Buyer’s Guide: The benefits of central bookings

Amber McDonnell, reservations manager at TalkTalk, explains how the central booking team helps employees with their travel requirements while keeping within policy

Most travel within the business takes place in the UK, so travel by train is seen as the easiest and most efficient mode of transport. We manage the travel for around 1,100 colleagues, spending around £820,000 a year on rail travel. Their travel requirements primarily include supplier meetings, customer visits and internal meetings.

As a value provider, we ensure we balance keeping costs low with meeting the needs of our colleagues. Our travel policy dictates that any mode of transport is acceptable, as long as the cost remains within policy parameters. Rail travel is generally the most convenient; most travel is between our new headquarters in Manchester and our London office. This route also lends itself to air travel and is convenient for those living near the airport.

We have relied on our TMC, Click Travel, to help develop and refine our travel policy. We use its travel booking platform and a traffic-light system shows how closely costs fall within policy, so the team can instantly see that a “green light” booking will help us to keep costs down. Any non-compliant requests are automatically sent for approval prior to confirming the booking, with priority given depending on ticket types and travel lead times.

Now, less than 1 per cent of the train tickets we book are “anytime return” tickets and that’s a great achievement for us both culturally and behaviourally, as these tend to be the most expensive tickets. We also implemented a four-day notice policy on bookings, which was subsequently changed to seven days’ notice to take advantage of lower prices. Requests made with less than seven days’ notice will be out of policy and will require approval prior to booking.

The main challenge is finding the balance between meeting traveller requests while remaining within policy. The traffic-light system has made this simpler but for journeys that can’t be made within policy we’ve had to ensure those with the authority to approve that rate are always available. The booking platform allows for approvals to be made either over the phone or through the system itself. The booking is confirmed straight away, which helps speed up the process. If a journey has been significantly delayed, we encourage colleagues to claim “delay repay” where it’s available.

One thing we didn’t anticipate when communicating the policy to our colleagues was that not everyone will stick to it. Because of this, we ensure feedback is given when the policy is not adhered to. We also slightly underestimated how much last-minute travel would occur, which we are monitoring.

Amber McDonnell, reservations manager, TalkTalk

Amber McDonnell is reservations manager in the central booking team at telecommunications provider TalkTalk. The team manages and books travel for employees across the business. McDonnell has been with the company for three years


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