Overhead view of overlapping highways. How to use business travel data to save money & cut costs.

Many companies do not realize that their overall travel spend encompasses anywhere between 8% and 12% of their total budget. Which begs the question: are you making the most of out that rather large chunk of your overall budget, zeroing in on excessive spending trends and keeping your travelers all on the same page to ensure fiscal responsibility? If you’re not tracking your travel spend—which also includes small meetings—then how would you know?

The fact is, business travel plays a crucial role in your company’s spend management. To gain visibility into this often-dark category, it’s important for small and medium-sized companies to track their travel costs, gain valuable 36k-foot-view insights of the big picture, and then leverage those results to create future opportunities to save and create efficiencies. Here’s a quick overview to show you the basics of tracking travel data.

Your travelers are generating a wide range of data, but not all of it is helpful. 

What is Good Data? 
Your travelers are generating a wide range of data, but not all of it is helpful. For instance, it’s not terribly useful to your data analysis to know if your travelers prefer to rent Hondas over Fords, or if they prefer the aisle or window seat (although both of those facts are good to know for travel fulfillment purposes). 

Instead you need data that’s complete, accurate, timely and relevant. It needs to represent all of your travel spend (complete) without errors (accurate), and it needs to be available to you when it’s time to make key managerial or budget decisions (timely). But most importantly, it should be connected to strategic business outcomes so that you can act on this info in a positive fashion.

Know Your Travel Data Sources

Travel data can be acquired during three phrases of the traveler’s journey, each of which corresponds to unique ways to use that data. Before the trip, data comes from your ticketing source, whether that’s an online booking tool or a travel management company (TMC). Note, if your employees are booking their travel through various online booking tools, that data will be nearly impossible to combine and analyze. At this stage, the data collected can be used to enforce your company’s travel policy, suggest strategic alternatives and develop a sense of the traveler’s upcoming safety needs.

During the trip, data comes from what your travelers charge throughout their journey, whether through their TMC, a company credit card or a personal one. Again, if your employees are using their personal credit cards, that data will be difficult to combine and analyze. At this stage, the data can be used to monitor policy compliance and determine the travelers overall safety (i.e. track if they are in the path of a hurricane or in an area of civil unrest).

After the trip, travel data comes from your expense reporting and reimbursements, and it often includes the small fees (gas, food, entertainment) that add up quickly. This data can be useful for policy audits and adjustments, vendor negotiations and forecasting.

Influencing Traveler Behavior

As we saw above, there are some obstacles to face when acquiring key data points, but they can be overcome through a concerted effort to positively sway traveler behavior. This begins with instituting a comprehensive travel policy that your leaders should supportively communicate to your travelers. You should also have influence at the point of sale, so that travelers don’t book independently, while also establishing oversight protocols and post-trip audits.

Travel data can be acquired during three phrases of the traveler’s journey

Travel management companies can offer great assistance in this area, especially when it comes to creating a travel policy that fits both your company’s culture and business objectives. Plus, they can help you implement an incentive travel program that will inspire policy loyalty and reward travelers for making better choices.

Okay, You Influenced Good Behaviors and Obtained Quality Data… Now What?
When properly combined and analyzed, quality travel data can be used to reduce a company’s overall travel costs through progressive vendor leveraging, monitor policy and regulatory compliance, improve budgeting and managerial decisions, and support traveler safety and security.

The key is knowing how to combine that information and see the 36k picture. Again, travel management companies are a valuable asset in this regard. When they control your company’s complete travel fulfillment needs, they are able to accurately obtain and combine the data, which they then present to you through a template that contains key travel metrics. These metrics include yearly and monthly averages on all your central spend categories—air, hotel, car rentals, food and entertainment—thus giving you the precise view you need to make vital decisions that create more value for your travel spending investment.