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Can Business Travellers Have Any Real Freedom?

Travel – by its very definition – should be about freedom.

Taking off, leaving expectations behind, discovering somewhere new and embracing the unknown… However, when it comes to business travel, freedom is not often the first word that jumps to mind. Between best fare of the day policies, preferred hotels and rigid schedules, you may feel restricted rather than free… Every business traveller knows the company must maintain control, but given that travel has become a key part in so many executives’ lives there needs to be some balance when it comes to travelling for business. Companies ask much of their employees today, and while backpacks and one-way tickets might be out of the equation, it doesn’t mean business travellers must give a farewell wave to every freedom. By incorporating small, yet meaningful and impactful, changes into your business travel plans, you can be well on your way back to experiencing the freedom of travel once again.

Utilise your options

Within any given policy, there are typically some allowances for individual choice and preferences. Particularly useful are self-booking tools, which provide travellers with the ability to chose their preferred travel options (including flights and hotels), while still adhering to company policy. The company is providing a selection of options from which to choose to empower business travellers to make their own choices, within pre-defined parameters. Within these tools, travellers should also have the ability to provide their travel preferences. Whether as small as an airline seating preference or being able to select the hotel within walking distance of the convention centre, these are all freedoms that add up to a more personalised travel experience.

Consider a new policy?

Certain progressive organisations are adopting a new approach to business travel. By providing their travellers with an average cost per trip allowance, they are then given the freedom to select and book their preferred travel options. If and when they achieve savings, they are rewarded appropriately. An interesting approach that farewells the commonplace travel policy, this model allows travellers to enjoy the freedom of self-selection, while leveraging the myriad of travel options available to them. Providing a facility that allows different types of carriers through to unique lodging such as providers like Airbnb, there are exciting opportunities to have freedom of choice, while enjoying a brilliant travel experience, and achieving a hefty company saving.

Best fare of the day?

Businesses that use a best fare of the day policy as part of their travel programme attempt to achieve maximum savings on air travel by showing employees cheaper fares when they are available around the time of travel. Travellers are made aware of the savings that can be achieved if they make alterations to their travel plans; this is either through a “visual guilt” system online, or via the travel counsellor on the phone. Typically, a best fare of the day policy provides alternative options within a defined time period however business travellers have to be at a certain place at a certain time, without fail. Policies therefore have to reflect the best available fare at the specific time to be effective, and travellers must choose the airline that flies to the right airport at the right time, at the right price. Best fare of the day does not usually allow for additional charges or time, such as ground transportation cost and time when flying into secondary airports. A best fare of the day approach therefore needs additional, experienced, travel management company input in many cases, either online or offline, to enable travellers to achieve a certain level of freedom in their decision making to ensure they are where they need to be, when they need to be, at the best price.

What about my airline points?

Given that many businesses like to give their travellers some flexibility when choosing airlines to fly with, it’s natural that travellers make choices where they are rewarded. For reward programmes to be truly maximised, a traveller would fly with the same airline on every trip. The reality is that most fly with different carriers for different types of trips. Most decisions made by travellers are based on what airline they prefer to travel with, not which airline provides the most competitive airfare. Travellers are able to use cheaper fares for business and deliver significant cost savings to the corporate travel budget, but if points are the decision maker it’s very possible considerable amounts of money are being compromised for a service that doesn’t vary much on a short flight.

There have been significant changes to airline rewards that have seen points earned in some programmes reduced by 75% this year. Business travellers are beginning to understand that points earned on short-haul European business trips are diminishing quickly, and no longer deliver the value they may have in the past. The airline industry has changed. The legacy and low cost carrier models are converging ever more as traditional carriers work hard to keep costs down.

Clearly demonstrate the value

At the end of the day, freedom and flexibility comes from showing a solid return on travel investment. We all know that despite the technology we have access to, nothing can replace meeting with someone face to face. The resulting positive impacts on the business and the bottom line are indisputable. A recent study* confirmed that every €1 invested in business travel produces added revenue of €10. Thus, it’s imperative that employees make choices that clearly demonstrate the value of their travel (cost, time and productivity) to their superiors and the company’s travel procurement executives. The more an airline can save you, the more you can fly. And the more you can fly, the more you can do business – your way. Freedom and all.

* As stated in a recent study by Oxford Economics

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