When we first started OK Roger, we interviewed many business travelers about how they plan & book travel at their company. What follows are a couple of takeaways and insights I learnt from those conversations.
One of my first questions to them was
Why don't you use the travel tools offered by your company to book your personal travel too?
I expected an answer along the lines of - I'd love to, since I can get corporate discounts for my personal travel and vacations, but I am not allowed to. Rather, the answer I got was: Why would I do that, when I can myself find & book the flights and hotels for a lower price?
At first, this surprised me; however, upon further analysis I developed a deeper understanding and the reasons for these undesirable price discrepancies became clearer; in short - it exists for historical reasons.
Many travel platforms used (and in some cases even mandated) by employers for business travel still seem to offer pre-packaged and pre-priced inventory. This is true for Flights, Hotels and other services such as Car Rentals. This practice seems to pre-date the information age of today. Nowadays, prices for flights and hotels are available to anyone who has a connected phone. In addition, vendors have resorted to intelligent highly dynamic pricing, searchable by end users and available at the swipe of your finger. Popularity of consumer oriented tools & apps such as Google Flights, Kayak and Expedia is a testament to this statement.
This doesn't stop here. If you have a ton of free time, you can travel hack all day for best prices on more complex sites such as Skyscanner, Skiplagged etc - they offer elaborate content and filtering capabilities. (Why you might want to stay away from those sites for business travel is another topic, for another day)
In a nutshell : Bundling of what were expense management & audit solutions (such as Concur) with Travel Planning and Booking tools has further exacerbated the inertia in the corporate travel sector, which has seen little to no innovation in the last two decades.
Infact, pre-packaged and pre-sold Flights and Hotels don't just have a disadvantage when it comes to prices; they also suffer from
"I have to use my corporate solution to travel for Conferences, Sometimes I get freed up sooner and would like to return home earlier - while I am easily able to change the flight to an earlier date or time if I had booked it myself, those flights do not even show up in my corporate tool. Therefore, I am stuck and it's frustrating." - a frequent business traveler at a large tech company
I heard similar stories from people, even those who use the popular corporate travel booking tools such as Concur - which is probably the most widely adopted. They often have limited inventory and higher pricing - they are stuck with the deal that their platforms have negotiated with the providers, while the same providers are happily publishing better deals on their own website or through other channels such as Hotel Tonight.
Gone are the days of getting locked into prices set 6 or 9 months ago - late in the game and often last minute price optimizations have become the new normal. So then : Why hasn't anyone considered a solution which allows users to choose a flight that they want, at the price they can see themselves (Wouldn't that be a win-win situation for everyone?
Note - You might think that corporate tools that show you prices that are lower than what's publicly available would be always better. But those lower prices often come with many strings attached - either reduced perks for your traveling employees or little to no flexibility in making changes and cancellations. So one has to be deliberate and avoid being penny-wise and pound-foolish.
Lastly, but most importantly - what Employees seem to care the most after flexibility is usability (let's be honest - in most cases, they are not spending their own money for business trips).
When it comes to usability, for reasons that shall remain unknown to mankind, most corporate tools are still stuck in the 80s - just try visiting the websites of some of the largest providers such as Concur, American Express, Carlson Wagonlit and a few dozen more.
"I spend an equivalent of 4 work weeks dealing with my own travel planning, booking, dealing with meeting changes, flight disruptions, tracking receipts, filing expenses" - almost every road-warrior we interviewed
Business owners must realize that these employees are not only expensive from a $$$ standpoint, they are also usually the ones generating the most impact to your business - whether its scouting more prospects or closing big deals. Every single dollar you spend to save their time and reduce their headaches, is a 10x investment in your business.
Needless to say, at OK Roger, we don't sell any pre-packaged inventory for either hotels or flights. Roger is truly your assistant, working 24x7, so you can focus on what truly matters - growing your career and your business.
If Roger can find you the best value flight for your trip, take him up on it. But sometimes you might already have a flight you know you like, which is overall better value or just cheaper - in that case just SMS him or Slack him a screenshot; and Roger will do his best to choose that option for you. As simple as that.