A couple of decades ago a consultant (who shall go unnamed) started a trend by giving out bad advice, and that mistake has persisted, like a bad cold, ever since. University travel buyers who still hold his advice to be true are doing their employers a disservice by disregarding some of the most important guiding principles of modern travel management.
And what was the bad advice this man gave out?
“Having multiple travel suppliers for University travelers will result in lower fares due to competition.”
In a moment we’ll explain why that’s faulty logic. But in the meantime, consider why this misconception only exists in the world of University Travel. Why are there no major corporations out there, pitting suppliers against each other on every reservation? All large corporate travel accounts have a single supplier. Without fail. So why do so many University travel programs still have a bunch of suppliers? It has to do with the unnamed consultant and the fact that he “specialized” in higher education accounts.
So, what are the facts?
- Lower fares come from having the most fare sources in your search, not the most suppliers.
At Teplis Travel we start with industry-best, negotiated FROSCH fares based on $1.75 billion in volume, which are loaded in our GDS, along with negotiated fares from our own agency and the client. Since so many universities are State institutions, many have access to State negotiated rates for airlines, cars and hotels, which we add to the mix. Then there are Direct Connect rates, which bypass the GDS, and have either additional discounts or enhanced benefits. These are checked in each client’s online booking tool and by our agents at reservation time. And finally, there are internet-only rates, non-GDS fares and rates which we include with Travelfusion and Booking Builder, completing what is an exhaustive multi-source fare search solution.
Benchmark data will show how effective we are at getting the lowest fare; and our reporting program, PrimeAnalytics, empowers clients to benchmark over 40,000 corporations using over 90 key metrics to evaluate their program in the marketplace.
- With multiple suppliers, competition does have an effect on your service fees, but the savings are minute overall, and much less significant than savings in other areas.
Saving a buck or two on transaction fees is by year’s end nothing when compared to the savings from a single complimentary upgrade on a trans-Atlantic flight. And what if you passed on five or six of them because you went with the low-ball bidder on fees! And how much do you lose when using rookie, unexperienced agents versus professionals for complicated international flights? Travel is like any other service, you often get what you pay for and University travel buyers are well advised to focus on value, rather than price when it comes to service fees.
- The consistent application of official travel policy, especially when working with a diverse group of travelers…teachers, staff, students and guests…cannot be effectively done with multiple suppliers.
Controlling your travel budget depends on proper traveler behavior, when picking a car type, choosing a preferred supplier, or making a reservation within an approved time window. You want a travel supplier who won’t make a booking out-of-policy without prior approval from a manager. Ideally, you want a partner who will build separate policy groups based on the status of the traveler, and an automated approval system that allows one-click responses from travel approvers when faced with a policy violation. The low-ball bidder may not have the technology or staff to do this customization. On the bright side, a supplier who meets these needs will usually have other advantageous programs like special service desks with major airlines who can provide name change waivers, hotel desks who can secure no-show waivers and group departments with online registration portals for events.
- In the time of Covid, duty-of-care has become a primary consideration, and just isn’t possible with multiple suppliers.
When an emergency happens its crucial that a travel supplier be able to identify every traveler in the field, determine their location and put together a plan to get them home. When travelers use various multiple suppliers, a hard process is made needlessly harder, with no master list and potential forgotten travelers left at risk in the field. As an example, when the Covid-19 crisis began, we had to work against the clock as flights were being cancelled and borders were being closed. We identified the hot spots and the location of all our travelers around the globe. One of our clients, a musical group, had their European concerts canceled mid-tour. There were very few flights. Our experienced agents knew to book them on a train from Frankfurt to Amsterdam, then a flight to Moscow with connections to New York. Another traveler had a flight home from Osaka, that was routed through Seoul, but when South Korea announced a serious outbreak, we rerouted him to safely avoid exposure. This degree of competency would not have been possible if there were travelers booked at other agencies or online sites. We wouldn’t have been able to access the tickets and indeed would not have been aware of the stranded traveler in the first place. Proper risk management requires organizations to have a single supplier to enable duty-of-care for every traveler.
- Having a complete, accurate accounting of your travel spend is essential for vender negotiations, contract management and cost reduction.
We can’t tell you how many times we’ve bid on a university travel account where the travel buyer couldn’t identify airline spend, top city pairs, etc. Having your travel spend spread across various suppliers makes these important metrics hard to put together. The bigger the spend the more important a factor this becomes as the lost revenue from policy non-compliance, unused tickets and missed negotiation benefits adds up. (A State-run travel program recently made the news with over $1 million in unused ticket losses alone!) The goal is to have every possible trip booked by your organization included in your reports to get the maximum discounts and benefits. This includes student groups, guest travel and travel paid for with government grants. An additional plus that comes with a well-administered travel reporting system is the ability to allocate spend through the use of MIS accounting codes, assisting in getting future authorization from funding partners.
- Athletic Travel needs agents who can book charter flights (and buses) and if you have enough athletic travel to warrant an onsite travel department, the first agent you hire should have experience in that space.
Not only is athletic travel affected by weather and schedule changes, but also the quixotic nature of tournament qualifications and eliminations, player injuries and coaching personnel changes. This means travel arrangements can change frequently and very unexpectedly within any given trip. More interaction between agent and coach is usually required than normally occurs with a corporate contact. This usually means an agent onsite from a single supplier. Your athletic travel agent will also need to ensure all bus vendors are extensively vetted to guarantee all vehicles have passed safety inspections and all drivers have been deemed acceptable and meet and exceed NCAA requirements. This process is simplified by working with a good third-party service partner (like GoGround) who specializes in networking with charter bus operators. While back-up agents can be depended on to support individual airline reservations, you’ll want a specialist on your team to book the majority of your athletic travel.
- Finally, give some thought to the attitude you develop among your travelling public.
Not having a mandated agency and allowing travelers to book a variety of ways, with vendors who may not enforce policy might seem the best plan. Rest assured, when you provide compensation for expenses booked out of policy or at the last minute, you simply train the traveler that there are no consequences for bad behavior. And you can count on the bad behavior continuing.
Developing thoughtful behavior among travelers, which bring down costs for your institution, is the central tenant in a cost-effective travel program.