Business travel is back! The 2008 financial crisis left companies short on cash, and industry growth has been slow ever since.
But the tide has turned, and companies are sending staff out on the road again. And that means that more and more team members are coming to grips with the difficult travel booking process.
Because one thing hasn't changed: it’s still a pain to book trips. At least, it is for companies doing things the classic way. If you're asking staff to navigate a complex travel policy, find budget-appropriate flights and accommodation, book it all themselves (with their own money or the company card), and then provide valid proofs of purchase when they get back...you're stuck in the past.
Luckily, all you need to do to catch up is use a handy tool (or two). Modern technology is so much better at these manual tasks than we humans are.
These are the best tools to help you automate, centralise, and manage travel bookings for your company.
More travel management tips, tools and strategy:
- 60+ fascinating business travel statistics
- How to easily create a business travel policy
- A strategy to get corporate travel under control
Tools to book travel
For most of your team, issues with travel start with the booking process. They know where they’re going and for how long, but they don’t necessarily know how to book the big trip.
Which gives you a few options:
- You have a company travel buyer, or a member of the administration or finance teams make the booking; or
- You let them book the trip, but with very clear travel policies and instructions.
We think the second option is best. Nearly half of business travellers want the opportunity to book for themselves.
But you don’t want to have to hold their hands throughout, and you absolutely need to keep clear records of all travel.
Here are a few good options to make the booking process more amenable.
Booking business travel can be a significant challenge for staff. They bounce around from site to site, trying to find the most convenient and comfortable flights and accommodation to fit within company spending limits.
Most of the time, we’re happy to have such a huge range of options. But too much choice becomes counterproductive, and you end up wasting time and becoming frustrated.
TravelPerk tackles this challenge by putting the world’s largest travel inventory in one place. Just like the sites you use in your personal life, TravelPerk brings different airlines, hotels, trains and more into its dashboard and mobile app, so your team only needs to visit one platform.
And it gets much more interesting for finance teams. If your whole company books travel in one place, then tracking bookings and producing reports becomes incredibly simple.
Unlike the sites you use in your private life, TravelPerk is built for businesses. So they know what records you need to keep. And you’ll be able to easily see who booked which trip, when, and what for.
“Before TravelPerk, our company was booking trips in a very old school way,” says Ykone CEO Olivier Billon. “We were booking flights and hotels on consumer websites, and it was a nightmare to keep track of everything.”
Now finance teams can give their colleagues autonomy to book trips, and still have control and visibility over what was booked.
You may never have even heard of AirBnb for Work. It’s not too different from the consumer version - you can book a wide range of accommodation types for your travelling team.
But there are a few key differences:
- Bookings are linked to the company profile. So a team member can book the property they like, and the finance team will be able to get the details and invoice later without having to chase people.
- It’s not just overnight accommodation. There are spaces to rent for meetings and conferences, and even temporary office space to rent.
- AirBnb Experiences also help you find good team-building activities if you’re taking a group with you on the road.
“With the dashboard, we can view where all of our employees are traveling and where they are staying, as well as the average rate that we are spending and the cost savings that we have every year,” said Ashley Schmitz, Regional Lead Executive Assistant for Campari America.
If you like using AirBnb for your personal travel, AirBnb for Work gives you all the same options, but lets the company track bookings more easily.
TravelBank is similar to TravelPerk (above). It’s a centralised tool to let team members book all their travel in one place.
That means you can find, book, and track trips from beginning to end. And as we’ve said, giving your team members one central location to book and pay is always a big benefit.
But most users love it just as much for its expense reports functions. Like some of the tools below, the user can screenshot receipts for flights or ground transport, and these are matched to charges on the company card.
This helps to automate the expense report process - maybe the worst aspect of work travel both for employees and the finance team.
Another interesting feature is the ability for individual travellers to earn rewards through TravelBank. Instead of maxing out their travel budget, users get personal rewards for bringing the company a discount. That’s a nice way to incentivise responsible spending.
If you’re not ready to completely say goodbye to travel agents, Flightfox may be a great option for you. It uses a network of travel experts to help travellers book the perfect experience every time.
And rather than having to go into a travel agent’s office, you just enter a few details online.
The service revolves around one big guarantee: We guarantee to beat your quote by more than our fee otherwise our service is entirely FREE. If you don't receive the best value and service, you can even contact me directly.
— Lauren, co-founder of Flightfox
So first you find a quote. This may be from another travel agent, a booking site, or perhaps it’s just the budget for your trip.
They’ll then tell you the fee you’d be expected to pay to Flightfox, and will return to you with a trip that meets their guarantee. The only catch is, if they can meet their guarantee, you have to book. In other words, they’re not working for free.
And the reviews are good. Users are genuinely surprised and happy with the service they receive.
How do they do it? According to Reviewopedia, it’s not magic. In fact, most of the flights and hotel deals are available easily online.
But “the reality of air travel most of the time is that the best possible flight prices are generally available for very small windows of time which are nearly impossible to predict, so having a team of trip planners keeping an eye on your necessary flights all day long until the find the best option for your needs is truly a great service that has resulted in many people saving hundreds of dollars.”
This is one of the reasons that travel agents were so successful for so many years. And Flightfox puts a team of them at your disposal wherever you are.
Lola.com is a simple platform for booking, managing and reporting on corporate travel. From the travel tech innovators who created KAYAK, Lola offers an intuitive, agile travel management solution that people actually want to use.
Beneath the modern, mobile-friendly booking and expensing app is a powerful travel management and reporting platform that makes it easy to stay on budget, forecast spend, and book travel on behalf of other employees.
But the most powerful aspect of Lola is not technological - it's human. Lola’s app allows you to get 24/7 test-based support from live travel experts who can instantly help with everything from rebooking flights to proactively updating itineraries when travel plans change.
Taken together, these features and functionality make Lola an incredibly simple and powerful solution for business travel.
As Becky Garber, Executive Assistant at Drift, puts it: “Lola has taken the whole process of booking and managing travel down from three days to ten minutes.”
Tools to manage travel spending
Monitoring and controlling travel spending is no easy task. You have a mixture of payments with company cards, invoices and wire transfers for large purchases, and employees using their own money and claiming reimbursements.
You need to track every one of these payments, assign them to the right people and teams, and keep a lid on budgets.
Without a little help, you don’t stand a chance.
These tools make it that little bit simpler to know who’s spending what, where, and when.
How do your teams pay for travel? Whether it’s booking flights online, paying for hotels on arrival, or buying a coffee on the way to a conference, this should all be logged as travel spending for a single event.
But that gets tricky. If a traveller buys the flights with the company card (from the office), then pays for the rest with their own money weeks later, it’s not always easy to match these up to the same user (and the same budget).
Spendesk changes that. It gives you different payment methods, but always linked to the same user. They pay online with a virtual credit card, then take their prepaid expense card with them on the road. Both are in their name, so you always know who’s spending - unlike with the company card.
And if they do need to spend their own money, they can automatically generate expense reports and then link these to their same user profile. So again, this spending matches up with the rest.
Because all of this spending is logged in real time, it also lets your finance team track spending as it happens. That’s not the case with classic expense reports, which most teams file at the end of the month.
To put it in a nutshell, if you care about safe, secure travel spending, Spendesk is a great option.
Trippeo is similar to TravelBank (above). While you can book travel from within the platform, most users seem to prefer the expense report automation functions it offers.
You can log every purchase and payment as you go, and then Trippeo helps you find and save the receipts. This is very handy for employees (who hate expense reports), and it helps the finance team because reports are filed correctly the first time.
Users also love Trippeo’s OCR software. This lets you email a receipt to a dedicated inbox, and the tool automatically matches this up with the payment. Which is much better than a pile of balled-up receipts in your office drawer.
It’s not as comprehensive as some of the tools on this list, but it’s effective and easy to use.
If you’re not ready for a dedicated business expense management tool, Spendee is a nice workaround. It’s a free app that tracks what you spend in real time and lets you attach receipts.
While it’s not actually built for business users, your traveling team members can easily use this great little app to track their spending as they go. It will help ensure that they record every payment - big or small.
Plus, they can add managers or finance team members to their account, so you’ll have visibility over these purchases.
A few interesting extras
Booking trips and managing payments are usually the two biggest hurdles to overcome. But there are still helpful tools and services that take some of the pain out of travelling for work.
Here are a few of our favourites.
TripIt’s a handy tool that helps users build an itinerary from their bookings. Just forward every confirmation email to TripIt, and you have an itinerary you can access from your phone or computer, wherever you are.
It even provides maps to help you get from place to place in your itinerary. And TripIt Pro has added features like a Seat Tracker to help you choose the best seats on your flight.
And there’s a free version, so you really don’t have a reason not to try it.
10. Google Trips
Google has created a lot of incredible apps and services. This is one that not many people talk about, but it’s still definitely worthy of praise.
At its core, Google Trips helps you access your itinerary easily. If you use Gmail, the app extracts dates and locations from your confirmation emails and displays them all together.
So you don’t have to rifle through your inbox to figure out which terminal you fly from, or what time you arrive. And all of this can be saved offline too, in case you don’t have roaming data.
That’s great. And that’s just the beginning. The tool also uses the endless supply of Google Reviews to suggest restaurants and activities upon your arrival. These suggestions are well presented, so they’re actually enjoyable to scroll through.
The app’s also full of helpful hints, like whether you need to tip in your destination country, and the nearest 24-hour hospitals.
Again, it’s not strictly for business users. But anyone who needs to plan a trip and keep their plans in one place will love Google Trips.
This one is more of luxury than anything else. But those who’ve used the service really some to love it.
Here’s how it works in a nutshell:
- You send them your clothes. This could be suits for a conference or evening gowns for a busy week of networking.
- They launder and fold them neatly, and add photos to the app.
- In the app, you select the clothes you need and tell them where you need them.
- They’re delivered wherever you need them. So if you’re heading out of town, your clothes will be there when you arrive.
- After wearing them, they collect and store them again for the next trip.
As you can see, this is a premium service. It’s not for the once-a-year traveller.
But if you have people constantly on the road, or if your senior staff regularly attend high profile events, this could be a very interesting service to invest in.
What do you do when things go wrong? More importantly, when a team member has a flight rerouted or cancelled, will they know what to do next?
Airhelp tells travellers their rights. If flights are cancelled or delayed significantly, Airhelp tells you whether you’re eligible for compensation, and what to do next.
This is something that most business travellers don’t even think about. They just assume everything will work out fine, and if not, the company has to pay anyway.
But they may be missing out on immediate help. And they can also assist the company to recoup costs, which helps their budget and your bottom line.
If your teams are armed with Airhelp, they’ll at least know the options available to them.
Take a few travel tools for a test drive
So there were 11 helpful tools to help manage your business travel. The only thing left for you to do is try them out and see which ones suit you best.
As you do, have a few key things in mind. You want to:
- Give your travellers more flexibility and choice
- Track and manage spending in real time
- Keep control in the hands of the finance team
- Save as much time as possible in the process
If the tool you're trying out can't do one or more of these things, it's probably not a good fit.