How to manage the maverick traveller

“IF THE POLICY MAKES AN ENEMY of the people, then people will make an enemy of the policy.”

Irish statesman Edmund Burke’s quotation is paraphrased by Severnside Consulting director Chris Pouney, to sum up why maverick travellers can be tempted to ‘go rogue’. He and others in the industry believe a ‘one size fits all’ travel policy can be less effective in driving compliance than one tailored to reflect different roles in an organisation.

In a recent webinar on rogue buying presented by Egencia, the travel management company said a survey of companies revealed that they saved an average of 15 per cent on spend by avoiding maverick buying.

Yet Click Travel’s Michelle Taft believes views on such behaviour are changing. She says: “Instead of simply trying to make travellers comply, organisations are analysing maverick behaviour and trying to understand why it occurs in the first place. As organisations try to balance costs with traveller experience and company culture, we’re seeing changes to booking processes and travel policies to allow this behaviour provided it is in a controlled environment.”

Here we reveal the seven most common types of maverick traveller, and our experts provide their guidance on how to keep these errant travellers in line.


THERE IS GOOD EVIDENCE (Diagnosis and Remedies for Deviant Workplace Behaviors, Applebaum and Shapiro) that young people, those who have just joined an organisation or those who are inexperienced, are more likely to exhibit maverick behaviour when it comes to buying things on behalf of the company, including business travel.

In some cases, this might arise because travel policy is only applied at the time of a first trip rather than being part of a general induction into the company, or because the company ethos has not yet become part of the individual employee’s DNA.

Travel buyer (TB) for a UK-based multinational: “In non-mandated organisations, a lack of consequence to non-compliance means that poor behaviour continues. Compliance reporting and actionable information can help, but someone needs to have responsibility to ensure non-compliance is addressed – whether on a company level or by business unit.”

Michelle Taft (MT), head of bids and marketing, Click Travel: “While it’s fair to say people might not know the rules yet, surely wanting to make the right impression is enough motivation to find them out before you start expensing any trip you like?

“Here are some things you can do to make sure they are aware from the get-go. First, cover company travel policy and the booking process during the induction process. Second, make sure all employees who need to travel receive a log-in to the online booking tool – if there is one – know how to use it, and know who to call if they get stuck. Finally, if appropriate for the culture of the organisation, make it clear that unauthorised expenses will not be paid.”

Chris Pouney (CP), Severn-side Consulting: “Policy principles, responsibilities and consequences need to be built into the employee orientation programme. These are busy times though, with a lot of information thrown at newbies.

“A neater way is for traveller profiles to be set up automatically through a feed from HR, and those identified as likely travellers singled out for contact by the travel team, to welcome them to the firm and provide further guidance, tailored for their likely travel pattern. This might be email, an invite to a webinar or, in the case of board level travellers, a personal visit.”


RESEARCH BY SUSAN KULP (Using Organizational Control Mechanisms to Enhance Procurement Efficiency: How Glaxosmithkline Improved the Effectiveness of E-Procurement) showed that 17 per cent of maverick buying was down to employees wanting to maintain relationships with unapproved suppliers.

In terms of the traveller, this might manifest itself in repeatedly staying in a non-compliant hotel because they have had a good experience, know the hotel staff and do not want to change. But there is also evidence that travel buyers suffer from the same problem – sticking with previous suppliers because of a good relationship rather than going for best value.

TB: “To address this, companies should be prepared to include the non-preferred into a
preferred programme, in order to change behaviour. This leads travellers to book through correct channels, to understand the importance of preferred programme benefits and to form a habit of compliance.

“But in non-mandated organisations, there may be no consequence of going outside policy, which means that poor behaviour continues.”

Taryn McLaughlin (TM), sales manager at Egencia UK: “Everyone is their own best travel agent. I once met a traveller and she swore that if you booked travel on the third Tuesday of the month, between 11am and 12.30pm, that is when airlines and hotel released their best rates and that was how you could get the best savings. No matter what I said, she said this was the way she had travelled for the past 20 years. It’s very emotive.”

MT: “The debate between cost and traveller preference is becoming more prominent as organisations realise that bad traveller experiences can result in poor performance, low morale and staff turnover – the cost of which can outweigh any savings made on travel in the first place. It’s about getting the balance right between cost and experience.

“Some tips to get you started would include speaking to your travellers, and once you understand why they have certain preferences, they might not be unreasonable. Also, survey your travellers regularly to check they’re okay. Be open minded about changing your travel policy if it’s just not working. Finally, make sure travellers understand the bigger picture and the impact their decisions have on the wider organisation.”


EVERYONE LIKES A BARGAIN – you only have to look at the success of deal sites like Groupon to see this. But what people like more than a bargain is the ability to boast about finding a bargain, and this poses a significant risk for the travel buyer.

It is often easy to find a hotel room or airfare cheaper than the corporate negotiated rate, encouraging our maverick bargain hunters to do their own thing. What they may not realise is they are not comparing like-for-like. Terms and conditions attached to fares and room rates are usually the biggest differences. The corporate room-rate may include favourable cancellation terms, and also throw in breakfast and free wifi – things that are not included in the publicly-sourced bargain rate found by the daily dealer.

TB: “Embrace the feedback, seek out those who find it cheaper and pre-empt the crowing. If there is a genuine bargain when comparing like-for-like, then ensure that the travel team can use the benefits and share them with all.”

CP: “This is very common. We see people thinking they can buy cheaper themselves, but not seeing the value in the TMC and going direct to avoid the fee. Buyers can manipulate the fees they pay so that some transactions have zero fee, and others higher to compensate. So low-value transactions – where duty-of-care, 24-hour support and data to leverage better fares are likely not to be valued – are made ‘free’ at the point of sale.

“We also need to be sure we challenge this behaviour through gathering evidence. A corporate travel programme must be able to obtain the same rates as on the open market. If they are not, it is almost definitely due to the traveller not comparing apples with apples. First, establish that the programme can indeed obtain the same rate/fare; then, the question is:  ‘Is it appropriate the traveller books that rate by the time you remove the corporate benefits and the risk of change?’”

MT: “While the deal on the internet might not be the same as the corporate rate, if the room doesn’t get cancelled or the traveller has a breakfast meeting, then these extras might not be necessary.

Organisations need to make sure their travellers have access to internet content through their chosen TMC – that way travellers can make an informed and in-policy choice after assessing all the options and, as a result, turn maverick behaviour into a cost-saving exercise.”


DOES YOUR POLICY allow employees to upgrade their class of travel if they are travelling with a client or a more senior member of staff with a higher entitlement? The networker takes advantage of this.

Although the behaviour is not maverick in that it complies with the letter of the law, it does not comply with its spirit. The networker is arranging to travel with a person who can get them a golden ticket. Often the client or senior manager knows exactly what is going on.

CP: “The issue here is one of precedent. When boarding the aircraft, what if they are travelling with someone more senior who is in economy? The credibility of the travel programme is brought into question here. Not just when a traveller is paying on miles; what if business is cheaper than economy, as is sometimes the case around Europe? Some firms, mindful of sending the wrong signals, forbid this and pay more to sit someone in economy.”

MT: “The best way to tackle this sort of behaviour is to make it non-compliant and therefore subject to an approval process. These processes are much more efficient these days but, even so, the fact that it has to be approved will put a lot of people off straight away. Any genuine need to travel in this way will be rightly approved by the traveller’s line manager.”


IN THE WORDS OF BRUCIE: “What do points make? Prizes!” We probably all know many business travellers for whom travelling on a specific airline is all about changing the colour of their frequent flyer programme card to gold or black. For the collector, it is not the specific behaviour that is maverick – they may use many tricks to fly with their favourite airline – but rather the end itself.

TB: “Capture any habits in a non-compliance report to be addressed. Log and flag in a name-and-shame list, or tip it on its head and highly praise those who do the right thing.”

MT: “Allowing travellers to collect loyalty points can be a good thing, and create a good traveller experience. However, to stop this costing the company a fortune, you need to control it with a travel policy that is built into the booking process. This way, the traveller can only book their favourite when it is delivering best-value for the organisation.”


MANY EMPLOYEES BELIEVE THAT doing things by the book takes time. There is a widespread belief that not following policy on the preferred process of making a booking can save the individual time (especially when online) and the company money, because they are able to book earlier.

TB: “Key considerations of this include duty-of-care – by avoiding company process, the organisation loses visibility of both the spend and the traveller. And by ignoring company processes and searching travel independently, travellers inadvertently spend a lot of time trying to save small costs. This does not always equate to their hourly rate and is ultimately an expensive way to book travel.”

MT: “With the self-booking tools [SBTs] available, the booking process should be simple and quick for all travellers. If they enjoy booking for themselves on a consumer website, you need to make sure the approved booking process is just as easy – if they need a classroom-style training session to use your SBT, then it’s probably overly complicated.”


YOU’RE A TRAVELLER and you have to arrange a meeting with a client. You know there are two flights a day to the client’s city – one in the morning on Pamper Air and the other in the evening on Frillfree Airlines. Quite coincidentally, meetings with the client always happen in early afternoon and the traveller is forced to go off-policy and fly  Pamper.

We all know the stories about budget carriers not always flying to the right airport, but this is changing. On major routes, travel managers should conduct total cost analysis and time analysis between key city pairs. Ideally, your technology (online tool or TMC) should be able to present this total trip cost at the time of booking, and, critically, be able to report on it so that line managers can make informed decisions with staff.

TB: “There may be travellers who work the system, but in many organisations, employees want to do the right thing, want to save the company money and act responsibly.”

CP: “For those with demand management initiatives – trying to discourage travel – you would be amazed how your videoconference usage can increase if you are stronger on influencing travellers away from their airline of choice.”

MT: “The best way to tackle this kind of booking is through analysing travel behaviour. If you see a pattern emerging, it may need tackling head-on. However, if there is a genuine need to have meetings at a certain time, it’s worth looking at the alternatives. For example, it may be cheaper to travel with Frillfree Airlines the night before and stay in a nice hotel, rather than travelling on Pamper Air the next morning.”

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