What's the Best Corporate Travel Solution For You?
If your company is like most, your travel process is probably disorganized and complicated.
Fear not! There are several corporate travel solutions that can help you create a more organized and productive process.
Here’s some information to help you choose the one that’s right for your company.
Challenges in planning corporate travel
Planning and managing business travel is difficult.
With so many people trying to book trips using a multitude of sites (airline sites, travel booking sites, hotel sites, car rental sites, etc.) at the same company, it’s no wonder that disorganization is one of the most common challenges in planning corporate travel.
When business travelers are left to their own devices and there is no single hub from which to monitor the company’s itineraries, planning business travel can be chaotic.
Beyond a lack of visibility in travel itineraries, corporate travel planning traditionally suffers from a lack of financial visibility. It's difficult to know how much the company is truly spending on travel at any given time when travelers pay for travel and related expenses through a variety of means.
Some business travelers have access to corporate cards and can pay for everything on the company’s dime from the start, while others have to pay out of the pocket and request reimbursements.
It can take weeks after the books have closed for expense reports to be processed and for the fog to clear on how much the company spent on travel on any given month.
At that point, if more of the budget had been spent than planned, there’s not much that can be done to fix the problem retroactively.
Instead, the budget for the following month must be adjusted, but there is still no way to track travel spend in real time to know if the new budget is being obeyed.
Another challenge in corporate travel planning is the inevitable disregard for the company’s travel policies.
While rule breaking frustrates corporate travel planners, travel agents, and travel managers, more often than not, it is not intentional.
Business travelers usually disobey corporate travel policies because they are confusing to understand or difficult to follow.
You can facilitate travel policy adherence by implementing a corporate travel solution that makes company policy easy to follow by putting it front and center during the booking process.
Choosing the best corporate travel solutions
How can you determine the best corporate travel solution for your business?
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. What works for your company now may not have worked for it five years ago, and may not suit your travel needs in another five years.
What should you consider when choosing a corporate travel solution?
Ultimately, the right travel solution for your company depends on several factors:
The number of employees your company has.
Company size affects your corporate travel solution because it will determine how comprehensive you’ll need your support system to be and how much the support will cost you.
How often your company’s business travelers travel.
A company that sends all of its employees to a retreat once a year will have different needs than a company that sends the same number of employees on business trips every week.
Frequency of travel can help determine how much flexibility you’ll need in your travel policy.
Your company’s travel budget.
Factored in with travel volume and frequency, your company’s travel budget will determine what kind of corporate travel program you can develop.
If you need to keep travel costs low, you may start with an online booking tool.
If you have lots of outside funding, you may be able to afford an internal travel management department or a team of dedicated external travel agents.
The time frame you have to implement your travel program.
Some corporate travel solutions, like hiring a corporate travel manager, have a long onboarding process, while other solutions, like using corporate travel software, can get your travel program running in a matter of hours
Choosing the best corporate travel solution for your company is a process that requires stakeholders to think about the business’ current and future travel needs.
How to keep corporate travel costs down
Business travel isn’t cheap.
However, holding a face-to-face meeting while pursuing clients or collaborating with colleagues can make or break a relationship, which is why travel continues to be a sine qua non of conducting business, even in the digital age.
Even if your company is in its startup phase and is just launching its travel program, your organization - and its business travel needs - can scale quickly.
It’s important to start a travel program with frugal policies to ensure that travel spend doesn’t get out of hand as the company’s business travel needs increase.
So how can you identify business travel costs that are too high?
Start by auditing your company’s current travel spending. Think about transportation, accommodations, meals, and entertainment.
Does spending in one category outweigh the rest beyond reason?
If you don’t know what’s considered a reasonable travel budget, talk to colleagues at other companies and ask to see their travel policies. The GSA’s per diem rates are also excellent guidelines and are used by travel management experts all over the country.
Once you’ve identified where your company is spending too much on travel, you can work on reducing those expenses.
Here are some ways to keep corporate travel costs down:
Allow business travelers to book flexible fares instead of the cheapest fares.
Basic economy fares seem the most affordable up front, but proceed with caution.
Additional charges for carry on bags and the inability to change a flight means your travelers will have to book new flights at expensive, last-minute fares, if a meeting gets pushed back while on the road.
Paying for a last minute flight will cost more than the difference between the basic economy and standard economy fare and any change fees you may have to pay to switch your standard economy flight.
Remove booking approvals.
Help business travelers lock in the lowest airfares by letting them forego manager approval to book.
By the time a manager approves a flight, the price of the flight could have gone up dramatically. The airline industry has a standard 24 hour free cancellation policy, so there’s no harm done if a flight needs to be changed right after it’s been booked.
Maintain realistic per diem allowances.
Do your unfunded startup’s per diem allowances resemble those of a publicly traded, Fortune 500 company?
You may need to tighten the purse strings on business trips.
Start by following the GSA per diem rates. While you can always adjust daily spending allowances as your company grows, it’s wise to be conservative with business travel expenses in the early stages of your company’s travel program.
You can maximize a tight travel budget by encouraging business travelers to use ride sharing apps instead of taxis and allowing them to book Airbnbs instead of hotel stays.
Incorporate conservative spending limits into your travel policy to keep travel costs down.
Tools and resources for planning corporate travel
So how do companies plan and manage their corporate travel?
There are three main solutions: travel agency, travel manager, and software.
As we mentioned, there is no one size fits all approach when it comes to corporate travel management, so choose the resource that works best for your company in its current state, but also consider its future growth.
Working with a travel agency means they would schedule all business trips for your employees.
- Pros: Travel agents provide one-on-one service for your travelers. Plus, they also have some great industry knowledge to help you get good deals on flights and hotels.
- Cons: Most travel agencies will charge you per-month to use their services, plus an additional charge anytime your employees need to make a flight or hotel change. Agencies usually work normal business hours, so if you need help at 3 a.m. on a Saturday, it might be hard to contact someone.
Hiring an internal travel manager can help your team stay organized and on budget.
- Pros: With one dedicated person taking care of all your bookings, your travelers will always know who to contact with any questions or problems. It will also take extra work away from anyone else who was helping book travel (like an office manager or executive assistant), allowing them to focus on their main responsibilities.
- Cons: According to Salary.com, the average salary of a travel manager is about $90,000 a year, which is a hefty price tag. Plus, if the number of people traveling grows a lot, your company will eventually need more than one person to handle its travel needs.
Introducing a digital corporate travel solution will enable you to customize your travel guidelines, while allowing your employees to book for themselves through a centralized online booking tool.
- Pros: The right program will check a lot of boxes. With everyone using the same software, you can set guidelines that are easy for employees to follow and gain visibility into what they’re booking. This way, you know exactly what’s being spent, so you can control your budget and save money.
- Cons: There are a lot of software solutions to choose from, some of which are costly and have a long on-boarding process. If you’re looking for an affordable, quick fix, make sure you pick a simple, easy-to-use tool that won’t bust your budget.
No matter which of the above solutions you choose, your company will have to set a travel policy.
While that’s a lesson for another day, you can start by researching other companies’ travel policies online.
If you choose Lola.com for your corporate travel solution, you’ll be guided through the process of making one on the platform. You can also find corporate travel policy templates online.
Ultimately, the right travel solution for your company depends on a lot of factors: the number of employees, how often they travel, your budget, and the timeframe you have to implement the program.