Online Booking Tools: Seven Important Updates to Make in the New Year

MS-0815By Margaret Stead, Senior Consultant

When was the last time you reviewed your online booking tool (OBT) with your account manager? Has your company or firm policy changed in the last year? Has your OBT released upgrades or new features? Do you know the status of your requests for fixes and/or enhancements to your OBT? If so, there’s no time like the start of the New Year to ask these questions and make critical updates.

After the initial implementation, it can be hard for travel managers to find the time to review or update the company online booking tool; however, company policies change and the OBTs recurrently release updates and new features. Some simple and quick changes (i.e., messaging) you can do yourself. For other updates, your Account Manager should be able to assist you with your review of and changes to your OBT.

As we head into the New Year it is a great time to set aside some time to review the following seven areas and ensure you are making the most of your OBT.

  1. Messaging and Help Docs
    Start with site messaging and help docs. Make sure to add a date to them so the travelers know the information is current and important to read. Confirm the agency and support phone numbers and email addresses are correct. Check your non-compliance reason codes for air, hotel and car, and confirm they reflect any changes to your policy (i.e. larger car size allowed if three or more are traveling together). Finally, review and update your itinerary confirmation and cancellation emails.
  2. Travelers in your OBT
    Next, take a look at your traveler dashboard. If you have an automated add/delete/change process in place, check with your IT department to confirm the process is working. If you manually manage your travelers, pull a traveler listing from your OBT and compare it with an HR report, then clean up your site – especially deleting those no longer with the company and reviewing and updating those who are grouped as VIPs or Executives.Consider if you need to add or group any travelers who might have a different policy than the “general” traveler (i.e. contractors). If you have an approval process, take a moment to review it. The New Year is also a good time to ask your travelers to review and update their profile.
  3. Company locations
    Request a list of current company locations from your Real Estate department or equivalent, then pull a list from your OBT, compare, and update or request your account manager to update the locations.
  4. Contracts & policy
    Policy markings and settings are critical to monitoring policy compliance and achieving savings.

    • Air
      Although you might not negotiate and implement air contracts beginning of each New Year, it’s always good to check your air policy and ask your agency to review the pricing. Additionally in your OBT, review the thresholds for domestic and international (i.e. for domestic: 2-hour time window with a $100 within Lowest Logical Airfare (LLA) threshold). Consider that International fares are more costly than domestic, so a % (i.e., within 20% of LLA) might work better than a set dollar amount.
      Is your class of service policy set correctly (i.e. allow first class travel or business within a number of hours)?Do you have advance purchase set (i.e., within 14 days)? Do you allow “hold” reservations? If so, do they auto cancel if not approved? Do you filter city pairs to move market share? Do you hide air travel to “high risk” locations? Is your tool capable of auto upgrades if traveler has permission? Find out from your account manager what your tool can currently do to impact your air policy.
    • Hotel
      Most companies have a new or updated hotel programs effective the New Year. Some items to consider when you review your OBT for your new hotels follow:Preferred – Are your preferred hotels mark appropriately and loaded with correct rates?Hotel Rate Caps – Do you have rate caps set in your OBT and if so, are your current rate caps consistent with your new 2016 hotel program since 2016 rates may have changed or increased. It is very important to check that your rate caps are set higher than your preferred hotels in your preferred cities.Rather than city caps, you might want to consider city “size” cap. For example, lump all large domestic cities (i.e., New York, San Fran, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami) into one cap (i.e. $350). Then do same for medium and small cities or simply use an “all other” cap. Set your international rate caps.
      Rate Cap $350 – US Large Cities
      Rate Cap $250 – All Other US Cities
      Rate Cap $300 – International Cities
      Do you need to show or filter category rates (i.e. senior, AAA, government) or filter hotel properties or chains? If so, confirm those rates and properties are set in your OBT.
    • Car
      Same as air, you may not negotiate and implement rental car contracts each year, but you should confirm your CD number(s) are programmed correctly in your tool. Check to see that your contracted rental car companies are marked preferred and the car size allowed is consistent with your policy. See if your OBT allows you to filter out “small” car companies that might appear in your car search results but travelers may not necessarily need to see. Do you have messaging to advise travelers about insurance requirements for domestic and international travel? This New Year is also a good time to announce your preferred rental car loyalty programs, especially if they impact the rental “experience.”
    • Ground transportation and rail
      If your tool allows bookings, confirm the links for ground transportation are working and policy messaging is clear.
  5. Form of Payment (FOP)
    For FOP, some companies have individual corporate cards, some use ghost cards for air and direct bill for rental cars, some a combination of the two. Some have the agency reconcile the ghost cards. The New Year is a good time to ask travelers to confirm and update, if applicable, the expiration date of their corporate card and to ask accounting about reconciliation. You may also want to consider consolidating your ghost cards.
  6. Reporting fields
    Reporting is critical to achieve savings. Are your reports satisfactory? Do you need to add/delete/change any company-specific data you are currently capturing? Do you need to capture any additional reporting fields at time of booking? The New Year is a good time to work with your account manager to review your reporting needs.
  7. Non-profiled travelers
    Recently some OBTs have developed and/or improved methods to profile and book “guest” travelers online. Talk with your account rep to see if any new features are available to book recruits, new hires, guest speakers, etc. online. For recruits, you cannot ask for some personal information (i.e. DOB), but some tools allow you to invite travelers to book so you can avoid the “ask.” If you can successfully book your guests online, you’ll increase your online adoption and minimize any risk.

In summary, take time to review and update your online tool early this New Year. Read your release notes for updates and new features and reach out to your account rep for assistance. The benefits from satisfied travelers, enhanced OBT performance, and increased online adoption and savings will make the time commitment to do so a good investment for the start of 2016.

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