With more ways to book out of travel policy, going rogue may be back in fashion
Today’s traveller-centric policies may have given employees less cause to rebel, with travel programmes fashioned to their requirements and “best-rate-on-the-day” policies making it more difficult to book outside the rules when they trawl the internet – but certain types of travellers are thinking more creatively when they want to tailor travel to their own needs.
Mavericks have been around since travel programmes were invented; where there are rules, there are those who will break, ignore or circumvent them. TMC Clarity is still tackling the problem, and terms its mavericks the good, the bad and the ugly, referring to compliant, deliberately non-compliant and ignoring the rules, but as director of sales Paul Casement points out: “With a mature travel policy and good in-house communication, you get a reasonable degree of compliance, and online booking tools force compliance, working on guilt – travellers know their manager will find out what they have been doing.”
But there are plenty of ways for travellers to colour outside the lines. As Martin Stevens, procurement manager of travel and corporate cards for information and analytics company RELX, points out: “If a traveller is rogue and you can put a finger on it, you can do something about it. It’s those you don’t know about and it’s difficult to know what rogue means in a corporate travel environment because there are so many parameters.”
He cites as an example someone who books a flight and hotel within policy for part of the journey but the next part is out of policy, which is not tracked unless an organisation has particularly sophisticated expense management systems. “There are always ways for people to bypass that and go elsewhere,” he says.
Keep in line
Booking tools are still the best way to keep travellers on track. They can be customised to show preferred suppliers and negotiated fares first and, as long as employees can be persuaded to book through the tool, regardless of how far they are straying from guidance, all information is at least in one place so ensures duty-of-care.
SAP Concur is a case in point. Its booking tool Triplink allows users to book outside the required channel but it brings the information back into the interface, enabling travel managers to see a full report of when people are out of policy. “With Triplink, if the corporate account is linked to Concur, even if someone is on the supplier’s website, the provider knows who they are and can offer corporate discounts and bring it all back into Concur. That gives a safety net and keeps the information in one place,” says Ellen Trotochaud, vice-president of global business development of travel, SAP Concur.
There are also tax reasons for travel managers wanting to keep tabs on who is where and for how long. When travellers are staying in a destination more than a certain number of days a year, there may be tax liabilities for their employer. This applies to consultants on long-term engagements, for example, where their company may want to mitigate the impact on the payroll, and as employees increasingly want to add some holiday on to a business trip, this is also germane to the issue.
With good communication, travellers can be kept informed without information overload. Providing a link to policy for employees to read before committing themselves to a booking is no longer considered appropriate or realistic. Instead, a drip feed of information that is relevant to the moment is more effective. Traveller experience is at the top of the agenda and this includes the booking process, which is becoming ever more user-friendly.
“We emphasise security and safety to get people to understand why policy is as it is but, of course, travellers are getting more creative and play that card in return – ‘I don’t feel safe’,” says Jan Jacobsen, global accommodation manager, AIG. “We escalate it and use it to educate.” AIG also names and shames errant travellers, which may, in part, explain why the company’s compliance rates are high – that and a mature policy.
Between the lines
To limit off-piste behaviour, travel buyers should also aim to get a feel for what their travellers really want. For example, some travellers may prefer access to a lounge, to relax away from crowds and noise in the public areas, while others prefer anything that speeds up the process. One report, Women in Business Travel by FCM, revealed that both male and female travellers found the most frustrating elements of air travel to be the periods of time wasted at the airport in delays and security processes.
“We met a group of travel buyers in Zurich last year and asked what they were most focused on. I thought it would be savings, but it was getting fast-tracked through security and having access to wifi so that they could be productive on the plane,” says Greeley Koch, executive director of ACTE.
Meanwhile, in some cases, going rogue actually makes more sense, as some booking searches do not always return the most logical result. “In the past I have been at firms where travel policies are gospel and cannot be broken, but there have been times when a first class flight has been cheaper than business class and due to the policy we were unable to book it. So might rogue travellers sometimes be right?” questions Declan Halton-Woodward, executive assistant and company secretary at Handelsbanken Wealth Management.
In the new world, policy compliance is no longer a matter of telling people what to do – communication and negotiation are all. However, buyers are still advised to stay tuned to travellers’ habits and any signs of wayward bookings – before they become the season’s hottest trend.
Despite every travel manager’s best efforts, there are still those who are dedicated to bending the rules. Below is a snapshot of four types of rogue traveller you need to watch out for.
King of the castle – These people think they rule the world and can do what they want because they make a lot of money for the company. One perpetrator at AIG booked himself into a hotel room with a king-size bed because, he said, a queen-size bed was too small. “We have those who try to come out of policy based on bedding preferences, despite the fact that at most properties bedding is on request, not guaranteed,” notes Jan Jacobsen, global accommodation manager, AIG.
The snail – The snail makes every excuse to ensure they can book everything as late as possible. You may hear this traveller say something along the lines of: “I had personal stuff I had to attend to and couldn’t leave until the last minute so I couldn’t get anything cheaper and I thought I would go with BA.”
Last-minute bookings mean fares are likely to be equally high on any carrier, but if they had booked two weeks in advance, the flights would almost certainly have been cheaper with their employer’s preferred carrier.
“We have had someone say they were not going to travel because they could not get the BA flight they wanted within policy and would have to fly Virgin, which makes you wonder whether they needed to travel in the first place,” says Chris Vince, director of operations for Click Travel.
Scheming snakes – The gathering of loyalty points is still a pain in the policy for travel managers and can drive the most diabolical behaviour. Worse, the most cunning travellers know how to play the system; they book hotels within policy, close to where they want to be, and on the surface everything looks above board. However, they are actually staying in a property that is £10 to £20 more expensive than the preferred one next door, simply to gain loyalty points. Worst are those that book a property 20 miles away from their appointment, again, often within policy, but incurring added transport costs.
The rock star – This group’s likes and dislikes make celebrity demands look reasonable. Elevating this to an art form are those who require a particular sparkling mineral water onboard. They are often quite senior (or think they should be). “Apparently the difference between sparkling water in the air and on the ground is the size of the bubbles at altitude – they must not be too big,” says an incredulous Jan Jacobsen of AIG. Such people book their (rather than the company’s) preferred airline for overnight flights because of the angle of the pod and length of the flatbed, so that they sleep better – not because they are particularly tall.