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To Self-Book or Not to Self-Book?

To Self-Book or Not to Self-Book?

 

This article was originally published on PhocusWire on Monday August 5th, 2019

Sometimes in life you’re forced to pick between two imperfect options — trying to find the lesser of two evils, the least bad option. These “rock and a hard place” decisions are never fun, but sometimes there’s just no way around them.

Historically, this is exactly what it’s been like to travel for business. Companies have been forced to choose between two heavily flawed options: have employees book completely on their own or pay someone else to handle bookings on behalf of all traveling employees.

These options have serious downsides:

  • Self-booking forces employees to spend hours of their time shopping for flights and hotels, comparing prices, and navigating phone trees when anything changes. It also fragments and delays reimbursement, forcing employees to front travel expenses for weeks or months.
  • Travel management companies are expensive and, surprisingly, still quite time-intensive for corporate travelers, with plenty of back and forth for each booking and little control over the details, like seat choice and loyalty points.

If neither of these options sound ideal to you, you’re not alone: the majority of corporate travelers quickly get fed up with all the time and money they’re wasting booking travel.

Just how bad is it?

To find out, Lola.com recently conducted an extensive survey of more than 1,500 corporate travelers and travel managers, and the results were stark: neither option — unmanaged self-booking or middle man booking — works for them.

The good news is that there is a better, more efficient way for corporate travelers to book travel — one that can save companies of all sizes both time and money.

But before we get to that, let’s dive into the survey results.

The true cost of self-booking

On its surface, a self-booking policy might not seem that bad. Online booking tools have advanced considerably in recent years, and most consumers are quite familiar with how they work. Plus self-booking gives employees more control over their bookings.

But scratch the surface and problems start to emerge. What happens when travelers need to make changes at the last minute? How can you be sure they’re getting flights and hotels at the best prices? How much time are they really spending booking flights and hotels?

Lola’s survey revealed that the answers to these questions aren’t pretty. In fact, employees who book their own travel are probably spending way more time doing so than you’d expect. The average frequent business traveler spends 108 hours a year on admin work related to corporate travel — i.e. researching, booking, adjusting, canceling and expensing.

Needless to say, 108 hours is a lot, and this is not lost on corporate travelers.

  • 64% believe that the self-booking approach wastes time
  • 55% believe it negatively impacts job productivity
  • 70% say this booking time could be better spent in other areas

Clearly, self-booking is a travel management process with some serious drawbacks. All of the time these employees spend booking, re-booking and expensing travel is time they’re not spending on their actual job.

So, given this, you’d assume that the exact opposite — having someone designated to booking on behalf of corporate travelers — would yield opposing results.

Well, no.

Stuck with the middleman

If employees aren’t booking their own business travel, who’s doing it for them? Generally speaking, companies have relied on travel management companies (TMCs) and the corporate travel agents who work for them to manage corporate travel for a book of clients.

Ideally, TMCs offer businesses an easy way to offload corporate travel management to people with a great deal of industry knowledge and connections. But that comes at a price. TMCs typically charge for every transaction (not just bookings!) on top of other fees and/or retainers.

But, ok, maybe all that money is worth it if it means you can have your employees focus all their time on their actual jobs. 108 hours is a lot of lost productivity after all.

Unfortunately, our study found this to be far from the case. Even travelers who have TMCs booking on their behalf waste time on travel management, and are still unhappy with the process.

  • 60% believe that going through a booking middleman approach wastes time
  • 55% believe it negatively impacts job productivity
  • 59% believe they could be more efficient if they could book for themselves

That last one is especially telling. Of the hundreds of frequent business travelers we surveyed who used corporate travel agents to book on their behalf, more than half feel they could be more efficient if they were just booking themselves. And they’re paying money for the privilege!

These travelers explained that, even though someone is technically booking their travel, they still must spend many hours on every trip communicating preferences, approving itineraries, submitting expenses, changing bookings, and more. Are you accruing your frequent flyer miles? Did you actually get the seat you want? Travelers routinely expressed uncertainty about these topics when they have someone else booking for them.

So, to summarize: travelers who book for themselves feel they waste way too much on travel management and are very frustrated by the process. Travelers who have someone else booking their travel, on the other hand, feel they waste way too much time on travel management and are very frustrated by the process.

In conclusion: You’re damned if you do (book), you’re damned if you don’t (book).

Or are you?

The best of both worlds

At this point, you might be giving up hope. Booking your own travel wastes time, and having someone else book it for you wastes time, so we all might as well throw our hands up and move on.

But there’s more to the story.

When you dig into the survey responses, you start to realize that there are certain aspects of both self-booking and book on behalf that particularly frustrate corporate travelers.

Self-bookers don’t like:

  • Clunky user interfaces that make it hard to actually book
  • Being forced to compare prices across multiple channels
  • Having to front the costs
  • Talking to airlines and hotels when travel plans change

That is to say: self-bookers don’t mind the actual concept of booking (in fact, 81% of them said they like the control) but they are frustrated by the mechanics. It takes them longer than it should, and they don’t have support when they need it.

On the other side of the fence, corporate travelers who use a travel agent don’t like:

  • Having to go back and forth with an agent over hours or even days
  • Not being sure if they’re getting their reward points
  • Not having as much control over flight and hotel preferences

Again, these frequent travelers don’t dislike the idea of having someone book on their behalf (in fact, 68% said they appreciate the help) but they don’t like the overly complex process and frequent back and forth.

If there were a way to make it easier for corporate travelers to book travel AND a way to make it more seamless to have others book on their behalf, corporate travel would become a whole lot less painful (not to mention expensive and time-consuming).

Corporate travel management software

You’re never going to believe this, but there is a better way. New corporate travel management platforms (like, um, Lola) give travelers the perfect answer to travel management, whichever way they slice it.

For self-bookers, Lola offers a consumer-grade booking app (from the makers of KAYAK) that is fast, intuitive and actually fun to use. No more glitchy desktop software, no more tab hopping looking for the best fare: Lola gives it all to you in an expertly designed mobile app. Plus, it connects travelers directly to 24/7 live travel agents to support them before, during or after a trip.

For those who have travel booked on their behalf, Lola’s powerful platform automatically stores and applies traveler profiles, preferences, loyalty programs and more. You can store the company card and share itineraries among teammates to make things even easier.

Corporate travel has long been a thorn in the side of many professionals, but at least now there are better ways to go about it. As the study shows, corporate travelers expect efficient, flexible tools to help them book, manage and report on travel. And now, with tools like Lola, we’re finally getting there.

Check out the full Cost of Doing Business Travel report.


About the Author: Mike Baker
Mike is Director of Marketing for Lola.com and a former journalist, farmer and teacher.