How to Manage Travel Costs with an Affordable Business Travel AgencyBy Kathleen Burns
Business travel is a massive cost that, for many companies, can get out of hand really quickly. Flights, hotels, ground transportation, and per diems can all add up — so why would your business want to spend more money on a travel tool?Well, your company might be more inclined to tackle corporate travel management if you knew how much time and money growing companies are already saving using more efficient travel management solutions. The upfront cost of outsourcing business travel management can actually end up helping you save hundreds, even thousands, of dollars in both direct savings and saved time, each year. Corporate travel agencies offer negotiated rates, advice from industry professionals, and on-the-road traveler support. Are you interested yet?
The most important parts of corporate travel management are:
- Understanding the travel industry and what your options are
- How to choose the best fit for your company
- Optimizing the tool you choose to help you reduce travel costs
In this article, we’ll dive into each of these to help you find the best and most affordable travel management resource for your company.
Types of travel agencies for business travelers
Travel agencies typically offer two types of services: business travel and leisure travel. Some only focus on business travel, but few only provide leisure travel service.
There are several main types of travel agencies that can benefit business travelers:
- Corporate-owned national chains
These are the big guys that have been around for years, like Egencia. They are typically very traditional and are used by larger enterprises that have many employees traveling each day and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on corporate travel. These solutions usually include rigid policies, which often lead to booking leakage, and have clunky user experience.
- National/International franchises
These travel agencies may provide the best international customer service, but certain promotions and pricing may differ depending on the locations of each agency within the franchise. This inconsistency makes it nearly impossible to accurately budget and forecast travel spend.
- Membership associations
Membership-based travel agencies, like AAA, rely on annual or monthly membership fees, so this pricing may be more reliable. Plus, most membership based travel services offer different subscription levels, so you can tailor the service and price to match your needs. But be careful — even though these agencies boast their minimal membership fees, many also include service and booking fees that can skyrocket your spend.
- Independent, locally owned travel agencies
If you’re looking for affordability in your travel agency, going small and independent may be your best bet. Travel agency startups are often focused on their clients and obsessed with delivering their customers the best possible service. And they typically cater to smaller or medium-sized businesses, rather than enterprises. With a smaller travel agency, you’ll likely get to choose between different service packages in order to cater the experience to your size and budget. Again, this option may allow you to be more flexible with your corporate travel management strategy as you figure out your company’s needs.
Many of these independent corporate travel agencies are now actually becoming software as a service companies because they offer tools that empower travelers and Executive Assistants to handle business travel in a simple and efficient way (along with the traditional benefits of a travel agency).
How to choose an affordable travel agency
Once you understand what options are out there, you’re more prepared to make your decision. But first it’s important to ask yourself, and your business travelers, a few questions:
1. What does your company’s business travel behavior look like?
The answer should include insight into your travelers’ most common destinations, how long they are typically staying during each business trip, and how often people are traveling each month and year. Which airline or hotels do your employees prefer to book? This information will play a role in helping you decide how much to spend on corporate travel management.
2. How does your company currently approach business travel management?
Is your business travel currently unmanaged, meaning there is no central booking platform, travel policy, or system in place to streamline the process? An unmanaged travel program typically means employees are booking their own travel, an Executive Assistant is responsible for managing all company travel, and no one is using expense tracking tools. If this sounds familiar, you’ll want to choose an option that will help you start from square one (probably building a corporate travel policy).
3. What does your business travel budget look like?
Do you know how much you’re spending on business travel currently? If you don’t have methods for tracking your spend, you probably only have a ballpark estimate. Is tracking and reporting on business travel expenses a goal you have for working with a travel agency? Hint: it should be. Knowing what features and tools are most important for your business goals will help you narrow down the options too.
How to manage travel agency costs
So you’re thinking of investing in a corporate travel agency or management tool, but you also want peace of mind when it comes to managing your costs. Seems a little backwards, right?
Luckily, it doesn't have to be.
The most important thing to know when it comes to maintaining an affordable relationship with a travel agency or tool is exactly how much you are going to spend. Many travel agencies or corporate travel management software companies will boast an inexpensive subscription fee, but then they hit you hard with transactional fees. Think: an additional cost with each booking and customer service request. This inconsistency in pricing may not bother financially stable enterprises, but when you’re a smaller business looking for an affordable option, these fees can seriously mess with your budget.
Instead, look for tools that offer flat-rates for their services. This is the best way to know ahead of time exactly how much the service will cost and how it fits into your annual budget — no surprises. In fact, many modern travel management solutions are technology-forward, meaning that they blend the best of both worlds: a consumer-grade online booking tool for self-service booking and 24/7 support from trained travel experts when travel plans go sideways.
Many companies, especially SMBs, are actually shifting away from the traditional travel agency approach because of difficulties with cost management. Instead, these organizations are transitioning to a corporate travel management software tool to maintain in-house control over booking, managing, and reporting on travel. A travel management software solution, like Lola.com, offers the same benefits of an agency (negotiated rates, expert travel support), and often includes even more features to increase savings, like automatic expense reporting and real-time spend visibility. Plus, if you choose carefully, you’ll only pay a flat-fee, meaning no more surprise fees for bookings or service requests.
Before choosing an option, do some calculations to figure out the ROI of different travel management solutions. If they amount you’ll pay the agency or software company per year is less than the amount you pay for the time Executive Assistant’s or employees spend managing travel, then you’ll find yourself quickly saving both time and money on business travel.
Most importantly, take an inventory of your business travel needs and pain points so that you can find a resource that best fills those gaps, without breaking the bank.