Travel Policy Series Continued: Is It Time To Review Your Payment System Strategy?

A corporate payment program partnered with solid data reporting capabilities provides the travel buyer with visibility into travel spending, policy and preferred vendor compliance and spend data that can be beneficial when negotiating with travel suppliers. Implementing a company-wide program can appear daunting and can include lengthy legal contracts, complex configuration, and a minimum commitment of several years to deliver any ROI.

Payment card providers continue to target smaller enterprises with specific benefits that lure the small business market. For larger companies, payment card vendors are upgrading global delivery capabilities and data reporting, and providing additional benefits and savings for business enterprises that have a more mature program. Optimizing data capture is a constantly moving target, with new levels of spending data, including airline ancillary fees.

As with any centralized service program, there are key benefits that are available when a preferred payment vendor program is implemented:

  • Improved financial and administrative processes
  • Improved cash management
  • Extending capital float
  • Improved accounting reconciliation
  • Currency exchange
  • Streamlined business travel reimbursement
  • Leveraging spend data for supplier negotiations
  • Improved policy compliance
  • Increased traveler productivity
  • Enhanced management data 

Maximizing Travel Policies

It is vital to have a formal, written travel policy. The purpose of writing such policies is to save money on your travel budget. Safe Harbors finds companies save 20 – 30% on their annual spend when policies are efficiently managed and effectively enforced.

The level of enforcement of a travel policy is a major company-culture consideration.
Some companies take the position of fully enforced with quantifiable consequences for non-compliance. Other companies create travel policies that are merely guidelines, encouraging buy-in, but not penalizing non-compliant employees.

Best Practice – The most effective policies in place today tend to lean more towards
the fully-enforced in key spending areas, like airline travel, lodging, booking methods, payment card usage, where as other areas like tipping, meals and entertainment costs may be written more as guidelines as to hard-stop mandates.

For highly mandated policy rules, the written document should avoid words like
“should” and “may” and instead use words like “will” and “can.” Under current Sarbanes-Oxley regulations, policies presented to employees as mandates need to be enforced as such to avoid the risk that control procedures could be misleading or not measurable, as required under SOX regulations. The most highly enforced travel policies will deny employee travel expense reimbursement for non-compliant purchases. This approach is also a shift away from centrally billed or company-liable purchase cards.

Make Sure Duty of Care is in Your Travel Policy

As international business travel becomes more commonplace, employers are facing their responsibilities when it comes to managing the risks associated with overseas travel. Duty of Care is the legal term that refers to the obligations employers have to take practical steps to safeguard their employees against any reasonably foreseeable dangers in the workplace.

For employees who travel abroad, the risks can be quite different from those in the home office. Threats of overseas assignments include terrorism, lawlessness, crime, political instability, infectious diseases, accidents and travel-related illness. Employers are expected to be familiar with the threats associated with a particular work assignment and take steps to inform and prepare employees for those risks.

In crafting the Duty of Care portion of your organization’s travel policy, keep in mind that while various stakeholders — such as security officers, finance directors, risk managers and legal officers — may wish to contribute to the policy, their interests may conflict. Financial officers may be overly concerned about minimizing costs, while risk managers may lean in the opposite direction and try to remove virtually all risk. The solution lies somewhere in the middle.

It is generally acknowledged that prevention of harm is less costly and more sustainable than dealing with its ramifications. It is recommended that employers develop privacy policies for employees; ask employees to sign risk assessment forms, indicating they know, understand and accept the risk of their assignment, and agree not to force an employee to work in a hostile environment.

For help with Duty of Care or any other aspect of your organization’s travel policy, feel free to contact Patrick Rose at prose@safeharbors.com, or call him at 443-923-1402.

TSA PreCheck Now Available at Some Airports

To help business flyers and other frequent travelers expedite their airport security screenings, the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration has been phasing in TSA PreCheck™, which pre-screens individuals who volunteer to participate.

tsa screening stationCertain frequent flyers on Delta Air Lines and American Airlines, as well as certain members of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Trusted Travelers programs, are eligible to participate.

The TSA PreCheck program is now available at:

 * Dallas/Fort Worth International

* McCarran International, Las Vegas

* John F. Kennedy International, New York

* Los Angeles International

* Miami International

* Minneapolis-St. Paul International

* Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County

* Hartsfield-Jackson International, Atlanta

* Salt Lake City International

* Ronald Reagan National, Washington

* O’Hare International, Chicago.

By the end of 2012, the TSA will expand the program to these airports, as well as additional airlines:

• Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall

• Boston Logan International

• Charlotte Douglas International

• Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International

• Denver International

• Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International

• George Bush Intercontinental, Houston

• Honolulu International

• Indianapolis International

• LaGuardia, New York

• Lambert-St. Louis International

• Louis Armstrong New Orleans International

• Luis Muñoz Marín International, Puerto Rico

• Newark Liberty International

• Orlando International

• Philadelphia International

• Phoenix Sky Harbor International

• Pittsburgh International

• Portland International

• San Francisco International

• Seattle-Tacoma International

• Tampa International

• Ted Stevens Anchorage International

• Washington Dulles International.

If the TSA determines that a passenger is eligible for the TSA PreCheck program, information is embedded in the barcode on the passenger’s boarding pass. When the barcode is scanned at a security checkpoint in a participating airport, the passenger may be redirected to a line where expedited screening is available. These lines tend to move more quickly than regular screening lines because TSA PreCheck participants may not need to remove their shoes, jacket or belt, or remove their laptop computers or bags of liquids and gels from their carry-on bags.

However, because the TSA incorporates random and unpredictable security measures throughout each airport, TSA PreCheck participants cannot always be guaranteed expedited screening. As a TSA PreCheck participant, you won’t receive anything, such as a membership card, to show that you are a participant, as you will still be pre-screened each time you fly. Learn more here.

Travelers Benefit from New U.S. Air Travel Rules

In a move that should help level the playing field for U.S. airlines and travel service providers, the U.S. Department of Transportation has implemented several new regulations of which frequent travelers should be aware.

One of the most visible changes that went into effect Jan. 24 relates to fare advertising. Airlines are now required to disclose fees and taxes when quoting fares, including baggage fees. This will make it easier for “apples to apples” comparison when shopping for fares.

Additional consumer protections went into effect last week. Airlines cannot raise your ticket price after you have bought the ticket. Travelers may hold a reservation for up to 24 hours without paying, if the reservation is made a week or more before the departure date. Passengers also may cancel or change a reservation within 24 hours of booking without paying a penalty — again, if the flight was booked at least a week in advance. If a flight is delayed, passengers must receive status updates every 30 minutes, including the reasons for the delay, if known to the airline.

We applaud the additional transparency for consumers, who have often been seduced by so-called “teaser” fares that turned out to be much higher than advertised, and fully support initiatives that enhance the air travel experience.

What are your thoughts about the new regulations? We’d love to hear your opinion.

Travel to Asia Soon Will Be Easier

American business travelers to Asia soon will be eligible for fast-track entry at airports in Asia-Pacific nations, thanks to a bill recently signed into law by President Obama.

The APEC Business Travel Card will allow qualified, pre-screened business travelers access to fast-track immigration lanes at airports, and it eliminates the need to apply for visas or entry permits. The card itself serves as the visa. The cards are accepted in 21 nations belonging to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and are valid for three years. Learn more about how the card works here.

The new card for U.S travelers is not yet available, but you can find progress updates here.

Business Travel Forecast for 2012

As we look ahead to travel plans for 2012 and beyond, here’s a peek at a forecast developed by our business partner, Travel Leaders. They have aggregated data from across the industry to make projections about trends in pricing, fees and other factors that influence travel budgets for the coming year.

The good news is that as 2011 comes to a close, business travel booking numbers have rebounded virtually to 2008 levels, signaling economic recovery after several challenging years. There is a simple and strong correlation between economic growth and business travel.

Global business travel spending in 2012 is expected to exceed $1 trillion, an increase of 9.2 percent over 2011. A major growth factor in global business travel is to and among emerging economic powerhouses Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Airlines, for the most part, are again profitable due to improvements in efficiency and the addition of ancillary fees. Airline ticket prices are expected to increase between 3 percent and 5 percent worldwide, due to increased demand and static — and, in the case of some European carriers, slightly reduced — capacity.

While the Arab Spring and several natural disasters have complicated travel in affected countries, overall the impact on business travel has been minor. At this time, no significant health or safety risks are expected in the short term.

When it comes to meetings and events, pent-up demand from the recent economic downturn has resulted in an uptick in group event bookings in 2011 that will continue to grow in 2012. Consequently, group rooming rates are expected to rise as well.

Rental car rates, which remained relatively flat in 2011, are expected to increase between 4 percent and 6 percent in 2012. We also can expect to see growth in car-sharing programs, an alternative to car rental, in major metropolitan areas.

Finally, the popularity of smartphones has led travel service providers to increase the availability of up-to-the-minute information in mobile formats. According to a 2011 survey conducted by Sabre Travel Network, more than two-thirds of business travelers want to receive destination-specific information directly on their handheld devices.

As always, you can trust the team at Safe Harbors to stay current with all the latest trends and make sure you’re getting the best deals for your business travel dollar.

Business Travel Awards for 2011

Readers of Business Traveler magazine have once again weighed in with their picks for the best in business travel. The annual competition, now in its 23rd year, rates domestic and international airlines, hotels and travel tools. Readers named their choices for the companies they believe offer the best product or service in several categories.

The full list of winners can be found here. Here are some highlights:

The best overall airline was Singapore Airlines, which was also honored for its service. The best North American airline for international travel was Air Canada. The best North American airline for domestic travel was American Airlines, according to the survey. And the best low-cost carrier in North America was JetBlue. Delta received kudos for its first-class and business-class service.

The best business hotel chain in the world was Hilton Hotels & Resorts. Hertz was named best car rental company. And, in terms of destinations for conventions and conferences, Las Vegas came in at number one. Why are we not surprised?

What do you think of these rankings? Which airlines and hotel chains do you prefer when you travel for business? Let us know in the Comments section.

Earthquakes and Hurricanes

Being based on the east coast and more specifically the state of Maryland, we recently experienced natural phenomena that are not common in our area. An earthquake in Baltimore and then followed by a hurricane? Well, the good news, our systems and staff are setup all around the country and we didn’t miss a step in helping our travelers endure Mother Nature’s roar. Our staff processed over 16,549 inquiries during this time enabling travelers to continue with their business efforts, return to their families or continue on with their missions. Thank you for trusting Safe Harbors during these difficult travel periods!

Concur Travel & Expense Management in a Mobile World

Less paper in your pocket. More time on your hands. How about doing your expenses right from your smartphone? Well, it’s here as Concur makes it easy to do all your expense reporting straight from your smartphone.

Import data from your credit cards, manage expenses, photograph receipts and submit your reports. Goodbye tiny scraps of paper. Manage your travel, hotel and dining itineraries and even check on your flight status. No more searching for that itinerary you printed a week ago.

You can even:

  • Enforce company policies on business travel 
  • Enable selection of hotels and rental cars from preferred suppliers
  • Expedite expense processing by reducing submittal and approval time by 28%*
  • Improve accuracy of eligible expenses
  • Increase compliance by 10%*
  • Reduce processing costs by 40%*

Safe Harbors has been a distributor of Concur / Cliqbook products for over 8 years. Contact your Safe Harbors Travel Group Account Manager clientservices@safeharbors.com for more information on the Concur Travel & Expense Management system now available on your mobile smartphone.