Hard-learned lessons from real customer stories. See 5 policies that failed, and the revisions that actually saved money.
Three steps to creating a travel policy that is good for your business and your employees.
Connor Lawrence: All right. Time for us to dive in. Hi, everyone. Thanks for joining us for our second webinar today. Today we’re going to be covering travel policy mistakes, lessons learned from real travel policies. I’m excited to be joined by Corey Walker who’s one of our CSMs here and Natalie Farr, who’s an account executive with us at TravelBank.
Both of them actually have a really deep experience in the corporate travel industry, so I’m really looking forward to hearing their insights on today’s topic. I run operations for sales, marketing, and customer success here at TravelBank, so my goal really is to clear the fog for our time so that our customers get best served by our people.
But at my time at TravelBank in the past few years that I’ve worked here, I’ve also been an account executive and a customer success manager. I’ve implemented and helped companies implement my fair share of travel policies here. But let me hand it over to Corey to say hi. Corey, over to you.
Corey Walker: Of course. Thank you, Connor. Again, my name is Corey and I’m part of the customer success team here at TravelBank. Some of you may recognize my voice or my face from our first webinar, Revamping Your Travel Policy. If you happen to have missed it, here’s just a little bit about myself.
Corey Walker: I’ve spent my entire career client facing. I’m very passionate about travel and driving customer success. After learning the ins and outs of TravelBank, I actually went on the road with some of our sales team and really quickly built my portfolio here at TravelBank with companies of all industries and sizes.
Corey Walker: Just a little bit more about me, I actually know Natalie from a previous job. Natalie, do you want to kind of tell them about that?
Natalie Farr: Sure. Thanks, Corey. Again, I am Natalie Farr and I am an account executive here at TravelBank. Over the past seven years, I’ve been in various roles within the travel industry ranging from corporate sales to event planning. I’ve worked with both global corporations and small businesses, but my passion really lies in helping small and midsize organizations better manage their business travel and I’m really excited to be here sharing my insight with you today.
Connor Lawrence: Thanks, guys. It’s great to have you here. Actually, Natalie’s up in our San Francisco office for our Christmas party, so she’s in from San Diego and Corey’s down in Atlanta. Our team’s kind of spread out but it’s good to have some of us here together.
Connor Lawrence: For those of you who joined our first webinar, you would’ve heard our head of product Angelina and Corey here, who’s on webinar number two for us, discuss how to get started building your travel policy but today, we want to dive a little deeper on the content side and explore actually some of the merits that we’ve seen of some real travel policies that have been implemented by our clients.
Connor Lawrence: Before we dive into the content, I just want to address a few housekeeping items. If you have questions throughout, please type them as we go in the chat. There should be a little chat option there at the bottom. We’re going to leave plenty of time for Q&A at the end. Usually some of the best insights are from questions you guys ask, so please do that.
Connor Lawrence: After the webinar, we’ll be sending you a few things and a link to the recording so you can listen back, answers to questions we’re not able to get to in Q&A, and a link to connect with our team to chat about your travel policy as well as an offer for everyone who attended today. It’s awesome.
Connor Lawrence: Without further ado, let’s get into the content. As I mentioned, we’re discussing five policy traps that companies frequently find themselves in. The five that we’ll be covering are approving travel, rewarding your team, hotel policy, booking in advance, and expense reimbursement.
Connor Lawrence: First up, trip approval. Anyone who runs a travel program or who has traveled for work themselves knows that at some point, you’re going to need to ask for permission to hit the road. What happens next? Someone on your team has to make that call, decide whether or not to approve your travel.
Connor Lawrence: We see a lot of different policy options here. Do you require approval on every single booking? Do you let people book whatever they want? Or do you try and find a happy middle ground between total control and total leniency?
Connor Lawrence: Again, we see some pretty rich diversity in this category. Corey, you are the most experienced among us in working with clients directly. Among the dozens of clients you worked with here and before, can you share some of your experience working with approval policies and what you see working and not?
Corey Walker: Yeah, of course. Just from a CS standpoint, approvals can actually become very costly if you don’t structure them the right way. Too strict of a travel policy can actually increase a traveler’s frustration and become costly to your company. A lot of us know that fares increase minute by minute, seating changes and waiting for the approval actually can cost you more money then what it’s worth.
Corey Walker: If you actually create too loose of a travel policy, you’re going to definitely have happy travelers but those who also tend to overspend. For some of you out there listening, I do have an example of something that I’ve worked with recently.
Corey Walker: I’ve been working with a client who on average their travel spend’s about three million a year and they decided to put strict approvals on all trips, no matter what the cost was. After a month of implementing TravelBank, I started receiving a countless number of emails asking me why the requested flight’s not available, why did the fare increase, and why do I require approvals on trips that are clearly below budget?
Corey Walker: Whenever I went to answer these questions, they were all very similar. The time that the traveler actually requested the trip to the time that their manager approved it ranged from 24 to 72 hours later. As an agency, we can’t guarantee the pricing until the time of ticketing.
Corey Walker: Looking at the date that you actually request it and the timeframe between you requesting it and the approval from your manager, the fare may not always be there. There could be a chance that there are increases or again, in some cases, that they could just completely sell out.
Corey Walker: With requiring trip approvals on everything, there’s a chance that you’re going to increase the budget, you’re going to increase the cost of the trip, so you’re going to have to go back to the client that you’re meeting and ask them can they move the meeting or the traveler themselves are actually going to have to fly in the night before, increasing the cost by an additional hotel night.
Corey Walker: Usually with these scenarios, before I approach the client to help them realize how the policy happened, I really let them know how unhappy their employees have been, the increased travel spend, and the longterm friction that this has been causing internally.
Connor Lawrence: Got it. Can you dive a little deeper into how you helped solve the problem for the client?
Corey Walker: Yeah. In order to help this client specifically, I really taught them how to lean on TravelBank’s dynamic budgeting tool and their email notifications. Our dynamic budgeting tool we built to actually help you calculate the cost of the trip. If you search a city and a certain date, it’s going to give you an average cost of what the cost should be for those flights or that hotel in that specific city.
Corey Walker: The employees now can book underneath the budget without any approvals from their managers, but their managers are notified of that trip and the time of booking. A lot of us know, a lot of us who have been in the travel industry know that the majority of the airlines allow you to cancel and refund a trip within 24 hours of ticketing.
Corey Walker: Now that the managers are notified, they can actually, if the business reason has changed, they can go back to the traveler within 24 hours and let them know to cancel that trip or again, if they need to change it, they have the 24 hours to cancel it and rebook it no penalty.
Corey Walker: We did about a three month trial of this and at the end of the trial, we did a review pack with the client. I presented the client the case that actually showed them that they were making better business outcome for their employees, they had a greater amount of savings for the company, and this actually increased the employee morale because they were able to get the preferred flights and the preferred seats for that trip.
Connor Lawrence: Nice. Thanks for that. Natalie, I want to send it over to you for a second. You’ve worked with a ton of clients, I know, and helped them with various approval policies. What do you see out there?
Natalie Farr: Yeah, thanks Connor. People are usually surprised to learn that lodging typically accounts for close to 40% of a company’s total travel spend and managing that spend effectively is dependent upon really a variety of factors.
Natalie Farr: Oftentimes, when I first start working with a company, I’ll see a blanked cap of 200 or 250 dollars per night for any location the employee is traveling to. I also frequently see admins or HR personnel spending hours researching hotel rates per city, per month thinking that implementing a nightly rate for each major city the company travels to will help to save money.
Natalie Farr: This type of budget is referred to as a static budget and in my experience, I found it to be really an ineffective way of managing hotel spend. Variability in travel prices due to destination, dates of travel, advance booking, and market availability means that fixed spending guidelines are really of limited use to you.
Natalie Farr: Conferences, holidays, and seasonality can all affect hotel rates in each city independently. So, traditionally, it’s been really difficult to accurately predict what a hotel stay should cost. TravelBank, our budgeting tool gives travelers real time data based off your exact search dates and destination city, so the traveler has an accurate average of what their hotel stay should cost for the duration of their trip.
Natalie Farr: We refer to this method as dynamic budgeting, as Corey mentioned earlier. When you utilize dynamic budgeting, there is greater opportunity for cost savings. For example, if a traveler is going to a small town for a client visit, perhaps that average rate is going to be $140, which is much lower than that static $200 cap your company outlines.
Natalie Farr: However, if the travel is going to San Francisco during a peak time and the average hotel cost is $400, our system will give managers visibility into why that traveler is selecting a seemingly expensive hotel. The manager will receive data on what the average cost is, what the employee is requesting to book and this allows for accountability and realistic budgeting both for the traveler and the company.
Connor Lawrence: Cool. Thanks, guys. I think it’s interesting. One thing we see in San Francisco, to use a local example, is DreamForce is SalesForce’s conference every year and hotel prices go up to seven, eight hundred dollars in that timeframe. Creating a policy that can account for that, that adjusts the budget to address, hey, I need to send my people to DreamForce but our hard cap is at 200 bucks or something like that.
Connor Lawrence: It can create a lot of overhead for a conference people have to get to, so I’m glad you brought that up from a hotel standpoint. Just to kind of reframe the problem and the solutions that you guys have found, I think the problem we see is being either too strict on one side or too lenient in your approval policy.
Connor Lawrence: Both of these approaches can actually be really costly. The solution is just finding the Goldilocks zone in your policy. Lean on good data if you have access to a reporting tool or something like that where you can see what people are spending, how people are traveling, how often people go out of budget or under budget.
Connor Lawrence: Look at that and lean on it and also leverage budgeting if you can. I think that’s really the best thing you can do today. But also trust your people. Your people travel a lot and oftentimes, most of the time, 95% of the time, they care about your company and what they’re spending. Do trust their behavior but give them the tools and education to know what the best behavior is for your business.
Connor Lawrence: I think this is actually a great segue into our next topic, which is incentives and rewarding your team for better behavior. Rewards for TravelBank, it means a lot. It’s one of the core products that we offer here. I think if you look at where it came from initially, our founder Duke, he sold his first company over to Microsoft and he inherited a huge, I would call it, enterprise sales team there that was spending $30,000 per business trip.
Connor Lawrence: These are domestic trips, so not like a $10,000 international flight or anything like that. They were just flying across the country and back again on routes that were breaking all the rules that their finance team had put in place. What they did is they looked at all those routes, they averaged the cost of everything and they said, “Okay, actually we can make this a lot cheaper. We can offer people an incentive to spend below that and if they spend below it, then we’ll give them some cash.”
Connor Lawrence: They sat down with the sales team who were the primary offenders. Let’s be real, no offense to Natalie but usually it’s the sales team who’s spending too much. They said to them… This isn’t groundbreaking stuff. You tell a salesperson you’ll give them some money for changing their behavior and lo and behold, they started spending less money.
Connor Lawrence: I think what I’m getting at here is you can create better behavior yourself. You can drive change in behavior among your employees and oftentimes, that is the best way as a company to save money. Natalie, I’d love to hear from you first. You travel for work but also you benefit from working in corporate travel for awhile, kind of before awards maybe came to play but now when it’s percolating through the market. So, I’d love to hear your experience overall with that rewards concept.
Natalie Farr: Yeah, prior to coming to TravelBank, I worked for a global corporation that utilized a traditional static budget with a $200 hard cap on hotels. My territory covered multiple states and I’d often be traveling to really random small towns in Utah and Arizona. I’d always obey the company budget and stay right under that $200 cap but I always opted for the nicest hotel, usually right up to that $200 mark.
Natalie Farr: I was under the impression that I was being a good employee and following the rules, but the reality was that there were plenty of three star, business friendly hotels that were around the $130 to $140 mark.
Natalie Farr: But not being at TravelBank, I’m always looking for the best deal because I want to earn those Amazon and Airbnb credits. It’s just made me more aware of my spending patterns and is really a win-win for both me and TravelBank.
Natalie Farr: That was just my personal experience as a business traveler, but I’ve seen dynamic budgets work really well for my clients and I’ll just share a quick story about a client that I currently work with. I recently brought this company onboard who tried unsuccessfully to roll out a travel program with a different travel management company earlier this year.
Natalie Farr: When I asked, they said that they felt that it failed because they really struggled to gain buy-in from the travelers. Their employees felt restricted, they didn’t like the clunky booking tool, and didn’t enjoy really using the service.
Natalie Farr: Rewards was a huge part of the reason that they decided to switch over to TravelBank and give it another shot. This particular company has a very employee first mindset and felt that rewards would really help with obtaining that buy-in that they struggled to gain before.
Natalie Farr: This company is now three months into their program and has 100% adoption with extremely positive feedback from their employees. Really, helping companies implement successful programs is one of my favorite parts of my job, so getting that type of feedback always makes me really happy.
Connor Lawrence: Definitely. I think, yeah, you touched on something that’s really important. We’ll hear more about this I think throughout the entire chat here, but one of the key things that we always see is compliance being a major component of a travel program. If you implement a policy, what’s the point if only 50% of your people are obeying it?
Connor Lawrence: Keeping your employees happy increasingly is really, really important and I think creating a policy therefore that aligns with them but creates… [inaudible 00:15:14] budget, right? You’re a finance person, you have a policy, you want to make sure that you’re incentivizing the right behavior and saving money as a company but you can only do that, these days, I think if you’re actually talking to the employees and creating a policy that works for them too.
Connor Lawrence: Corey, I think we definitely want to hear from you on this. You work with a number of clients who are leveraging the rewards program today. What changes do you see in traveler behavior or savings for the company, employee happiness when you do have that on the table?
Corey Walker: Yeah, of course. I think you both really nailed it. Compliance is king is what a lot of them say. From a CS perspective, what Natalie mentioned, we want 100% adoption and we really want those positive feedback from the employees and from the stakeholders of the company. A lot of companies that I work with are seeing that the employees on rewards are beating their budget almost every single time.
Corey Walker: They’re booking further in advance, it’s driving compliance, and the employees are really quickly adopting the platform as most of the travelers are really competing with one another on who’s going to earn the most and who’s actually cashing out on those Amazon gift cards and getting those $200, $500 rewards.
Corey Walker: Recently, I just had a quarterly review with one of my favorite clients. Their travel spend’s about 500,000 a year and they came from an unmanaged solution. After we implemented the rewards platform, the client has actually shown about 15% increase in savings and as they continue to use TravelBank, I actually project that they’re going to end up saving about 30% by the end of the first year.
Connor Lawrence: Can you talk about the flip side though? I know you have clients without rewards too. I’m curious, what do you see among their travelers, what kind of behavior? How’s their travel spend looking?
Corey Walker: Yeah, of course. The other portion of my portfolio are clients without rewards. A lot of those clients without rewards, they’re still going to see savings, just maybe not as quickly and the adoption may not be as quick either. We find that if you allow your travelers to actually book up to budget, as Natalie mentioned, and you don’t incentivize them to save, they’re going to stretch the budget all the way to meet the compliance of that trip and that’s also going to decrease the amount of savings for the company.
Corey Walker: The scenario I like to use is like getting in a Tesla and being told that the speed limit’s 75. What’s incentivizing me to go 10 below the speed limit whenever I can actually activate my ludicrous mode and go way beyond it? I know that I would be just [inaudible 00:17:28] down the streets but this is something to consider.
Corey Walker: When you’re building a travel policy, you’re actually policing the budget by telling the travelers the cap per market. But what is incentivizing them to want to save the company money and beat that budget?
Connor Lawrence: Yeah, that’s a good point. I can’t speak personally to the Tesla example but I can only imagine. I think to reframe this, the problem we see is a total lack of alignment between the finance team and the traveler. Most policies that kind of come onto our plate in the first place are kind of glaring examples of this.
Connor Lawrence: There hasn’t been much stakeholder involvement with the travelers who are on the road and that is always leading to higher spending and less happiness among the employees themselves. The solution, we think rewards works really well. It’s not the only way to do this right but the main thing is finding a way to get on the same page as your travelers, to keep them happy, keep them really engaged and felt bought into your process and your policy.
Connor Lawrence: Again, get them bought into your policy. That is really, really important. I’ve done stakeholder meetings with my clients where I’ve sat down with a couple of their key road warriors, their VP of Sales, client services and the finance team and just kind of done a round table discussion about policy and what’s working, what’s not.
Connor Lawrence: That’s something that if you’re not ready for rewards as an organization culturally, that’s fine. But definitely sit down and talk to your employees and make sure you understand what their needs are so that you can build a policy that works for everyone.
Connor Lawrence: All right, I love this topic. Hotel policy. Policy problem number three is all about hotels. We call it lodging actually because I think that this industry’s getting a little more complex than just hotels.
Connor Lawrence: With the emergence of players like Airbnb or Lyric who’s a cool partner of ours who’s doing things a little differently and VRBO, we’re seeing a huge shift in what the consumer market looks like, one, for hotels and lodging. I mean, there’s hundreds of thousands, millions now of properties globally.
Connor Lawrence: There’s thousands of websites to choose from. Do you like Booking.com or Hotels.com or Hotel Tonight? A traveler today who is booking travel for their personal trips and vacations expects when they go and book for work to have access to that same breadth of inventory and optionality.
Connor Lawrence: They also expect to get the best deal. I think that there is a big discrepancy now between the consumer behavior and the consumer expectation than what we’re seeing on the business travel side. A deal for a consumer may not be the best option for a business traveler. The plot thickens a little bit, right?
Connor Lawrence: Then on the other side, you have a travel administrator who needs to get the best rate for their company while balancing business needs. Maybe a travel lead will go out, they’ll seek preferred hotel that matches their needs or their perceived needs and they’ll negotiate a rate or ask their [TMC 00:20:07] to negotiate a rate.
Connor Lawrence: I think this is a good place to start, but the problem is a little more complex than just get a good rate. Here’s an example. One of the clients that I worked with previously here, they came in, they’d already negotiated a rate. They were doing a few million in spend a year. They negotiated a rate with a hotel that was near their office and they got them down from about 400 a night on their lowest available rate to 350.
Connor Lawrence: Good negotiation, they got a pretty decent discount for their company. But next door, there was a really nice boutique hotel that our team had negotiated a rate with to $250 a night. Here’s a company that was telling their employees, “You have to stay at this preferred property,” because they had to hit their minimum threshold. I think, Natalie, you want to just talk to us a little bit about that.
Connor Lawrence: But they’re clocking hundreds of nights at their chosen property which is amounting to $100,000 roughly in spend that could’ve been saved if the travelers were given that flexibility to go and stay elsewhere. I think the bottom line is a good rate at a $400 a night hotel is always going to be a lot better than a $250 a night hotel.
Connor Lawrence: In today’s market, I guess if you’re not giving travelers that flexibility to go and find the inventory that they want, you’re losing money every single time. Natalie, I know you have lot of experience with this. What are you seeing? Could you talk a little more about maybe that example?
Natalie Farr: Yeah. I completely agree with you Connor. Figuring out how to navigate a corporate hotel program is really difficult and complex and far too often, I see small and midsize organizations approaching these negotiations the same way an enterprise sized company would.
Natalie Farr: Corporate negotiated hotel programs require a really high level of maintenance and there are many hidden points to consider when deciding if a corporate rate makes sense for your company. Oftentimes, your corporate rate isn’t the best rate that’s available, like Connor mentioned or employees are selecting it only because it’s listed as preferred when they could’ve stayed at the hotel next door for $50 less per night.
Natalie Farr: Of course, corporate rates can be beneficial and we typically see the benefits kick in when a company has 300 or more room nights at a specific property annually. But there are important things to consider when negotiating a corporate rate. Are they waiving fees like parking and breakfast? Are they offering you any additional amenities? Are they offering you a percentage off of the best available rate or a flat rate with blackout dates?
Natalie Farr: Another factor to take into consideration is over committing. If you commit to 300 room nights for the year and fall short of that commitment by only completing, let’s say, 200 nights, this can easily burn your company’s relationship with the hotel and block any future opportunities for negotiations with that hotel chain globally.
Natalie Farr: The bottom line is that it can be overwhelming to weigh the pros and cons of signing a corporate hotel agreement which is why at TravelBank, you can lean on us to help leverage our volume, your volume, and negotiate on your behalf when it makes sense.
Natalie Farr: We do all of the leg work, present you with your options, and help you select the path that is best for your organization. Corey, I know this really falls in your wheelhouse. It’d be great to hear how you help your clients implement this.
Corey Walker: [inaudible 00:23:13]. Working in CS, I actually speak directly with a lot of the key stakeholders at each company. While building these policies, these companies actually don’t consider the travelers who actually have status with these preferred hotel vendors.
Corey Walker: For example, some of the travelers who actually have Marriott lifetime status. With the status, they’re actually allowed free in-room WiFi, exclusive member rates, and a lot of times, the hotels will even waive late fee cancellations. Those are just a few examples of the items that can help alleviate costs while your travelers are out on there on the road.
Corey Walker: But actually thinking out loud, I do have a client who I work with here in the Bay Area that actually, they don’t have any company specific rates. Again, they spend about three million but after doing a mid-year review, we looked at where they were putting their most room nights and how much they were spending.
Corey Walker: They were doing about 500 room nights in San Francisco alone and upon those 500 room nights, it’s about an approximate spend of about 500,000. I spoke with a lot of hotels that they put in these room nights and the ones that were nearest to the client’s office. I then went to the client and presented them with a list of five hotels for them to consider for a preferred rate for this client.
Corey Walker: They took about a week to review these options and then responded to my proposal by saying, “You know what, thank you so much for your time, thank you for presenting this to us. This is something we never really thought of, but we’re going to happily decline the offer of a preferred hotel and this is because we wish for our travelers to have the flexibility to book a hotel that best fits their travel needs and not force them to stay at one property just because it’s near the office.”
Corey Walker: With this company actually allowing their travelers to book at any property and using alternative lodging like Airbnb and Lyric, they also participate in our rewards platform. Doing a review with them, they actually were saving about 40% off the real time market budget that we presented them just on hotels alone.
Connor Lawrence: That’s awesome. That’s a great example. I’m sure any road warrior who’s listening in is going to try and find out the name of the company to go work there, to get that travel policy on board. But you touch on a really good point. I think that the problem we see is that if you limit your hotel or your lodging program too much, you’re going to isolate your travelers to a handful of properties, which can lose you money while creating a bad traveler experience.
Connor Lawrence: I think the solution that we see working most commonly and Corey, your example was great just in kind of demonstrating the savings that pair with a really flexible hotel policy, is open your inventory up to the team and trust that your travelers know best. They are the ones who are on the road everyday, they’re often going to be the ones who know which properties to stay in.
Connor Lawrence: But equally, provide that policy guideline that is comfortable to the finance team. Educate them on what is allowed with a budget, a budget that makes sense but then let the data, let the budgeting take over and trust in the employees to go make the right calls, so flexibility is key here.
Connor Lawrence: All right, let’s dive into our next topic. I want to talk a little bit now about booking in advance. This is something that we probably all run into at some time or another if you’ve taken a flight. We’ll focus on flights here specifically, I think, because this is where we see the most variability.
Connor Lawrence: The cost of booking is always going to drastically change based on how far in advance you’re booking, right? I think there have been a number of studies on this now. Every big company that’s selling flights in a given time has looked at their data and gone, “Okay, if you’re booking within 14 days, then the price of a flight is going to increase drastically.”
Connor Lawrence: One day before the flight, it’s going to be the most. Two days before, the second most and so on. What does that mean for a business traveler? I think unfortunately the cheapest time to buy a flight is something like 50 days prior to your trip, but as we know as a business travel organization, that’s just unfeasible most of the time unless you’re doing maybe a big company offsite or something like that that’s set in stone.
Connor Lawrence: As a business traveler and as someone who’s running a business travel program, you oftentimes have to build a policy that accounts for increasing costs but also rapidly changing plans for your team. Natalie, you travel personally a lot to meet with clients. Can you speak to your experience traveling and what you’ve kind of run into here?
Natalie Farr: Yeah, definitely. As someone who does travel quite a bit for work, I know that last minute trips do pop up but as a rule, I’m typically booking meetings at least two weeks out because TravelBank has a 14 day advance purchase requirement built into our own corporate travel policy.
Natalie Farr: In my experience working with my clients, I’ve seen companies work that advance booking requirement into their travel policy and greatly reduce their travel spend. Change is inevitable with business travel. Last minute trips are going to pop up but that’s just the nature of doing business and coordinating schedules.
Natalie Farr: But booking a flight seven days in advance will typically save you $200 and booking 14 days in advance will typically save you an additional $100 on that flight. Working that advance booking requirement into your travel policy is a really small adjustment that can have a huge impact on your company’s bottom line.
Natalie Farr: There are multiple ways that you can work this into your travel policy. Corey, I know you help your clients with this all the time. I’d love to hear what you think on this topic.
Corey Walker: Yeah, I mean pushing your employees to actually purchase travel in advance is not easy as both of you mentioned. Business travel is unpredictable and at times, it can be very chaotic, not only for the traveler but for that traveler’s budget. You never know what’s going to happen, especially when a storm comes through.
Corey Walker: But when it comes to your most frequent offenders, Natalie, I hate to pick on you again but it is the sales team that actually ends up spending the most and they’re actually the worst when it comes to booking travel in advance. You may be the one of a kind sales team member though to book 14 days out.
Corey Walker: I recently did a test with one of my clients by putting in the advance purchase requirement as just more of a subtle suggestion to the travelers and not a hard stop. With this in place and the admin team using TravelBank analytics, we were able to see a slight decrease in last minute bookings as the team went from booking about 20% of their trips within 14 days to they dropped it to about 15%.
Corey Walker: Using our analytics, these actually show you the offenders who are booking within those 14 days and the typical behaviors when they’re booking their travel. These travelers, what they don’t realize, is the benefits of booking earlier.
Corey Walker: You’re going to get better pricing, you’re going to get better availability, and you’re even going to secure that seat that you won’t and you’re not going to be stuck in that dreaded middle seat like most people do when they’re booking last minute.
Corey Walker: Using the advance purchase as the suggestion may not work specifically for your company as it did for this one but it may require you putting approvals in as TravelBank does. Anything booked within 14 days needs a manager’s approval, so there will be notification sent to the manager and then the traveler needs to explain why they need this trip, why they’re booking three days out from the actual trip. In return, this brings awareness not only to the traveler but to the manager themselves.
Connor Lawrence: Yeah, you touched on a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. I’ve lost my preferred seat too many times because of last minute changes. But to resurface the problem, I think the problem’s clear. The prices are going to increase significantly last minute but business travel is unpredictable and sales teams tend to book last minute even if they know well in advance of the meeting, so what do you do about it?
Connor Lawrence: On the solution side, the best place to start just based on what you guys are saying is education. Put policy education in the platform. You’ll see an impact and at scale, that’s going to lead to pretty drastic savings.
Connor Lawrence: Oftentimes, your travelers just don’t know better. They don’t know that they should be booking seven plus days in advance and what that means for the company’s bottom line. Train your team. Let them know or have us do it. Have your travel management company train your team on good behavior and what they can do best to manage their travel.
Connor Lawrence: Finally, this is a really key one is get visibility into traveler behavior so that you can adapt your policy accordingly. You don’t know what you need to change until you can see the problem, right? If you have access to reporting or analytics through whatever system you’re using today, leverage it, look at it regularly, understand who your repeat offenders are and go and talk to them.
Connor Lawrence: Always involve them, figure out why they’re booking one day before every single time. They might have a legitimate reason, they might not. But you don’t know until you ask them.
Connor Lawrence: All right, that takes us to our final topic here which also happens at the end of your business trip. That is getting reimbursed for your travel, for anything that’s out of pocket. This is an interesting one. You’d be amazed by how many clients we start working with here who, up until they join TravelBank, have been writing paper checks, putting them in the mail and sending them across the country to reimburse people after a business trip.
Connor Lawrence: As many of us know, if you’re on the road, you could be out of pocket for six, seven eight thousand dollars for a longer business trip and that’s not necessarily the best way to end the month. If you’re getting reimbursed by check once a month, that’s going to kind of do some wear and tear on your budget personally which I think can cause a pretty bad employee experience.
Connor Lawrence: There’s also, not to mention, a lot of overhead on the accounting team. Corey, I know you’ve got some stories here, so I’ll pass it over to you so we can hear more from the CS side.
Corey Walker: Yeah, and I think really to ring it home for them Connor is all travelers want is a quick reimbursement. These are personal funds that they’ve used on the business travel so all they want is to get their money and they want it quickly. Not to name any names, because I don’t want to call out any companies that I’ve recently onboarded, but they were looking for more of a streamlined process for travel and expense.
Corey Walker: They were looking for that all in one scenario. They were using Excel sheets, they were manually writing checks as you mentioned to their employees for reimbursements. The employees didn’t mind the process too much, however they weren’t enjoying the wait period for the approval to the time that that check got in their mailbox and they were using USPS, so it wasn’t quick delivery.
Corey Walker: So, the accountants, they were actually bugged by the entire process. They hated using the Excel sheets because they would [inaudible 00:33:10]. They hated waiting for photos to be sent in and they hated having to go and put the mail in and send it to the employees.
Corey Walker: Once we actually went in and implemented TravelBank, the employees were asking, “Why couldn’t this have happened sooner? Why couldn’t we have gotten into TravelBank a lot sooner?” They’re able to book their travel on our platform. It syncs straight over to their expenses. From there, they can easily submit that expense straight to their accounting team.
Corey Walker: The accounting team can approve it and then they’re getting reimbursed within 24 hours of it being approved. I know from my previous company and Natalie does too, the process wasn’t the same but I’ll let her kind of give you a little bit of low down of what it used to be like.
Natalie Farr: Yeah. At our former company, we used a very popular expense system and submitting an expense report was such a painful process. It was tedious and time consuming and we could only submit one expense report a month because there was a really high cost associated with each expense report that was submitted.
Natalie Farr: I traveled quite a bit for meetings, so my credit card bill was always extremely high at the end of every month. Unless the three required approvers all synced up and approved my expenses within the same few days, I’d be stuck paying that high bill out of pocket until my reimbursement came through which still took about three business days to hit my account once it was approved.
Natalie Farr: Bottom line is that it really wasn’t a fun process and we also didn’t have a seamless sync with travel and expenses. Without that sync, I’m constantly running around, I would lose flight receipts and hotel folios which are such a hassle to chase down so from a user perspective, I really see the benefit in having a streamlined all-in-one solution.
Connor Lawrence: For sure. Again, [inaudible 00:34:50] reframe the problem, I think this one makes a lot of sense. If you’re reimbursing people slowly and they have large out of pocket costs, you got manual expense process, you’re going to create a lot of overhead for both your accounting team but also a lot of pain for your employees, financial pain.
Connor Lawrence: The solution is equally straightforward. Automate it, make it easier, use technology, leverage ACH direct deposit reimbursements, and you’re going to see happier employees but also a happy accounting team who doesn’t have to write a paper check anymore.
Connor Lawrence: Take some time off them as well. I mean, there’s ROI there that’s harder to measure directly but is, I think, very tangible on a year-over-year basis.
Connor Lawrence: All right guys, well that brings us to the end of the core content here. Corey, Natalie, thank you so much for sharing with us. I think as a way of a quick summary, more isn’t more. What does that mean? I think a more complicated travel policy isn’t necessarily going to save you more money and it certainly won’t leave your employees happy.
Connor Lawrence: Create a policy that aligns your financial goals with your employees’ needs. Leverage incentives if you can and they can go a very long way in driving better behavior which is savings and happiness for your team. Then adjust your policy as needed. Keep up with your employees, keep them engaged, and keep them productive through your policy. The final note there, trust the data, trust your people.
Connor Lawrence: All right, thanks guys. Before we head into the Q&A session, I want to just remind you of the offer that we have coming through. If you are looking to update your travel program or maybe implement a new one for the first time, and should you choose to work with TravelBank, we’re going to offer you guys 1% back on all your travel spend for the next year.
Connor Lawrence: If that’s interesting to you or you just want to chat with our cool customer success and sales team to learn more about what we can do to help your company out, shoot us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can mention this webinar and someone will be in touch pretty quick.
Connor Lawrence: But without further ado, let’s dive into the questions. All right, so first off, we have a question here: what is a good hard cap for hotels and how often should we adjust it? I can start taking a stab at that and then I’ll pass it over to one of you guys.
Connor Lawrence: I’m of two minds on this one. We tend to lean away from a hard cap in general because we recognize that oftentimes, a hard cap is going to drive the wrong behavior. People will book all the way up to the hard cap. What we recommend is you kind of balance something between a hard cap, calling it a true ceiling, and a flexible budget.
Connor Lawrence: Make your hard cap higher. Look at maybe the most expensive market you travel to and put a reasonable hard cap in there. I recommended $350 to clients who were in San Francisco, so needless to say it’s a lot more expensive to book a hotel here. But we recognize also that maybe around DreamForce time, as I mentioned earlier, a hotel could be $700.
Connor Lawrence: If your team doesn’t need to be here for DreamForce, you probably should put a threshold in place so that they hit that buffer and you have an extra layer of approval in place for those crazy moments of seasonality where maybe they could go the week after and save the company a little more money. That’s my take on it. Corey, Natalie, anything you guys want to chime in on?
Natalie Farr: I think you summed it up pretty well, Connor. I agree with you. I think that having that hard cap or more of that ceiling cap is important because your travelers might not know that it’s DreamForce. They’re not trying to do anything shady. Just having that visibility in place is really helpful.
Corey Walker: Yeah. I second that too. The biggest thing is what if someone’s going out to the middle of nowhere in Colorado and you give them that $200, $300 hard cap, as Natalie mentioned previously, so you’re allowing them to spend up to that? Are you going to create a hard cap for every city out there? If so, you’re going to have a million for your company to actually go through whenever they’re traveling.
Connor Lawrence: Yeah, no, that’s a really good point. Just to address the second part of the question as well is how often should we adjust a hard cap. See, this is part of the problem too. If you’re managing a hard cap, cities change. Austin’s a good example. Austin, Texas has blown up as a big tech destination and travel destination and business travel over the past few years.
Connor Lawrence: Prior to that explosion, you’ve probably seen lower hotel costs there. Now, they’re pretty rapidly increasing. At the most, I would say once a year go look at your hard cap. At the end of the year, go take a look. If you want to look more frequent than that, go for it but probably yearly, I would look at your hard cap. No more frequently than that, but certainly not every two years. I’ve talked to people that haven’t adjusted their hard caps in six years and that’s definitely way too long.
Connor Lawrence: All right, let’s grab another question here. We’ve been going back and forth on whether or not to leverage our team’s Airbnb option. What do you think? The question is, we’re not sure if we want to use Airbnb. What do you guys recommend? I think we all probably have opinions on this. Corey, do you want to take this? I know you have clients who use it, some who don’t.
Corey Walker: Yeah, so using Airbnb, it’s a great option. It’s a great alternative option. It’s actually one of the best ways to save your company the most money. Hotels, like you mentioned, during DreamForce are crazy expensive. Airbnb usually is a great alternative option.
Corey Walker: However, you got to think Airbnb is starting to get to realize when these conferences are going on, so they’re going to start raising their prices as well. But they’re never going to be as expensive as what the hotel’s going to be based on the inventory that the hotel is putting out.
Corey Walker: The biggest thing that I find with Airbnb is just being able to track it, being able to find out where your employees are from a duty of care perspective. Just making sure that your employees let you know where they’re staying, you’re able to track them down so if anything were to ever happen in that city, you’re aware of where they are and if you need to do anything to get them out of that city.
Connor Lawrence: Yeah. I’m glad you touched on that. Interestingly, I was a [GBTA 00:40:49], the business travel conference a couple years ago now and was chatting with the Airbnb product team and they were researching that exact problem. It’s definitely something they’re thinking about and I know the Airbnb for Work program has evolved a great deal over the past couple of years.
Connor Lawrence: I would say if you’re going to approach Airbnb, make sure you get set up on Airbnb for Work so you can more easily track your people. They have systems that are built to help you with that specifically, but also chat with your account manager.
Connor Lawrence: If you’re with us, if you’re with TravelBank, then talk to us so we can make some recommendations but if you’re not and you’re with a company that can offer something like this, then definitely have a conversation with them. They can help you vet whether or not Airbnb is the right thing to add to your program.
Connor Lawrence: I don’t think it’s one size fits all. It really depends on your team and what your capacity is and willingness is to have a really tightly knit program and security and stuff like that.
Connor Lawrence: Actually, somebody dropped this in as a bit of feedback that I think is awesome. They said that they’ve seen companies “test Airbnb out” as a part of their policy by using them for some meetings and events where a group can all stay together and then the travel team can go and collect the feedback, determine how easy it was to transition to travel and see if they add value.
Connor Lawrence: I think that’s a really good point. If you want to dive into Airbnb, maybe start with just a test. See what that looks like, get an understanding of whether or not it’s something that works for your team and then incorporate it back into your program.
Connor Lawrence: I love that. That kind of touches on a lot of what we talked about today with engaging your employees, collecting their feedback, and then working that back into your travel policy which is always really effective.
Connor Lawrence: All right, let’s jump onto the next one. What impact does a corporate card have on travel policy? That’s a really good question. Does anyone here want to jump on that? Corey or I’m happy to take it too. I’ll take silence as me.
Connor Lawrence: Corporate cards are interesting. We see clients who are spending millions of dollars not have a corporate card. We see clients who have $100,000 in spend have corporate card. Some of you may see we have a partnership with [Brex 00:42:58] who’s a really good corporate card company.
Connor Lawrence: Their core focus initially was startups, so most of their clients are doing small amount of travel spend in the few hundred thousand dollars but certainly not in the many millions. For those, for the first time, I think we’re seeing the emergence of a corporate card on a smaller scale.
Connor Lawrence: But what it allowed people to do as finance team and from a savings proposition is one, I think get better data and better insight into what they’re spending on the team level. I think expense platforms aren’t really equipped or built well for that, especially for a small business. There’s just not an analytics play in expenses across most of the market until you get really to the enterprise level.
Connor Lawrence: I think that was kind of step one, so it’s been really cool to see the impact that Brex has had on the market and what they’ve done to shift small business behavior around a corporate card. On top of that, you do get benefits as a business for using a corporate card, right?
Connor Lawrence: You can go and you can get multipliers. Brex gives a 4x multiplier on points when you book travel through TravelBank and I think a 7x on Lyft and a number of other huge benefits that they give. I know other corporate card providers out there do similar sorts of things, so that’s definitely a consideration.
Connor Lawrence: When you’re thinking about a program, savings is a core value that you want to promote within your platform and your policy, then certainly look at a corporate card. I think that there’s a lot to be done there.
Connor Lawrence: Now, back to the balance that we always try and strike or recommend or clients strike with policy. If you’re looking at employee happiness, taking away their personal card means taking away points that they’re going to earn, it means taking away maybe the family vacation that they would book on credit card points every year.
Connor Lawrence: It’s up to you. Look at your company culture, look at what you’re comfortable with. I think there’s a lot of really good benefits to having a corporate card, but equally, if you have a team to people who are spending reasonably and they’re not taking advantage of company dollars and they’re really, really happy with the fact that they are able to book on their personal card and don’t mind being out of pocket for a cost, for a few thousand dollars on a business trip, then maybe you leave it in place.
Connor Lawrence: Again, I would say it’s an option. I would recommend any company get a corporate card and make it an option on a booking so you can add that corporate card to your booking tool usually, make it an option at checkout in case somebody doesn’t want to cover that big cost of maybe a multi-week hotel stay or something like that.
Connor Lawrence: That’s my take on the corporate cards. I think that it can have a pretty significant impact on a travel policy but also… One on savings but the other side on employee behavior and employee happiness.
Connor Lawrence: All right, let’s take… I think we have time for one more here. How often should I be adjusting my travel policies? Corey, this is probably a good one for you to take a stab at. I mean, you’re helping people take a look at their travel policies pretty frequently. If you want to pick this up, then all yours.
Corey Walker: Yeah, of course. I mean, when it comes down to adjusting your travel policy, it all just depends on the company and kind of what you’re going through. If you’re looking at massive hiring a bunch of new people, then that may be the best time. If you’re looking at, I would say, you’re buying another company or you’re looking to… I’m losing the word, train of thoughts today.
Corey Walker: Yeah, it really just depends what’s the best time for you and when’s the best time… If you see that you’re overspending, if we look into your analytics and see that the amount of money that you’re actually spending is more than what you were projecting, then maybe that’s something we need to go back and review and see, is it because of your people are overspending one their hotels or their flights?
Corey Walker: Or is it truly just that your business has picked up and your travel spend is going to be more than that? When is a good time? There’s not a good time, but we could always review it for you or quarterly reviews. Usually, I tell companies three months after implementation, let’s sit down, let’s have a review, let’s see what’s going on with your travel trends and see if there’s anything that we really need to work on or tweak to make sure that you as a company are saving the most money you can while your travelers are out there.
Connor Lawrence: Yeah. That’s really good feedback and if you look back on the topics that we chatted about today, advance booking requirements, approval processes, rewards, hotel policy, all that stuff, if you’re not looking at the data that you have and that you’re collecting on on a quarterly basis and using it, then maybe you’re not ready for a fully managed travel program.
Connor Lawrence: I think that that’s like, you have access to data and you should be leveraging it to improve your policies all the time. Maybe you just look at the data and you’re like, “Things are good, we don’t need to make any changes,” and that’s totally fine but at least you have that insight.
Connor Lawrence: I would say my recommendation is if you are going to be adjusting your travel policy, make it data centric. Look at the analytics and the reports that you have from that quarter and do a retrospective. Understand the data, go and talk to your travelers.
Connor Lawrence: Maybe once a year, do stakeholder meetings with your team but quarterly, look at the real time data you have access to and make any kind of refinements or improvements that you need based on what you’re seeing.
Connor Lawrence: Again, I’ll keeping saying this, if you have a customer success manager or account manager at your travel management company, use them. They work with dozens of clients who have gone through probably what you’re going through, so talk to them, use their insights, and hopefully walk away more informed and feeling more confident about your policy.
Connor Lawrence: All right guys, that is all we have time for today. Thanks again for joining. Take a look at our follow up email that’ll drop in your inbox soon. That’ll have the recording of this webinar in case you missed anything earlier and then all the resources that we mentioned today as well.
Connor Lawrence: Thank you again, everyone and we hope you have a wonderful holiday season.
Corey Walker: Yes, thank you everyone. Thank you, Connor. Thank you, Natalie.
Natalie Farr: Thank you.
Connor Lawrence: Thanks, guys.