Sometimes in life you’re forced to pick between two imperfect options — trying to find the lesser of two evils, the least bad option.
These “rock and a hard place” decisions are never fun, but sometimes there’s just no way around them.
Historically, this is exactly what it’s been like to travel for business.
Companies have been forced to choose between two heavily flawed options: have employees book completely on their own or pay someone else to handle bookings on behalf of all traveling employees.
These options have serious downsides:
- Self-booking forces employees to spend hours of their time shopping for flights and hotels, comparing prices, and navigating phone trees when anything changes. It also fragments and delays reimbursement, forcing employees to front travel expenses for weeks or months.
- Travel management companies are expensive and, surprisingly, still quite time-intensive for corporate travelers with plenty of back and forth for each booking and little control over the details, like seat choice and loyalty points.
If neither of these options sounds ideal to you, you’re not alone. The majority of corporate travelers quickly get fed up with all the time and money they’re wasting booking travel.
Just how bad is it?
To find out, we recently conducted an extensive survey of more than 1,300 corporate travelers and travel managers, and the results were stark: neither option — unmanaged self-booking or middle man booking — works for them.
The true cost of self-booking
On its surface, a self-booking policy might not seem that bad. Online booking tools have advanced considerably in recent years, and most consumers are quite familiar with how they work.
Plus, self-booking gives employees more control over their bookings.
But scratch the surface and problems start to emerge:
- What happens when travelers need to make changes at the last minute?
- How can you be sure they’re getting flights and hotels at the best prices?
- How much time are they really spending booking flights and hotels?
Our survey revealed that the answers to these questions aren’t pretty.
In fact, employees who book their own travel are probably spending way more time doing so than you’d expect.
The average frequent business traveler spends 108 hours a year on admin work related to corporate travel — i.e. researching, booking, adjusting, canceling and expensing travel.
Needless to say, 108 hours is a lot, and this is not lost on corporate travelers.
- 64% believe that the self-booking approach wastes time
- 55% believe it negatively impacts job productivity
- 70% say this booking time could be better spent in other areas
Clearly, self-booking is a travel management policy with some serious drawbacks. All of the time these employees spend booking, re-booking, and expensing travel is time they’re not spending on their actual job.
So, given this, you’d assume that the exact opposite — having someone designated to booking on behalf of corporate travelers — would yield opposing results.
Stuck with the middleman
If employees aren’t booking their own business travel, who’s doing it for them?
Generally speaking, companies have relied on travel management companies (TMCs) and the corporate travel agents who work for them to manage corporate travel for a bunch of clients.
Ideally, TMCs offer businesses an easy way to offload corporate travel management to people with a great deal of industry knowledge and connections. But that comes at a price.
TMCs typically charge for every transaction (not just bookings!) on top of other fees and/or retainers.
But, ok, maybe all that money is worth it if it means you can have your employees focus all their time on their actual jobs. One hundred and eight hours is a lot of lost productivity after all.
Unfortunately, our study found this to be far from the case. Even travelers who have TMCs booking on their behalf waste time on travel management, and are still unhappy with the process.
- 60% believe that going through a booking middleman approach wastes time
- 55% believe it negatively impacts job productivity
- 59% believe they could be more efficient if they could book for themselves
That last one is especially telling. Of the hundreds of frequent business travelers we surveyed who used corporate travel agents to book on their behalf, more than half feel they could be more efficient if they were just booking themselves.
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And they’re paying money for the privilege!
These travelers explained that, even though someone is technically booking their travel, they still must spend many hours on every trip communicating preferences, approving itineraries, submitting expenses, changing bookings, and more.
Are you accruing your frequent flyer miles? Did you actually get the seat you want? Travelers routinely expressed uncertainty about these topics when they have someone else booking for them.
So, to summarize: travelers who book for themselves feel they waste way too much on travel management and are very frustrated by the process.
Travelers who have someone else booking their travel, on the other hand, feel they waste way too much time on travel management and are very frustrated by the process.
The bottom line
There is no denying that travel is an important part of business success, but it is clearly a painful and time-consuming one.
Travelers bemoan the hours they spend booking, changing, and expensing corporate travel — regardless of whether they’re booking for themselves or having an external travel agent book on their behalf.
Consumer tools like Kayak have set the expectation that booking travel should be intuitive and fast, but for the vast majority of people, this is not the case for booking corporate travel.
While corporate travelers may have been ok with this situation a decade ago, they’re no longer so patient.
Today’s frequent business travelers are looking for an easier, more streamlined way to manage their travel for work.