functionally and financially. In order to get maximum ROI, though, you’ll need a product that serves both travelers and administrators well.
What should you look for in travel management software?
The ideal platform will include all the corporate travel support features you need, most (if not all) of the features you want, and none of the features you won’t use. Too little won’t help, and overkill assures over-spending. But think long-term here – scalability and flexibility are critical for growing companies. You want software that will fuel your growth, not cramp your style.
The best corporate travel management software doesn’t only make life better for travelers — it makes it much easier for the people who manage your travel. That’s why exceptional travel management software offers broad efficiencies and automation across all the people in your organization who touch corporate travel.
We’re talking about value-adds and efficiencies like:
- The ability for travel to be booked by both travelers and travel managers
- Integrated corporate travel policies to automate compliance
- A wide range of options from preferred providers
- Automatically pre-filled forms with traveler data and preferences
- 24/7 traveler support
- Automated travel and expense reporting using digital receipt capture
- Intuitive reports and dashboards of individual traveler and aggregate travel program data for real-time visibility as well as after-action reporting and operating expense analysis
- The ability to coordinate team travel plans and bookings
- Automated booking pre-approval or request submission
- Notifications of cancelled or delayed flights, safety alerts, etc.
- Storage of frequently used traveler data (passport numbers, frequent-flier numbers, personal or corporate payment card information, etc.)
How do you know which travel management software is best for you?
Analyze your current situation – what are your greatest travel-related pain points or needs? Think in terms of traveler experience as well as what travel managers and finance folks need. Prioritize your list of desired features into must-haves, wants, and non-essentials.
Simple, intuitive usability should be a key consideration when you’re evaluating travel management software options. After all, if the learning curve is steep or the tool is just plain tough to master, people won’t use it.
Along those lines, find out what kind of training and onboarding is offered – exactly what it entails, how many people can benefit, and what ongoing tech support is like. (Talk with existing customers or read their verbatim reviews to get the straight scoop on this. A product that doesn’t live up to expectations will be the biggest waste of all.)
Best travel management software: The bottom line
The cost savings, deeper insights, and improved traveler experience enabled by travel agency software benefit all sizes of companies. Even though very large organizations have the resources to hire outside corporate travel agencies or staff their own internal travel agency, corporate travel software helps pull it all together.
Small companies can also take advantage of economies of scale, by sharing some benefits with other software users. For example, Lola.com includes traveler support from live, experienced agents who are available 24/7 to all customers’ traveling employees. Assistance is just a phone call or text away. Small and mid-size firms also benefit most broadly, because travel software complements their inherent agility and fills more gaps.
Which travel management software is best for your size company?
Given the vast array of corporate travel management software tools available, there is certainly one that’s right for your company. Knowing what you want and need will point you in the right direction. That said, the best platform will be one that allows you to tailor its features to your corporate travel program goals.
How much does travel management software cost?
Not surprisingly, cost depends in large part on the features and functionality of the platform you select. Some vendors charge a flat monthly or annual fee, some charge per user and/or transaction. Some offer a free starter version of their software, so you can try it on and see how it fits, then upgrade to a more robust version if you like the platform. Or, you can stick with the free basic version if the limited features are enough for now.
Whatever the pricing structure, be sure you clearly understand the details, to avoid future surprises or hidden costs.
Consider the opportunity cost, too. You could save money in the near term by not investing in corporate travel management software, but what would be the long-term consequences? Oxford Economics reports you can expect to see $12.50 in incremental revenue from every $1 you spend on business travel. That’s ROI any CFO can get excited about.
The best travel management software will be a tool that’s as flexible and growth-oriented as your own company, so it can serve you well now and bend and stretch with you as you grow. Remember, though, that no one knows what the future will bring. Ultimately, you want the best overall value – not only tangible benefits but improved travel management experience for administrators and travelers alike.