Guide to Business TravelBy Jeanne Hopkins
Overwhelmed by managing business travel? Check out these tips on how to streamline the process.
Successful business trip management depends on three things:
- Controlling travel expenses.
- Ensuring that traveling employees have the resources and tools they need to accomplish their work and enjoy a positive experience.
- Minimizing administrative barriers to day-to-day efficiency and post-travel financial analysis.
For small to medium sized companies that depend on business travel to grow their organization, managing travel can feel overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. This guide offers tips that will help you pull it all that together seamlessly and cost-effectively.
Tips for easier business travel
Unlike personal travel, business trips have to be both efficient and productive. There is always an agenda because every trip has a specific purpose, whether that’s closing a big sale, laying the foundation for future business, or furthering employee development. Business travelers often have to make short trips and/or meet tight deadlines while on the road. And every trip must adhere to company travel policy guidelines in order to stay within the travel budget.
Leisure travelers know they’re on their own, but companies have a duty of care to protect and support employees while they’re away on business. That includes maintaining communication with, and providing assistance for, business travelers in case things go wrong.
How can you make business travel more streamlined?
Streamlining all aspects of the travel process ensures employees don’t waste time on trip planning, booking, expensing, etc. Instead, they can focus on achieving the goals of their trip.
When you look at corporate travel data, it’s obvious that one of the biggest complaints among business travelers is unwieldy expense processes that waste time, invite lost receipts, and delay reimbursement. These same issues also lead to delayed and inaccurate financial reporting and planning. Creating a simple system that automatically captures and submits expense information can make a major difference in travel efficiency.
The easiest way to streamline is to outfit your team with the latest technology. Lola.com puts in-policy booking choices and automated expense reporting right at travelers’ fingertips, with a mobile app they can easily use anywhere. The same platform serves travel and finance managers, with real-time tracking and detailed reporting data.
Streamlined processes are crucial to save time and frustration. But you can also do more to make every business trip more pleasant. For example:
- Flexible flight scheduling that allows business class when feasible
- Convenient accommodations with business-friendly amenities
- Traveler perks such as airport lounge memberships
- Allowing travelers to keep their flight and hotel loyalty rewards
- Encouraging employees to book a longer bleisure stay-over when possible
Make sure to regularly check in with your business travelers and travel managers to ask what they want and need. The world of travel changes quickly, and companies do too. Keeping your travel policy and procedures up to date will ensure systems are streamlined, simple, and facilitate a positive experience for everyone.
Planning for business travel
Among the most valuable business travel tips is plan ahead. Like two to three months ahead (that’s when you get the best deals on airfare). That way business travelers can book the most efficient flight and hotel accommodations (in both price and location) to make the most of their time onsite. Advance planning avoids expensive last-minute bookings and reduces risk that the ideal hotel will be overbooked.
Review the corporate travel policy to be sure you know which expenses are reimbursable and which need to be paid for out of pocket. Use the company’s preferred booking tool to access the most convenient flights and accommodations within budget. And use a corporate credit card if possible.
Research your destination ahead of time if you’re not a frequent flyer to that locale. Look for nearby restaurants so you have an idea of where to eat before you’re deep in the trenches. Make a checklist of the business-related things you don’t want to forget – phone, laptop, chargers, meeting documents, etc. Send any bulky materials ahead of time to save you the hassle of having to transport them yourself.
Consider travel insurance when traveling for business because things can, and will, go wrong. Companies such as Travel Guard will cover lost luggage (and required replacement clothing), flight and/or hotel re-booking charges necessitated by a family emergency, or business travelers who become ill or injured while away.
Create and share your itinerary
An itinerary is a working document for travelers, but it is also important to get business travel itineraries in the hands of travel managers or EAs who monitor the company’s travel behavior. It should be concise but clearly denote flight, hotel, and other necessary information, like how to get in contact with the traveler. Be clear and consistent about listing time zones as well as numeric times to avoid confusion.
Best prices for business travel
Business travel has no value unless it is cost-effective. So how should you plan your company's travel budget? Here at Lola.com, we recommend six steps to determine the amount of money you’ll need to allot for T&E spend:
- Make sure your corporate travel policy details which travel expenses are reimbursable and which are not. This should address hotel fees sometimes charged for necessities such as WiFi or parking as well as personal expenses such as home-base airport parking. Your policy should also explain what expense report receipts are needed and how to submit them for reimbursement.
- Review the calendar of upcoming annual events, conferences, etc. that business travelers always attend. Then confer with department heads to learn about plans for any new trips for meetings, etc.
- Review past travel expenses to create an average per-person/per-day cost for typical types of travel (sales trips, conferences, and so on). This is one reason deep travel program data is so important. Assign these figures as appropriate to each trip on your upcoming calendar.
- Take a bird’s eye view of upcoming corporate travel – will it be about the same as last year? Do you need to cut back, or beef up the budget for an anticipated growth spurt? If you’ll need more money, where it will come from?
- Add in a contingency plan. Things change, and if an unexpected opportunity crops up that requires travel, you want to hit the road with confidence.
- Look for ways to control costs, such as dynamic per diems, memberships in corporate restaurant programs, etc. Use a corporate credit card for bookings to sidestep the reimbursement process.
If you use a corporate travel agency, they can help with this.
Tips to make business travel cost-effective
- Plan efficient itineraries – for example, have multiple clients located across the country? Schedule meetings with each of them all during the same trip. Spending three days at a conference? Make time for a meeting or two during that stay.
- Ensure policy compliance with a mobile booking app that’s easy to use and covers all the bases. Booking tools should save time for all travel-related personnel, both on the road and in the office. For example, Lola.com automatically identifies in policy vs. out of policy flight and hotel options.
- Create easy-to-follow expense guidelines that allow for flexibility, so travelers can make choices that fit the budget and provide efficiencies such as convenient location, inclusive breakfast, etc.
- Negotiate discounted rates without cancellation fees. Your travel agent or travel management company will do that for you.
- Outfit business travelers with productivity-boosting perks such as airport lounge membership so they can use the WiFi to work in a comfortable setting.
What is a good price for business travel?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the best price for business travel. Of course you want to get the best deals, but no price is a good deal if it comes with hidden costs – which is often the case with rock-bottom airfares and cut-rate hotel rooms. So the best price is the one that brings your company the most benefits for the money spent. The best price for your company will:
- Ensure business travelers can achieve their trip goals
- Support positive traveler experience
- Offer both time and cost efficiencies
It’s a matter of balance. Ultimately, what matters most is the trip’s total cost, not just a single component.
Easiest ways to book business travel
There are a few key solutions to managing business travel. The typical default option is letting employees book their own flight, hotel and rental car using standard consumer websites or by booking directly with hotels and airlines. While this might seem like the most simple option, unmanaged travel actually leads to major costs in both time and money. Another option is to hire a corporate travel agent to handle the bookings. This is a fine option is your company wants to take a white-glove approach to the business travel program, but it can get costly. Fast. The easiest option for booking business travel is investing in a travel management platform for company-wide use. Travelers typically prefer to book themselves, but by using a centralized tool that also enables third-party booking, business travel plans and information are no longer siloed across multiple platforms.
Booking travel can be simple, so look for a solution that works for your business travelers and travel managers..
Using a travel management company lifts the burden of booking time and effort spent booking from your employees’ shoulders. But, this option can become cumbersome anyway if it takes multiple back-and-forth conversations to nail down a particular traveler’s flight and hotel preferences. One reason business travelers prefer to book on their own is that they can easily get what they want. Have we mentioned how important simplicity is in business travel management yet?
The best way to achieve simple travel booking is by arming your travelers with an app they’ll love to use — one that makes self-booking in policy a snap. The right app can make everything else about managing business travel easier, too. Lola.com has become the #1 favorite among business travelers and their companies, thanks to simple consumer-quality booking, built-in travel guidelines that support flexible choices, pre-stored credit card numbers and other traveler data and preferences, and automated expense capture and submission features. It’s both comprehensive and streamlined — the definition of simple.
What are the cheapest ways to book business travel?
Of course it’s cheaper to book yourself rather than paying someone else to do it for you. But keep in mind that “cheapest”, defined only as lowest price, rarely adds up to “smartest purchase” because unintended hidden costs can add up fast and lead to unforeseen consequences. Think: basic economy flight that comes with sky-high baggage and seat-choice fees. (Or no baggage or seat choice at all.)
Working with an outsourced travel management company can be the most cost-effective solution for certain companies (especially larger organizations) because the discounted rates, time savings and other benefits they offer can offset at least some of their fees.
Lola.com’s tech-based solution is very affordable for any size company, and it’s easy to implement. The app can relieve much of the travel management burden from overwhelmed travel managers, as well as the HR and Finance teams directly responsible for managing back-end aspects of your corporate travel program.
Equally important, Lola’s human side supports your organization’s duty of care. Our one-of-a-kind traveler support provides live travel experts available around the clock, to help road warriors solve problems from a delayed or canceled flight or bungled hotel room to a major itinerary change or personal emergency. Peace of mind and quick problem-solving are priceless for travelers.
Consider the big picture
Is your travel policy clear and flexible? Is pre-approval needed only for one-offs? Are you using dynamic per diems that work sensibly no matter the destination? Can travelers use a business credit card? Managing costs across your entire travel program, rather than attacking the problem piecemeal – one fare or room at a time – is the easiest and most effective way to save money without sacrificing traveler experience or productivity.