The Ultimate Guide to Travel Management
tl;dr: Check out this guide to travel management for tips on making the most of your available resources.
Understanding travel management strategies and best practices can boost the quality and cost-effectiveness of your corporate travel program. This guide to managing business and personal travel offers tips for making the most of all your resources.
Using a travel management company
Should you hire a corporate travel management company? That sounds expensive, but for some companies, the benefits can offset the expense. Business travel involves more than booking trips, so an outside agency typically provides a full spectrum of travel management services. That might include:
- Corporate travel policy development and compliance monitoring
- Traveler tracking and risk management
- Providing data-rich travel and expense reporting
- Handling leisure bookings, even for employees who don’t engage in business travel
Why consider a corporate travel management company?
In smaller companies the work of “travel manager” often falls to an executive assistant or someone in HR – not a travel professional. Or, internal travel managers become overwhelmed by the company’s rapidly increasing travel needs.
Hiring a corporate travel management company:
- Brings industry insight and strategic thinking to your travel program
- Frees up your own employees to focus on other priorities
- Saves travelers time and frustration, since many travel management companies offer an online booking tool corporate travelers can use for trip planning, booking and expense follow-up
- Directly reduces costs, with lower negotiated rates
- Reduces risk, by ensuring your travel program meets duty of care responsibilities
Essentially, you get a travel management partner who will work with you and on your behalf to keep costs down, improve traveler experience and ensure your travel and expense investment is aligned with your overall business goals.
What does it cost?
There are two main ways that travel management companies (TMC) may charge customers.
- Subscription fees are the most popular method TMC’s use. With a subscription based model, customers are charged per month or per year, depending on their size or use of the product. This can be cost-effective if your employees travel a lot, but less so if they don’t regularly use the services you’re paying for. The biggest benefit of subscription models is reliable pricing — since it’s a flat rate, your finance team is easily able to plan for the cost of travel management each year.
- Transaction fees are often added onto subscription based models. Some TMC’s will have a low subscription rate, but charge users per transaction. This includes fees for booking travel, itinerary changes, and service requests. Be wary of transaction fees because they quickly add up throughout the year.
Ultimately, every company must assess for itself whether the likely return will justify the investment.
Managing business travel
To be effective, business travel management must be simple. Convoluted corporate travel policy guidelines and administrative processes guarantee mistakes, poor compliance, and higher costs that will send your corporate travel plans astray. Simplify by:
- Giving business travelers the freedom and resources to handle their own booking
- If self-booking isn’t an option, providing travel managers with easy access to travelers’ information to make booking on behalf more efficient
- Automating travel expense capture, reimbursement, and reporting (if you haven’t gone paperless, do that right now!)
The most valuable way to simplify is to adopt an end-to-end travel management platform that integrates all aspects of travel and expense and is easy for everyone to use. Of course, the platform has to be 100% mobile-friendly because nobody relies on their small-screen devices more than business travelers.
A single-source travel management platform, such as Lola.com, addresses each of these key elements of business travel management:
- Corporate travel policy – written guidelines that everyone follows support consistency, quality and cost control. Among other things, well-considered guidelines help prevent costly last-minute bookings and cancellation fees. Keep it simple by giving travelers a one-sheet overview of commonly-used policies. (But post the entire policy document where it’s easily accessible.)
- Booking – as the foundation of travel and expense activity, efficiencies here save time, money, and headaches for travelers and admins.
- Traveler tracking – people-centric employers ensure easy communication between business travelers and home base. You can instantly contact them, if need be, and they can instantly access help for fixing trip-related problems such as cancellations or emergencies. This fulfills your duty of care and reduces multiple risks, helping keep everyone more productive, happier, and safer and more secure on the road.
- Travel expense management – timely, accurate information ensures reporting that has real, real-time value for travel and overall business planning.
- Data – about travel itself and traveler behavior as well as expenses. The deeper your data, the more easily you can pinpoint travel program improvements.
What should you avoid?
When it comes to business travel management, your two best friends are simplicity and flexibility. To get that, avoid:
- Assumptions about what people want
- Generalizations about “best” pricing or “lowest” cost options
- Rigidity in setting guidelines
Managing personal travel
Strategies for managing personal travel can benefit corporate travelers as well. (After all, at the core of every road warrior is an individual person in need of some time off.) One of the best ways to get the most from every trip is to simplify. These tips are especially useful:
- Avoid over-planning when booking. The point of personal travel is to relax, so choose to do less, at a slower pace. Really see things, instead of focusing on getting to the next “sight.”
- Pack less. Experts suggest a maximum of 7 days’ worth of clothes that work well together. You’ll have less baggage to pay extra fees for and drag around.
- Limit technology and the time you spend using it.
- Skip the car rental, and walk.
Where can you get the best deals?
You don’t have to be on a super-tight budget to want a great travel deal. The best deals depend on what you’re looking for. Here are some popular online resources:
- Airfarewatchdog (for monitoring price drops on your intended itinerary)
- Google (for comparing airfares – just type the airport codes for your departure and destination in the search field)
- goSeek (for hidden mobile and coupon deals on hotels)
- Southwest Airlines (always check them separately because they don’t do business with most aggregators, but they are on Lola)
- Travelzoo (for last-minute travel)
- United Vacations (for negotiated-rate hotels that partner with United Airlines)
- Access to corporate travel management software (when companies allow use of their booking tool for personal travel, employees get the same great rates and assured quality as business travelers)
Consider the season
Often good deals are simply a matter of supply and demand. If you go during peak season – the time of year when a destination is most popular – your flight, the hotel you’re booking and everything else will cost more. Cheapest fares, stays, etc. are available in the low season, because suppliers and venues need you and your money. (Beware, though, because there’s often a reason certain dates are not-so-desirable – think hurricane season in the tropics.)
If you’re planning a ski trip on a limited budget, low season won’t do. But you can still get good deals by booking in the shoulder season – just before or after peak dates. And, sometimes, high season is a must regardless of higher prices, especially if there is a date-specific event you want to attend or you really, really want to spend Christmas in Vail.
Tools and resources for travel management
There are numerous tools and resources available to help improve travel and expense outcomes. Some corporate travel management technology takes the form of a booking tool travel managers, other admins or travelers themselves can use to select flights, hotels, car rentals, etc. and handle the booking. Corporate travel policies and parameters are integrated into these booking tools, automatically ensuring comply with guidelines while still giving travelers flexibility of choice.
There are also travel expense management tools employers and travelers can use to collect expense data, verify reimbursements and track T&E spend.
Better yet . . .
The most popular tools for travel management, though, are apps that combine a booking and expensing (and everything in between) in a single tech tool. Lola.com, for example, gives all travel-related employees easy, quick access to whatever they need, whenever they need it. That includes those who make travel arrangements and those who do the traveling, as well as behind-the-scenes accounting and finance who use the data collected for budgeting and long-term business planning. Oh, and one more thing: Lola may be a smart AI, but she also provides live 24/7 traveler assistance.
What should you look for in a tool for travel management?
- Comprehensive travel and expense capabilities
- Customization to align with company policies and processes
- Easy-to-use, intuitive features
- Traveler information storage and automatic retrieval
- Flexibility to grow as company needs and travel trends change
In short, effective travel management requires a corporate travel management tool that has your back every step of the way. Travel will be easier for everyone and more cost-effective across the board, ensuring the kind of productivity and employee happiness that define successful travel programs.