As leaders in travel management, we pay close attention to the latest trends and innovations in our industry. Our clients are continually giving us feedback on what’s working and what needs fixing as we lead them through the travel management process. One of the number one requests that we get from our clients is for pre-payment of services, with airfare, hotel, and car rentals the obvious top three. Our clients ask for this for a number of reasons, the biggest being the issuance of company credit cards. Air purchases are mostly handled through corporate ghost cards or a main company credit card. For hotel and car, they simply don’t want to or can’t give a company credit card to every single person that may travel within their organization. And, business travelers don’t like to incur the cost of travel expenses on their personal credit card, understandably. We work hard to honor these requests, and typically all goes well. But in some instances, particularly with hotel bookings, prepayment is not an option or difficult to do.
Enter the virtual payment. Virtual payment options for business travelers are a tremendous benefit, and here at MacNair Travel, we love this new technology as we work to make business travel easier to navigate for our clients. It’s a gamechanger in the travel management business – not only for its ability to pre-pay for services, but virtual payment is providing solutions for some of the challenges that all travel managers face.
Let’s talk about this first. As I mentioned above, the number one request that we get from our clients is to pre-pay hotel rooms for their business travelers. Why is that? Unlike other branded businesses, hotels that share the same name don’t necessarily share the same ownership. Therefore, each hotel has its own way of doing business.
Here’s a typical example of booking hotel rooms without a virtual payment option. Lisa needs to stay at a hotel near her client’s business for a specific amount of time. She asks the TMC that her company works with to book these rooms for her and to prepay them– they happily comply, but there’s extra work behind the scenes. The TMC gathers the information and then has to fax over an authorization form to the hotel, as most hotels do not have a centralized email for this purpose. Once the authorization is faxed over, the TMC then needs to wait, near the fax machine, for a confirmation that the hotel has received the fax. Then the TMC needs to call the hotel to once again confirm it is on the hotel’s fax machine. This could take many minutes, and also means that the business’ or traveler’s personal credit card information is sitting on a fax machine in the hotels’ office, creating the potential for credit card fraud to take place. Follow-up with the hotel happens again a few days before and the day of Lisa’s arrival. Unfortunately, the TMC’s labor cost for this reservation – TMC booking, faxing, documenting and follow-up – is passed onto Lisa’s business.
When virtual payment began about two years ago, this scenario was completely revamped. Virtual credit cards generate a unique credit card number to settle a specific transaction, also referred to as a “single-use” credit card. A unique card number is generated for the amount of the traveler’s stay at that particular hotel. A message is sent to the hotel once the card is opened, and then automatically sends notifications 24 hours prior to and on the day of arrival. The traveler uses a mobile app to produce the card upon check-in, verifying the booking. This automation makes prepayment the best option, saving valuable time and stress for the traveler, and valuable time and labor cost for the TMC and business.
I recently spoke with one of our clients who shared with me that his credit card had been compromised four times within the past year. In fact, in a recent Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) Foundation study, 69% of travel managers surveyed stated security as the most important element when considering payment solutions. Unfortunately this isn’t surprising – credit card fraud is a common occurrence in today’s global economy, and a definite concern for business travelers.
The virtual payment works to eliminate the potential for corporate credit cards being compromised. Since a unique credit card number is generated for each specific trip, this significantly reduces costs associated with lost or stolen credit cards. Once the card is used for a specific travel purpose, it becomes invalid, virtually eliminating the possibility of reuse.
The virtual payment makes reconciliation of travel expenses easy, saving time and money for your finance department. When a particular card is generated, 50 different reporting fields are captured that include pertinent expense reporting data. These fields can be integrated into your business’ expense reporting system, easily populating the information needed for your specific reports. This also helps business travelers remain compliant, and to stay within the thresholds established in the corporate travel policy.
We are excited about this technology and enjoy leading our clients through the implementation process. At the moment, hotels are the most prevalent users of virtual payment, but the car rental and airline industries are becoming more consistent users.
Our clients have been sharing positive feedback and success stories – many businesses have shared that since a virtual payment system has been implemented, the time spent on travel management issues has been greatly reduced, giving them the ability to focus on getting their job done. This is what we like to hear…a positive experience for travelers ultimately leads to business success.