Business travelers told to be logical with tickets

In a move that’s shocking because it’s sensible, corporate travel managers are pushing business travelers to make decisions that aren’t stupid. In the past two years, 75 percent of companies in North America have changed their travel policies, with cost-cutting a major motivation. First and business class have become more and more elite in the white collar set, thanks to more restrictive policies, in an effort to put more business travelers in the sky at as low a cost as possible.

But, the need for cost containment isn’t resulting in idiocy. Rather, employees are being told to look for the “lowest logical fare.” Basically, this is “the lowest-priced fare that doesn’t cause travelers to take wildly circuitous routes, cause them to miss important engagements, incur an extra night in a hotel or lose productivity,” reports USA Today.

The report continues:

North American companies, which spent an estimated $48.7 billion on airline tickets in 2009, could save almost $30 billion combined annually if they instituted and enforced stricter travel policies that required non-refundable tickets or the lowest logical fare. That’s according to the survey’s publishers, Egencia and the National Business Travel Association Foundation.

Christophe Peymirat, vice president of global marketing at Egencia, Expedia‘s corporate travel arm, observes, “Based on our research, companies … can save as much as 38% by encouraging travelers to be flexible.” Departure times two hours before or after the desired flight and less-expensive connecting flights (rather than non-stop) are ways this could happen.

Business travelers poised to take fun out of social media tools

Where are you looking for the latest travel information? Well, if you’re a business traveler, especially with a mid-sized company, you’re probably turning to social media tools. And, that makes more than a little sense, given the reach of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter (the former of which pierced the 500 million-user mark this week).

According to the latest research by American Express Business Travel, the white collar crowd is turning to social media more and more to stay in touch with other travelers and keep up with travel industry developments. This is just the beginning, however. Down the road, many expect to use these online utilities to engage more directly in business, particularly through webcasts, forums and online video.

Basically, businesses will figure out how to put to work what kids have been doing for years. The good news? Since social media tools will become synonymous with work for this population, wasting time on Twitter won’t be fun any more, and the boss will recapture some productivity.
According to Christa Degnan Manning, director, eXpert insights, American Express Business Travel, “As businesses around the globe alter the way they communicate and receive information from clients and prospects, social media has also proven to be a useful and effective tool to share pertinent information with employees and drive change in organizations.”

Half of the respondents to the American Express Business Travel survey indicated that “they use social media to some extent to support travel management today,” and the proportion went up to 59 percent for mid-sized companies (defined as $3 million to $10 million in air volume).

So, why do they use social media tools? Forty-four percent say they want to stay up on the latest travel information, with 43 percent reporting that they can “learn and communicate best practices and reduce business travel costs”. Other priorities include finding preferred vendors and services (42 percent), hunting for travel patters that could result in improved rates or services (34 percent) and encouraging networking among travelers (26 percent).

What’s most horrifying about this research? Well, it’s that social media tools are becoming useful …time to kill that FarmVille account, right?

White Collar Travel: How Important Is That Phone Call?

The biggest complaint that non-business travelers have about the white collar folks likely involves cell phones. Our reluctance to turn the off at the appointed time is probably the greatest annoyance to those around us, though the Gordon Gekko-style pacing and posing at the gate tends to ruffle some feathers, too. I’ve overheard and even been asked countless times the very simple question: “Is it really that important?”

Of course, it’s sometimes phrased, “Nothing can be that [insert expletive of choice here] important.”

Now that I’m out of the game, my perspective on business travel has changed greatly, but there are some quirks and habits that still make sense to me. When I see a guy in a suit shaking his head dramatically, waving his arms and clenching his jaw, I get it. Chances are, it really is that important. Some issues won’t wait, especially if you’re bouncing up against a deadline and are about to be inaccessible for several hours.

In fact, it’s measurable.
Whether it’s commissions or billable hours, every white collar traveler has a number to hit – for the firm and, more importantly, personally. A manager squeezing in those last few minutes before the phones have to go dark can set people on the right course for the next four hours, resulting in possibly tens of thousands of dollars of value to his company.

Now, that’s the positive side of this. There’s also the crisis scenario. The door’s about to close, and you have only seconds left. Your project is blowing up, and your team needs any information or guidance you can give. Anything you can do will make life that much easier for the half a dozen or more people relying on you. I’ve been on both sides of this one and can assure you that it’s uncomfortable for all involved.

When you’re annoying everyone around you – which you really don’t want to do – you’re comparing that to trying to help your team. So, the choice involves securing the approval of strangers or taking care of people who are important to you. It’s easy to see how that one shakes out.

There is one more scenario to keep in mind: the business traveler before you, hollering and gesticulating, is a complete asshole who is unbelievably desperate or as much attention as he can garner. Do anything except ignore him, and you’ll only make it worse … for everyone.

White Collar Travel: Stupid things business travelers have done

Sometimes you lose your mind when you’re on the road. You either develop a highly inappropriate sense of entitlement (this is my seat on my plane) or decide that nothing matters, giving you a blank check to behave like an asshole. The combination of professional pressures – in my day, it was the collapse of the dotcom bubble … a bump in the road compared to the 2008 financial crisis – personal travails and frustration of being perpetually in transit sometimes make you snap.

Nobody is impervious to the factors that drive business travelers to idiocy, and those who think they are tend to be the worst afflicted. I remember running into my boss at LaGuardia‘s Marine Air Terminal – I was on a Boston-to-New York run for a few months and flew the Delta Shuttle several times a week . We were delayed, not an unusual occurrence at the time. He spotted me in the lone dining facility in the terminal, walked over and sat down, took a call on his cell and proceeded to help himself to my fries without even giving it a second thought.

But, that’s mild.I encountered plenty of business traveler stupidity when I flew with the white collar set … some of it I saw in the mirror. When you find yourself behaving in this manner, it’s usually time to get a new gig. Some of what I saw remains unshakably glue to my memory.

I’ll never forget one run down south.

One of the joys of extended-stay hotels was the so-called “General Manager’s Reception.” At least, I was told it was. Since I was on a project that closely resembled hell, I could never get back to the hotel (which was across the parking lot) in time to down some free beer.

How did I learn of this phenomenon? I ran into my boss’s boss in the hallway, just outside our client’s offices. He was in town for a meeting and was not a part of our weekly grind. In his hand, he held a plastic cup with piss-colored liquid, the cheap beer that even a hotel can see isn’t worth marking up.

Me: “Uh, maybe you’ll want to throw that out before going inside?”

Him, chuckling: “Yeah, probably not a bad idea.”

In another part of the country, I saw first-hand what poor mixological decision-making can do. If you’re unsure of whether to have alcohol, always err on the side of caution. Always. Your client will understand … especially if medicine is involved. I will never forget being on one project where my boss mused aloud about her boss’s insecurities and the reasons for them. Apparently, mixing her cold medicine with red wine had two side effects: (1) saying really stupid stuff about her boss and (2) doing it loudly.

Moral of the story: If you’re on meds, exhausted or inches from not giving a damn about your career, drink club soda. It looks like alcohol and is often mixed with alcohol … but it won’t lead to the same results.

So, I’ve kicked in two, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’ seen idiocy on the road. Any other white collar travelers want to chime in? I’d love to hear what you’ve seen (or done!).

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White Collar Travel: Five step to healthier road warrior diets

Sometimes, it seems like the road warrior‘s diet is relegated to the extremes. When a company executive is in town for a meeting – you’re taking your clients out – it’s hefty steaks, heavy cabernets and always more appetizers than a third-world country could consume in a lifetime. When there’s no occasion to shape the meal, on the other hand, you’re looking at suburban Chinese food illuminated by the glow of your dashboard.

It’s tough to strike a balance while you’re traveling … a problem that’s multiplied when you do it all the time. Fast food factors into at least one meal a day, and often, it will be your only meal. Caffeine (and, in my case, nicotine) replaced countless breakfasts, lunches and dinners back in my consulting days. Weight fluctuations were obvious. I’d usually drop 20 pounds in a month and a half when switching from a travel-intensive project to a local one.

Though the pressures of the job and the claims on time can impede proper nutrition, it isn’t impossible to eat well when you live the life of a wandering white collar warrior. You just have to be smart, plan ahead and commit to keeping yourself healthy.

Here are five ways you can avoid the fast food pits and fattening side-effects of client dinners when living the life of a road warrior:1. Choose an extended-stay hotel when possible
Now, what does this have to do with nutrition? Everything! These hotels have small kitchens, and you can stock the fridge with fruits, vegetables and other healthy snacks. When you get back to your room after 14 hours of meetings and deadlines, reach for an apple instead of a snickers bar (or a mini-bottle of bourbon).

2. Don’t always go for the steak
I know this sounds insane, but steakhouses carry other dead animals … not just cows. Would it kill you to opt for the salmon every now and then? While you’re at it, a salad can be savored; it isn’t something you have to endure.

3. Watch what you drink
Hey, I still enjoy a glass of wine or two with a nice dinner. But, you don’t have to kick off the evening with two martinis and close it with a cognac. At some point, switch to club soda or water. You can drink socially without going overboard.

4. Give up fast food
Or, at least cut back on it. When you have to dine and dash, your options do become limited, and not every city has an array of healthy quick-service dining options. When possible, find an alternative to fast food fare. It may take some work, but you should be able to come up with something.

5. Multitask for an extra meal
Breakfast is the first casualty of life on the road. Whether you’re up early to work or you’re trying to squeeze in a few extra minutes of sleep, the morning meal soon becomes a fantasy. Make time for breakfast. Bring some work down with you, and turn it into productive time. Hell, take your laptop to the table – it’s not like anyone’s eating with you.

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[photo by Steve Zak]