Things that Suck About Corporate Travel Policies: Hard Approval

Last week, we talked about Reason Codes – click here to check it out if you haven’t already.


This week, we move on to Hard Approval.


Approve: To officially agree or accept as satisfactory. In the world of travel and expense today, so many things seem to hinge on approval from one or many stakeholders.

In the world of expense, the process seems like a no brainer. At the end of the month you compile all of your expenses that should be covered by the company and submit them to be reimbursed to you. At this point, a manager (or many) jump in, approve the expense report, and all is well.

Travel however, is a very different beast. While it may seem simple – book a trip, the manager approves it, and it gets ticketed, there are actually many nuances that can make hard approval processes a nightmare.

Before diving deeper, I think it’s important to list and define the three main types of approval in the business travel world:

Notification: This means that when a trip is booked, the manager is notified by email with the itinerary and cost details. No action can be taken or needs to be taken. This type of approval is ideal because let’s face it: most of the time, travelers are booking trips that their managers are aware of and will be ok with. In the rare case that it isn’t, the manager can reach out to their traveler and ask them to change or cancel the trip.

Hard Approval: This is the equivalent of “guilty until proven innocent” and is the polar opposite of notification. The manager receives the email and must explicitly click ‘approve’ for the trip to be ticketed. Should they ignore the email, or take no action, the booking will fail and nothing will be booked.

Hard approval will be the focus here. Most other approval systems work flawlessly with hard approval; salary increases, bonuses, expense reports, big purchases – none of these can happen without explicit hard approval.

Business travel works differently. The main reason for this is what’s called the ticketing deadline. Airlines give travel agencies certain deadlines before which they can issue the ticket, if not it’ll fail. This can create extremely short windows for managers to approve certain bookings. For example, if someone books a flight at 5 pm and the ticketing deadline is two hours later at 7 pm, that leaves the manager a tiny period of time to click approve on that email. This becomes even more risky when you consider managers in different time-zones than their employees.

More often than necessary, travelers are left without a ticket, rebooking a higher fare (because they missed their chance at the one they originally wanted), or, in the absolute worst care scenario, stuck at the airport because they thought they’d booked their ticket but it was never issued. This can all be the result of a manager simply not seeing the email on time, being stuck in meetings, or having too short of a time period to approve.

There are other situations to consider in travel as well. Do seat purchases need approval? Changes? All bookings or only out of policy bookings? These are important questions – especially regarding changes.

Imagine a meeting or flight gets cancelled or moved, and a traveler is stuck at the airport in a panic after making the change, praying their boss sees the approval email.


Final Word

Hard approval sounds great in theory, but because of timing, the risk of travel being timely, and the risk of human error, it doesn’t work for travel. If you want to put the onus and responsibility on managers to approve responsible business trips, notification is the answer. Rather than task them with saying yes, task them with saying no. Eliminate the risk of non-issued tickets, missed savings on earlier fares, and keep your travelers moving and happy.


I help organizations and their travelers get where they need to go –
safely, sustainably and efficiently.

My background in finance and private equity has helped me save businesses money by optimizing their travel programs to get the most miles out of each dollar.