Pre-Booking - Pre-Thinking
The fastest and simplest way to save money on travel, is not to travel in the first place. When you have started to book a travel event, 90% of all opportunities to save money have been lost.
One American firm I work for, told me once that they prided themselves at being able to be in front of a customer at the drop of a hat. Very laudable, I am sure, but their travel budget was taking a significant hammering.
So we set to work looking at the reasons BEHIND their travel events and looked at three sorts of travel events: Breakdowns and call-outs, Routine sales visits and "Hat Drop" travel.
Breakdowns and call-outs, there is little that can be done. If a piece of kit breaks down and needs to be fixed, then you need to get on site and fix it. It will cost, whatever it costs. That said, if there are a significant number of such breakdowns and call-outs, then perhaps it is time, not to blame the travel budget, rather to have a look at the reliability of a given product and to invest more money in improvement - and that money could come from the savings on spending sums sending out technicians on what can often prove to be, very expensive trips.
Routine sales and customer visits are invariably the area where most savings can be made. In my experience, I have often found that these types of trips are arranged far too late in the day. True, you have to work around customers but even customers are human beings and part of any relationship building could (should) be asking the customer to recognise the significant cost of visits. Further, it is often that the visits are arranged first and then I am expected to fix travel around those visits; seldom (actually, only with one client) do I get told which clients have to be visited, where they are and can I come up with a sensible itinerary, BEFORE contact is made with those customers. True, there is a need to be flexible with dates and times, though if (as some customers can be) they are in far flung places, knowing what days, or times, of the week to avoid can be as equally helpful. An agent can usually "hold" an itinerary for a few days, which gives time to arrange visits in the certain knowledge that the flights will be available and more importantly, at what cost. An important point to remember, here is that is is easy enough to fly from somewhere to somewhere, somewhere to nowhere (and visa versa) can get a bit tricky and nowhere to nowhere is invariably the hardest nut to crack.
Another aspect is that of co-visiting trips - that is, if you do have to travel 14 hours to get somewhere, is there some other customer that can be included. If one has paid, say $2,500 for a trip, then a side trip may present a small additional cost, in relative terms. I have known clients to visit one customer, 14 hours away, return and then go and visit another customer, also 14 hours away. Talking to your own colleagues helps, as well - if a colleague has a customer who needs attention and who happens to be en route or nearby, could you take over that visit? The point here is twofold, that knowing more about who may be going where in your own organisation can save money and secondly, that your agent is not someone who simply books flights. Agents have a wealth of knowledge and understanding of how air travel works around the planet and as you are paying for the services of that agent, it only makes sense to use that knowledge in fullest measure.
Hat Drop travel invariably swallows money and should be avoided at all costs. It tends to be (I am sorry to say) more problematic the higher you travel up the organisational tree. Firstly, senior people can decided that a visit is required at very short notice and secondly that such travel very often means travel up the front of the aircraft (or closer to the front) There can also be a demand for a high degree of flexibility in such travel arrangements and that itineraries are arranged strictly on a direct point to point basis (or at least, as point to point as the itinerary can be). The travel manager (and certainly the agent) are pretty much powerless to control this sort of an event and unless the understanding of the mechanics of travel is understood enough to counter any "Seniority Syndrome" issues, the saving of all those ten bucks here and there, is rapidly dissipated in one business class ticket across the pond.
So, thinking about the why travel events are happening in your organisation is just as important - perhaps, more important than simply analysing what money has already been spent - or to put it another way, what money has been lost. Looking at why people traveled and instilling a culture of working with internal colleagues as much as the travel agent, rather than looking at that agent simply as a cost centre in the process of booking as well as preventing officers taking an insular view of their own travel event needs can and will start to turn round the inevitable black hole of travel spend.