Managing the travel of thousands has always been a daunting exercise – non-compliant trips can take place (jeopardizing company insurance policies and cross-border tax regulations etc.). Overspend can easily occur as well as fraudulent bookings and expenses. This complexity leaves many travel managers asking: how strict can we be on the bookings travellers make? Where should we draw the line?
In a post-pandemic world the concerns are only growing. With the pressure to have line of sight to the traveller at all times all while ensuring that border restrictions are navigated and only necessary trips are taken, many travel managers have changed travel approval tactics.
A 2020 Global Business Travel Association survey of 2,167 worldwide member companies found that 53% of travel buyer and procurement professional respondents (who comprised 43% of all respondents) had instituted “new rules about pre-trip approval” as a result of the pandemic.
But what tactics exist at the moment? Although everyone has their own definitions and approach, we have classed the approval process and the way companies monitor travel and expense activity into two very broad categories: pre-trip planning and post-trip reporting and approval.
Pre-trip planning and approval
Pre-trip planning and approval is a mechanism by which companies approve travel before it happens. This has many benefits: it can limit spend and decrease risky or non-compliant bookings. The downside? Supplier prices or availability can change before the booking takes place. Travellers may have to re-submit their booking or there may be a discrepancy between what is approved versus what is travelled.
Post-trip reporting and approval
The other side of the equation is post-trip approval. That is when trip details are reported on after the fact. Travellers will travel first, use company credit cards or their own money to pay their expenses and report on it afterwards through expense reports that are then consolidated with agency and credit card data. The biggest issue with post-trip approval is that it takes time to fill out expense reports and consolidate the data and there is always the risk that the trip may not be approved. The employee faces the risk of being out-of-pocket and the company faces the risk that non-compliant bookings are made and non-compliant expenses are paid for by the company card.
Most companies have the technology and reporting procedures to support a mix of pre and post-trip approval.
In a post-pandemic world, the risky aspects of unmonitored trips happening mean many are using pre-trip approval more than they would before. But how can we optimise this process, so it provides an optimal traveller experience while eliminating risk?
Using AI to optimise the trip approval process
Both pre-trip and post-trip approval have one major pain point: manual processes slow it down, making for a less-than-ideal experience.
When it comes to pre-trip approval, manual monitoring of trip and expenses by managers is not always effective. Most managers do not have the time and often, the training, to spot a fraudulent expense claim or a risky booking. They tick the box, putting their trust in their team, rather than opening the policy book.
Post-trip, the reporting process needs to consolidate data from multiple sources – many with missing fields or data arriving later than expected. Employees also need to fill out an expense claim for their trip – an arduous task for many.
Pre-trip data and AI can reduce these overheads and create a better travel experience safe from risk.
A pre-trip data feed extracts GDS data and feeds it back to the company upon point of sale. Companies can then use AI to scan the data for risk against already defined policies.
Post-trip expense data can be audited using AI processes that are trained to catch fraudulent activity.
Combine AI with automation that alerts relevant team members and managers to fraudulent expense claims and risky bookings and your travel and expense programme is optimised to minimise risk all while providing a quality travel experience.
PredictX provides advanced travel data management on employee generated spend. This includes pre-trip data feeds as well as our AI-based expense fraud detection analytics. Book a demo to learn more about these capabilities.