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High-value Travel Policies

Because value is the right question

Most old-school travel policies were designed to control costs, full stop.


That’s fine for any company that has a deep and cheap source of easily-replaced road warriors. Those companies should keep their low-cost, low-value travel policies.

But if your company’s road warriors are well paid and hard to replace, you need a high-value travel policy. This means choosing policies that help recruit and retain high-value travelers, and that help those travelers deliver the most value from their trips, now and over the long run.

Impact of a High-value Travel Policy

The right travel policy can benefit a company in three important ways:

  • Improve recruiting and retention

  • Increase productivity and each trip’s ROI

  • Protect traveler health and safety

Let’s be clear that a high-value travel policy is going to cost more for things like airfares and hotels. But cost is the wrong question. The right question is all about value.

The issue is whether or not frequent travelers will generate enough value to justify the increased costs. Research suggests the answer is yes. See this study and this study.

Elements of a High-value Travel Policy

So what goes into a modern travel policy if the goal is to maximize the ROI on all that travel spend?

First, every travel policy must require that all travelers share their itineraries with their travel manager. This goes to the company’s duty of care responsibility, and is essential for providing proper health and safety support to every traveler. This travel policy element needs 100% compliance.

The other key elements of a high-value travel policy are designed to improve road warrior recruiting, retention, productivity and wellness. As such, these elements are more about what’s allowed, even encouraged, rather than what’s prohibited. Here’s what should go into a high-value travel policy:

Better cabin policies. Road warriors can spend more than 200 hours a year in flight. Allow Premium Economy for flights less than 5 or 6 hours, and Business Class for longer flights. For your most frequent travelers, and your highest-paid travelers, allow First Class on any short haul flight. Many won’t take it; they'll book Y and bet on an upgrade. Those that do book First Class will really appreciate the extra productivity. Cabin policy may well be the single most important factor for road warrior recruiting and retention. The optics alone can make this element a winner.

High quality hotels. The average road warrior spends at least 40 nights away from home; some spend more than 150 nights. Hard to imagine if much matters more to them, hotel-wise, than getting a good night’s sleep with high-quality 24/7 services and facilities. Let them choose their hotels, and if they like Airbnb for Business properties, then make that an option, too.

Productivity boosters. Allow pretty much anything that saves a road warrior time or makes their work more effective. Help them save time in airport lines by using TSA PreCheck, Trusted Traveler, or Clear. Pay for at least one airport lounge membership and reimburse for daily passes at other lounges as needed. Offer VIP travel agent support, and training on your company’s mobile travel apps. Reimburse for wifi, and for a luggage service like DUFL. Allow Uber and Lyft, of course, as well as black car services. Do you want these road warriors driving, or working their phones? Please don't say both.

Friction reducers. What else can your travel policy do to take some of the stress out of frequent travel? Provide flight disruption coverage from Freebird. Reimburse for laundry, dry cleaning, baby/parent/pet sitters, even lawn and snow plow services. Allow for a spouse or friend to travel in lieu of the road warrior making a trip home. Spring for gym passes. Make the bleisure thing workable. Help a nursing mother get her milk home, or pay for the baby and a sitter to travel with the new mom. Let road warriors work from home when they can, and encourage them to take some time off after a lot of traveling, especially if they’ve used weekends for business travel.

New Policy, New Metrics

Companies that switch to a high-value travel policy will need new travel program metrics. It’s no longer a question of cost control. Keep the metrics that you’ve got, but now add KPIs that measure broader business results.

Show senior management your program’s benchmarks on things like Trip Friction® and recruiting/retention risks. Get HR to report your firm’s road warrior attrition rate, and time needed to fill an open road warrior position. Use one-question pulse polls of your travelers to check on things like their willingness to keep traveling, their wellness, and their estimated percentage of recent trips that weren’t worthwhile.

Still wondering if a switch to high-value travel policies is cost-justified? Have a look at this Travel Policy Impact model. It helps you make good estimates of the costs and benefits of a high-value travel policy.

Gillespie's Travel Policy Impact Model
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