Things That Suck About Corporate Travel Policies: Reason Codes

Let’s talk about visibility and control. Visibility and control are a normal want for travel program owners, but too much of a good thing can be ineffective – and sometimes downright harmful.

Over the years, I’ve seen numerous rules and suggestions that were all brought to the table with good intentions, but as I watched them play out, they often didn’t work exactly as intended. In this series, I’m going to share my experiences on some commonly suggested travel program rules that, while may look nice on paper, do not work when real travelers enter the equation.

Things that suck about corporate travel policies number 1: Reason codes

First things first – what’s a reason code?

When a traveler makes a booking that’s outside policy (booking too late, choosing an overpriced fare, etc.) companies often want to prompt the traveler to choose from a list of reasons why they made that choice. That’s called a reason code.

Seems reasonable right? In theory, absolutely. You can break down the data later and discover exactly why people aren’t following policy. Reality, however, is a difference beast.

When Encore analyzed its portfolio to identify what the top reasons were, we noticed something interesting. While there was almost no consistency in the reason for out of policy bookings across companies, one thing did stand out. In every company we looked at, almost all travelers chose the first item on the list.

This leads me to believe that while companies are interested in capturing the data, they’re not actually following up with their travelers, causing travelers to see it as just an extra click to finish the booking. With some proper reinforcement it might have more use, but with hundreds of bookings a day, a travel manager or travel team could never tackle every single transaction.

One other more personal note: If the options for booking a more expensive fare are options like “Schedule didn’t work” or “Avoided connecting flight”, how many travelers are honestly going to choose “I wanted my frequent flyer points”?

So now you’re probably thinking, okay so what DO I do about travelers who don’t respect policy, if asking them why isn’t the answer?

This is a tough one, but fear not – I’m here to help.

Don’t attempt to tackle rule breakers on a trip-by-trip basis. Look at the data in aggregate.

Individual trips are difficult to approach, as any number of explanations can justify why a traveler made a “financially irresponsible choice”. You’re in the same situation as we described above. However, over the course of three months, when someone books every single one of their 14 business trips the day before their departure, that “the meeting came up last minute” excuse starts to look a little shaky. This is when you have the ammunition to educate people on why it’s so important to book within policy.

It’s my job to help travel stakeholders create programs that have realistic policies that are engineered for success, have measurable results, save money, and close the gap between theory and reality. Accepting reality will create a travel program with less rules for the sake of rules, and happier travelers.

See Part Two: Hard Approval here.

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