Tiered Travel Policies: Sensible or Unfair?

Tiered Travel Policies: Sensible or Unfair?


Most employees see the opportunity to travel for work as a plus. But it can get to be a real grind.

The more often someone travels, or the longer the trips, the more obvious the negatives become. Many companies try to offset this with tiered travel policies that offer better perks for frequent travelers, regardless of their position within the company. Other companies create an entirely separate (and noticeably elevated) travel class strictly for C-level execs.

Indeed, many corporate travel management companies recommend a tiered system that offers “better” benefits and amenities, such as business class or hotel room upgrades, to senior executives and/or those who travel most frequently.

Is this kind of differentiation a good idea?

On the surface it seems to be fair and make sense. But when only the executives have access to white glove travel agencies and exclusive perks, the bulk of employees get left in the dust.

And they know it, because disparities within corporate travel policies are glaringly apparent to everyone.

Not surprisingly, that can cause problems

What kind of problems?

Disgruntled travelers

Those not chosen to receive the elevated travel experience feel rejected.

Why should they be left out? Someone who travels to one conference a year won’t really mind an inconvenient (but boy is it cheap!) flight, an uncomfortable hotel room that’s budget-friendly but nowhere near the convention location, right?

We’re not so sure. Would you mind a miserable travel experience?

Feeling overlooked or undervalued leads to low morale, poor quality work and overall dissatisfaction.

Dissatisfied employees leave.

And dealing with turnover is expensive in every way.

Not to mention it puts the brakes on company innovation and growth. Unhappy people talk, too, so your organization’s reputation as a desirable employer could be on the line. Maybe not for senior executives who can look forward to white glove treatment, but for all the other prospects who fear they will be treated as second-class travelers if they come to work for you.

Administrative concerns

If only a few people get white glove treatment, how does that affect your company’s duty of care for other employees who are away on business?

What if something goes awry during the one trip they make each year to an industry conference? Can they expect help from an EA or travel manager back home? Or are they on their own to solve problems?

Practical problems

Every business trip is planned to achieve some business goal.

If travelers arrive tired and frazzled, the trip could wind up being a big waste of time and money, negatively affecting work productivity and business relationships.

Whether or not C-suiters are afforded extra perks when they hit the road, all business travelers need the smoothest, simplest experience, end to end. And they deserve that, because from your most veteran road warriors to the most infrequent flyers, they are all out there for one reason – to grow your company.

But business travelers do differ

For certain companies, truly white glove executive travel may be the most expedient choice despite the high costs. At least, for some trips.

A chartered jet is a quieter, better-outfitted workspace than a commercial flight, and it may be an ideal location for hush-hush meetings or negotiations, away from competitors’ eyes and ears.

But shouldn’t your most frequent business travelers get special treatment, too? Well, that depends on the company. Size, culture, industry, etc. are reflected in employee policies across the board, not only for travel. No matter the circumstances, employees want to feel they’re being treated fairly.

A single, universal set of guidelines offers distinct benefits, especially for smaller companies:

  • Consistency. Everyone follows the same rules, and everyone has the same booking opportunities and limitations with those parameters.
  • Simplicity. EAs or travel managers and accounting teams can easily see if travelers are staying within policy and spending limits. (With a tiered system this becomes exponentially more difficult, due to differing booking rules and budget limits for air, hotel and meals. There is also the risk that travelers who feel slighted will deliberately ignore “their” guidelines in favor of something they like better.)
  • Easy expensing. In a small firm, everyone may be able to book and travel using a corporate credit card. (Since that’s unwieldy in a large company, corporate cards would have to be reserved for frequent/executive travelers.)


But if you choose standardized policies, what will they look like?

You can’t afford to give every traveler the white-glove treatment on every trip as a matter of course. But C-level travelers may balk at being relegated to a seat in coach or a hotel room that doesn’t provide the extras they may need. This is why traveler managers are so concerned about creating guidelines and adopting booking tools that simplify travel while assuring flexibility for all employees.

Fortunately, there is a way to provide differing levels of travel benefits without leaving anyone in the dust.

You can divide your travelers into groups, using whatever criteria make sense for your business and travel needs. Typical categories might be seniority, department, office location, frequency (some minimum threshold of travel days per year) or perhaps the nature of the trips themselves.

No matter how you differentiate travel benefits – or if everyone gets the same – there are two steps you can take to ensure your plan works well:

  1. Enlist everyone involved with your travel program – travelers, travel managers, and finance – in helping determine policy details. Guidelines that are relevant, practical and flexible will be most valuable and most respected.
  2. Invest in a comprehensive corporate travel platform such as Lola.com. That way, you can put policies, booking, expensing and data reporting in everyone’s hands with a single, fully integrated tool.


Simple. Easy. Consistent. No dust.


About the Author: Jeanne Hopkins
Jeanne was the CMO of Lola.com from 2018-20.