As the travel industry heads towards recovery a key factor in gaining traveller confidence is flexible policies when it comes to changing and cancelling flights.
The only problem is: how can the industry achieve this when there has always been a glaring data gap when processing ticket information?
What is the ticket data gap?
Once an airline cancels a ticket outside classic channels, it can no longer be monitored as a live trip or matched to qualifying waivers. Instead, corporate travel managers have to manually match individual tickets to applicable waivers. Only at this stage can they request a refund or continuously track that ticket to be applied to a future booking. This is time-consuming with manual labour involved.
It is therefore not surprising that a recent study conducted by Lola.com reveals that 52% of respondents admitted that their companies don’t keep track of reimbursed flights, with 28% saying they don’t know when or if travellers receive reimbursements, and 23% saying they don’t even know what happens to these credits. As a result 73% of respondents believe their companies go over budget on travel because trips are booked or changed at the last minute.
The Airline Reporting Corporation (ARC) tracked the annual processing of air ticket refunds and exchanges to be at $1.4 billion in 2019. That is a lot of money in the hands of a largely manual process. This data gap has always plagued the travel industry and will continue to do so unless the ticket refund process becomes more automated, more transparent, more standardised with better data analysis.
The Covid-19 crisis
The unexpected wave of cancellations brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic has made the number of ticket cancellations and – subsequently, the amount of money companies are leaving on the table – climb even higher.
In early 2020, faced with processing a record number of cancellations, airlines did not use the usual process of issuing refunds as credit notes with the TMC. Instead, refunds were issued on multiple channels with different terms attached. Some were issued as part of group deals with TMCs while other were issued directly to corporates. Some airlines gave companies vouchers with favourable terms instead of direct refunds.
For some companies, even third party suppliers such as meetings planning suppliers were given refunds and had to manage this with companies. We have also heard of refunds, in some cases, being issued directly to travellers via purchasing cards, or of travellers receiving vouchers to travel.
Cirium data states that, between 30 March and 30 April 2020, more than 170 waivers were active globally, covering more than 900 airports around the world. On 27 April alone, 922 airports were covered by 83 pandemic-specific active waivers. That’s a lot of policy changes and a lot of complexity.
Multiply this complexity across thousands of travellers and thousands of bookings. Some buyers told Business Travel News they have up to $1 million in unused tickets. At PredictX, we know buyers who have accumulated even more.
“We have upwards of a million unused ticket credits that we’re now going to be developing a strategy around,” said Ann Dery, Director of Global Travel and Meetings at S&P Global when she spoke at Gett‘s “Explore the delicate new art of defining essential business travel in a Covid-19 world” webinar.
“The first thing is to leverage your unused tickets, because that’s money outstanding, and the airlines are being very flexible, and I strongly suggest that’s where travel managers start to focus once their programmes start to reopen.”
Managing airline tickets during recovery
Companies with millions in unused tickets will need to develop a strategy going forward. Especially ahead of 2021 where many airline issued credits and vouchers are set to expire. When demand starts returning to full volume, these credits need to be used according to the correct terms attached.
Additionally, most companies will be focusing on traveller safety, risk and duty of care more than ever before. In other words, companies need to immediately know where their travellers are, what trips are coming up and whether these trips are cancelled.
Our outdated way of processing tickets needed to change before the pandemic, and certainly needs to change afterwards.
We need to close the data gap
How do we close the data gap? Here are a few easy steps:
- Have a system which can track the live status of each ticket. In March/April some companies struggled to understand traveller whereabouts as some tickets were not used, but cancelled and this was not processed fast enough. A standardised way of processing tickets automatically can address this.
- Understand your refunds. Track what has been refunded by each vendor and where it has been refunded. Tip: using only the TMC is not advised as some refunds were given directly to company cards.
- Know when to travel. In the case of credits and vouchers being applied or change fee waivers, make sure you have an understanding of when your travellers can use each ticket. Due to the complexity of this we recommend custom data analysis be developed.
- Keep track of money and report to stakeholders. We all may face economic challenges ahead. Companies have become more attentive to keeping track of expenses than ever before. Know exactly how much money has been lost, even for minor things like exchange fees and credit card fees. Also, make sure you know how much credit your company has on the table so company stakeholders can effectively strategise a return to travel.
If you want to keep things simple and have one system that can accomplish all this, learn more about our new Air Ticket Status Analytics. With this, you can efficiently and accurately make decisions with just one source and save your company millions. Book your demo to learn more.