I recently listened to an account given by a business traveler about a cancelled flight on her way to a client engagement. The airline essentially told all of the passengers, “if you want to fly with us, the next flight is tomorrow morning”, sending most of them home for the rest of the day. The business traveler then told me about her company’s business travel policies, she books via a booking portal (Concur, Egencia, etc. are all examples) and that she must book the cheapest flights for the earliest arrival, regardless of airline. Such policies sound harsh, but they are quite normal. For this particular traveler, luck was on her side, as the airline that she was flying that day, was actually the airline she has status with. She called their elite line and was quickly booked on the next available flight to get her to her destination.
This begs the question, should employers encourage employees to have status with an airline? Status perks go beyond bonus miles and upgrades, there are usually dedicated phone lines for customers, most airline customer service agents are encouraged to go above and beyond for elites, and for a number of programs, there is the waving of some fees.
I get why companies want their employees to use a booking portal, they get a small amount of the transaction dollars paid back to them and since they are billing the travel, those small increments can add up. But by telling your employees to book whoever is cheapest, regardless of status, I think they may be doing them, and their clients, a disservice. Sure, there is a minority of travelers who abuse their travel privileges to fly certain carriers but I doubt it is anywhere close to being the norm and I don’t think it should discourage allegiance to an airline.
The bottom line is always money, but it seems companies are looking only at a small portion of the bottom line. What if an employee had been able to get on an earlier flight for free because of their status, getting a few extra billable hours in on-site at the client. Shouldn’t those dollars be accounted for when making travel policy decisions? What about being able to take a later flight to stay on-site a little longer to help a client with something? Now you’ve made some extra cash and you have impressed the client.
What I think happens is that the travel agent companies and their booking portal buddies get together and build a real fancy PowerPoint, wowing their potential clients. Employers see potential profit and some travel agent “benefits” without understanding that what those travel agents are doing is acting on behalf of the employee, when the employee may be sitting at the airport staring at their gate, stranded.
There are three major airlines in the U.S., Delta, United, and American. There is also Southwest, which a lot of corporate booking portals now include in their results, but they open up a whole new can of worms when it comes to irregular operations and not being able to put you on another carrier. Companies could have their employees choose an airline to be loyal to and maybe a back up for when schedules/prices are a little better and the employee then flies that airline when possible. The employee benefits, and in the long run, so does the employer.