A Nation of Wimps? The State of Corporate Travel Policies


By Robert McGarvey


When the travel masters at your organization issue pages of rules and restrictions is your only question: how high should I jump?

Now we know the answer. American Express has dumped piles of data on us in its latest Traveler 360, a 20+  page overview of who we are, what we care about, and, yes, how compliant we are with corporate policies.

What shocks me in the Amex data is how docile we are.  We really, really are.

Me, too. I’m generally compliant, except when the policies are asinine – like one company that capped hotel rates at $300/night and the closest I could find in Manhattan during UN General Assembly week was north of $400. I just ignored that pennypinching, booked the pricier hotel, and don’t recall hearing boo in protest.

But on the big stuff – such as flying coach (but never basic economy) – I am generally on board.

71% of US travelers, by the way, told Amex their company has a business travel policy.  That is pretty much true around the globe. In India, 90% say their company does. In German, 67% do.  

Where big differences arise is in employee understanding of the policy. In France, 59% say their company does not have a clear policy on travel and expense reporting.  In Germany it’s 58%. In the UK it’s 53%,

Guess what it is in the US and know you will almost certainly be wrong.

It’s a piddly 21% who say their company policy is not clear.

Why is the US so different? Amex takes a stab at an explanation: “One potential explanation is necessity, as 3 out of 4 of US travelers also report that their companies strictly enforce said policies.”

The US also is a laggard in the number of travelers who admit to “going rogue” in business travel. Just 40% of us admit to doing so.  In Australia it’s 52%. Stunningly, in Germany, a country well known for its rules compliance, 67% say they go rogue.

The usual reason for ignoring organizational policies: to stay closer to an event or meeting. And, yeah, I’ve challenged hotel bookings on the grounds of inconvenience and can’t recall a time when the organization didn’t let me stay where I chose.  (It probably helps that I have scant interest in hotel loyalty programs and can’t be accused of staying at a preferred place just to accumulate points.)  

Amex also said that we ignore policy when booking a hotel to stay in a safer location, and that is especially true of Americans and French.

Have you ever done that? I did it once when I was booked into the Europa Hotel in Belfast – known during the  “troubles” as the world’s most bombed hotel – and I declined.  I booked myself into the family owned Wellington Park Hotel – never bombed and my personal go-to on visits to Belfast in the violent years. Oddly enough, the event organizer followed up and rebooked some attendees into the Wellington Park as well.  

We in the US differ from our international compatriots on a number of reasons for booking hotels out of policy.  Just 49% of us will do so to have better business lounge access. 87% of Brits will do it.

Just 52% of us say we book out of policy because we prefer the hotels.  84% of Brits will do it.

55% of us say we will fly another airline – not in the policy – because we like it better.  87% of Brits say they will ignore policy to book a preferred carrier.

71% of us say will book in a hotel not in the policy because it’s better quality.  90% of Brits will.

What can organizations do to get more compliance with travel policies? Amex said: “Since having a strict policy enforcement approach does not work for all countries or companies, offering incentives could be a way to change traveler behavior. Travelers responded favorably to things like having a percentage of the money they saved by booking within policy put into their paycheck and receiving bonus vacation days or paid time off.”

Amex also insisted: “The more travelers understand their company travel policy and the benefits that are in it for them, the more they will comply.”

If you were bribed, would you be even more compliant?  Personally I don’t think it would make a whit of difference to me.  But exactly what bribe is on offer?


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