Price is still king when it comes to corporate travel, but queen comfort is a powerful consort.
I was speaking to a friend of mine last week about his corporate travel policy. He works for a software company in the Bay Area and his travel booking system actively blocks United…this policy began after the Dao incident. If he wants to fly United, he must seek special permission.
The system also blocks Basic Economy fares on Delta and American so that he doesn’t even see them when searching for domestic or international travel.
And it seems he is not alone. Julie Weed of the New York Times just published a story on precisely this matter. As airlines woo corporate contracts, price alone is not enough anymore.
I think Alaska Airlines’ David Oppenheim, vice president of sales, summed up the new trifecta nicely:
[F]light schedules to take them where they want to go at the right time, great value for their company that pairs with a great experience for their travelers as well as special benefits for their corporate travelers that take some of the hassle out of flying.
And perhaps that is blatantly obvious. But what other perks really matter? Alaska has special check-in lines for Microsoft and Amazon in Seattle. That’s nice, but don’t we all check in online now?
Southwest has more than doubled its corporate travel staff from 30 to 80. The carrier is offering more customized travel packages based upon specific company needs. Other airlines are doing the same.
And it’s true, boarding early, lounge access, and upgrades play a huge role in impacting loyalty.
Corporate travel policy varies by company, but at my friend’s company the “preferred carrier” is Delta, though nothing stops him from booking on American or Alaska, even on routes in which Delta offers nonstop service. Delta is nothing more than a recommendation. Other companies have stricter travel polices. That makes the corporate travel battle two-front for airlines.
For companies with a looser travel policy, airlines must woo the employees. For companies with a tighter policy, airlines must woo travel managers. Making both happy is sometimes mutually exclusive, like in the instance of offering miles to the company versus individual travelers.
My point is simple: it’s not just about price any longer when it comes to corporate travel. While price is still the most important factor, price alone is unlikely to win contracts any more. That’s quite a development.