As companies work to sharpen control over travel spend and gain greater visibility into their travelers’ whereabouts and behaviors, more and more organizations have been adopting a pretrip approval system to monitor and prevent noncompliant bookings.

American Express Global Business Travel (GBT) has witnessed this rising trend firsthand with the surge in popularity of our pretrip auditing tool, Expert Auditor™ (EA). Currently available in more than 20 countries and expanding globally, EA is a very effective system for influencing travelers’ behaviors and enforcing the company travel policy, which subsequently can help firms with their cost-savings and duty of care goals.

The way EA works

After a traveler makes a booking either through an online booking tool (EA has been integrated to work with any booking tool, such as Concur, GetThere, Neo™) or by speaking with a GBT counselor, EA automatically will audit the itinerary against the policy parameters the company has set up in the tool (more on that in a minute). If the itinerary complies with all the criteria, the booking will go straight to the ticketing process. If it doesn’t fall within the parameters, an email then will be sent to an approver.

Depending on the preferences the organization has set up, the approver will receive one of two types of email: “notification only” or “authorization.”

With “notification only” mode, the approver simply will be informed about the policy violation. Travel will not be stopped and the booking will go through.

With the “authorization” option, the approver will need to make a decision whether to accept or deny the itinerary as is. If the approver gives the trip a green light, ticketing commences instantly. If they decline it, a message will be sent to the traveler informing them that their trip has not been approved and instructing them to rebook.

American Express GBT consultants can help clients onboarding EA decide which of the two options is best for their program based on their objectives and company culture. In general, notifications are better suited for businesses that wish to influence traveler behavior through education and communication over more restrictive measures.

We also recommend organizations that are just getting started with a pretrip approval system and/or do not have a firm grasp on which policy guidelines travelers are violating most to begin with a notification system and then later graduate to authorization if desired.

An authorization system, on the other hand, works well for companies that wish to drive savings, control travel behavior and quickly nip noncompliant travel in the bud and can embrace a sterner approach to achieve those results.

An organization also can choose to have a blend of notification and authorization and split it up by country (selecting the style that best suits the local culture) or by policy parameter.

Defining what’s out of bounds

As for the actual parameters triggering noncompliance alerts, companies should choose a select few that will help drive their program goals and not try to audit every single aspect of their policy. We can work with you to select the top parameters for your program, but some common ones include:

  • Not reserving a hotel when booking a flight
  • Any international trip
  • Hotels/flights above the policy cap
  • Bookings made at the last minute (usually within seven days of travel)
  • Bookings made with nonpreferred suppliers

EA offers a high level of customization. For example, it can be set up to audit nonbillable trips via a dedicated approval routing to the finance division.

Exclusions also can be made. For instance, special exceptions may be granted so that trips being booked for C-level executives will be ticketed right away and not have to go through the auditing process.

What’s also nice about EA, alerts within the booking tool can be set up so that travelers are warned if they are about to defy company policy or book a trip to a high-risk location that requires special consideration.

The approvers

It’s important that when clients use an authorization setup that approvers are aware that they must respond to travel requests. If there’s a delay in accepting/declining a trip, it may result in the entire booking being cancelled or the price increasing.

To avoid such a situation, EA allows clients to have multiple levels of approvers. If the first-level approver (often a line manager) does not respond within a couple of hours after a trip request has been submitted, EA automatically can escalate the request and send it to a central email account that backup approvers can access.

Having several levels of approvers also is useful for trips that may require a signoff from a leader higher up the chain. Or for travel to high-risk destinations, you may wish to have a security director to serve as an approver so they can work closely with travelers and provide safety information.

While EA allows for up to five levels of approvers, we recommend no more than three to avoid adding layers of complication.

Another wonderful benefit of EA is that it offers reporting tools to help travel departments identify program trends and roadblocks. The reports can reveal the volume and cost of noncompliant travel, the most common out-of-policy offenses, the top travelers or divisions booking out of policy, the use of nonpreferred suppliers and so forth. With this kind of information, companies then can begin to fine-tune their policies and speak to individual travelers who regularly book out of policy about the importance of compliance.

Or better yet, you may pass along that last responsibility to the approvers themselves. After all, it’s in their best interest to encourage more compliant trips from the get-go to reduce their workload!