The fundamental point to make in business travel is that the client is rarely the individual who is actually travelling. This presents a possible conflict between the interest of the company to keep costs low and the traveller seeking comfort and benefit from their trip. In order to avoid any ambiguity it is important to produce a defined Travel Policy which can be simply a set of parameters which are agreed such as class of travel, grade of hotel permitted etc. or more complex; including different classes of travel dependent on the duration of the flight, seniority etc.
Another area requiring clarity is that of airline loyalty schemes such as frequent flyer cards. The BA Exec card for example is seen as a highly powerful and prestigious tool. The choice of airline is often determined by the particular brand of card which the traveller holds and not necessarily by the most economical fare. Here the discrepancy between bill payer and traveller is evident and brings into question whether the traveller should benefit personally from the valuable air miles they accumulate.
Some companies take the view that this opportunity to benefit personally is offset by the likelihood for employees to be travelling at weekends, early mornings or generally unsociable hours. The chance to obtain ‘free’ air miles is then deemed as justifiable compensation. Other companies who pay staff overtime for travelling often take a different view to this.
While some loyalty programmes and the cards they represent are often highly superficial, there are some frequent traveller cards which, depending on their hierarchy, do have material benefits. Cards with specific airlines will enable the traveller to obtain seat number assignment on lower fares which would otherwise not normally provide advance seating. Forward row seating with extra leg room is in some cases available to cardholders at no charge, a privilege which would typically cost £100 or more each way. Certain cards provide ‘special handling’ and enable the traveller to skip the waiting list and obtain a confirmed seat when the flight would otherwise appear as full. Increased free baggage allowance is also another benefit free of charge which is provided by a selection of airlines.
My personal advice is to establish a clearly defined travel policy which includes the company’s position on matters such as air mile benefits e.g: ‘the lowest airfare must always be taken’ or ‘we will allow travel with the traveller’s preferred airline, providing the cost is no higher than a 10% increase compared with a competitor airline’s fare.