Travel & Expense

Managing Traveler Friction with Data Analysis

on November 18, 2014

We don’t talk about the aspects of traveling much here on the blog, but today I wanted to comment on an interesting article on traveller friction. Managing traveler friction (or traveler burnout as it is more commonly called) is a complex challenge for today’s corporate travel managers; they have to balance the need for making the most out of the corporate travel budget while also avoiding burned out road warriors. It’s a tricky proposition.

Travel provider programs subtly encourage non-compliant behavior in order to maximize the friction reducing benefits.  Airline upgrades are prioritized by the price of the ticket causing some travelers to wait until later than they normally would to purchase a ticket, thereby increasing the price as well as their odds of an upgrade.  Hotel upgrades are prioritized by the number of nights the traveler has stayed with a lodging provider, thereby increasing in some instances the number of nights stayed.  Why not go the night before in order to stay an extra night?

Travel providers such as airlines and hotels have been addressing elements of traveler friction for some time through their elite traveler recognition programs.  Delta Air Lines’ Diamond Elite travelers enjoy being at the front of the line when it comes to boarding and when it comes to the all-important first class upgrades.  Many a Delta Frequent Flyer has taken solace in yet another early morning flight with the confidence that they are likely to take that zero dark thirty in the front cabin.

Similarly, Marriott Rewards Platinum travelers enjoy check-in perks including a welcome gift, room upgrades, and access to the concierge lounge for breakfast, snacks, and drinks.  Many a Marriott Platinum traveler has taken solace in yet another night on the road by stretching out in their corner room overlooking the city and munching on snacks from the concierge lounge while sipping on a drink from the same place. When repeatedly on the road, those small comforts add up to a huge difference in the way you feel.

The cynic in me says that Delta and Marriott are more interested in ensuring loyalty and maximizing revenue, but the long-time business traveler in me rationalizes this as Delta and Marriott reducing as much friction as possible in order to keep me traveling. Still, the realist in me looks at the challenges travel and expense managers have in reducing traveler friction with the realities of travel budgets and policies.

Isn’t there a way to maximize traveler rewards without trashing company policy? Understanding traveler behavior and the motivations for their behavior is the key for travel and expense managers hoping to better manage this traveler friction challenge. The companies who monitor 100% of their traveler’s transactions, program managers can isolate behavior that is worthy of further scrutiny.  Once the motivations are known, program managers can take steps to modify policies, create exceptions, and solicit input from the traveling community.  Companies who do not monitor 100% of their transactions and rely solely on anecdotal evidence and audits of suspected out-of-compliance travelers run the risk of missing opportunities to address friction while optimizing budgets.

Our favorite example of this is the Oversight client who had a no in-room movie policy. People were breaking this policy, and they wanted to know why. Upon further research of their data the company found that those who ordered movies spent significantly less than the travelers who obeyed policy but spent the evenings, say, at the hotel bar. Armed with this knowledge they were then able to modify the policy to include in-room movies, which made the travelers happy and also reduced their bottom line. Without complete visibility into every transaction, this is a behavior pattern they would have missed.

spend-analysis-vol3