It's not unusual for the person sitting next to you on a flight to have paid half the price of what you did. Nor is it strange for the person on the other side to have paid double. The aim (of course) is not to be that traveller!
There's been a big push in recent years towards 'best fare of the day' (best fare). Initially, this simply meant booking the cheapest available fare across all carriers on any particular route.
Taking this approach can generate substantial savings, but increasingly, the focus has moved from the lowest fare to 'lowest logical fare'. This came about from the realisation that sometimes, it's just too hard taking the cheapest flight when it leaves too early or too late, requires unnecessary stopovers or even sacrifices a meal and a drink (which the traveller will then buy at the airport for 5 times the value that they saved on the flight).
Taking this into consideration best fare is now interpreted as the lowest fare that meets your travellers' needs in terms of convenience, comfort and safety.
So how do you achieve 'best fare' without, inconveniencing travellers, disrupting your program and processes and increasing risk?
Noting impacts airfare prices more than timing, and for domestic travel, the sweet spot appears to be three weeks before travel. The difference between a fare booked early and one just before travel can be hundreds of dollars!
2. Agreed Channel
Even if you manage to get all your travellers to fly with your preferred airline, you won't get the best fare unless they book through the agreed channel - where your discounted fares are loaded. Whether that is through your travel management company or your online booking tool.
3. Mixing it up
Few organisations permit business class travel for domestic travel, but it is not unusual for international trips, especially for senior executives. But for those with an eye on the bottom line, premium economy is a great alternative at a fraction of the price.
But even with domestic economy travel, there is a significant price premium for flexibility and fully flexible tickets are much more expensive than no-change fares. So, smart travellers can make savings by booking the cheap inflexible fares for their outbound flight and will purchase a flexible return leg if there’s a chance they’ll be delayed coming back.
4. Stick with preferred
Some airlines demand a specific market share of your air travel before they’ll provide discounts... others are more negotiable. If you manage to secure a good discount by pledging market share, then make sure you deliver the bookings you’ve promised. Otherwise you'll have difficulty negotiating great fares next year.
5. Manage your credits
Within any travel program, you’ll always have cancellations. And even with restricted fares, there will be some kind of refund. The trick is tracking the credits and using them to pay for new trips. Many organisations are not watching their credits and are losing tens of thousands of dollars by not applying them where they can.
The good news is that QBT can assist with this through our automated technology to use your credits.
6. Is it essential?
The best fare is no fare, and organisations can make huge savings by avoiding unnecessary travel. How many “internal” trips to meet with other team members are really necessary? Can the same outcome be achieved through teleconferencing? Enlightened organisations start every travel requisition with a justification for the trip: if it’s not necessary and doesn’t add value, then it’s stopped even before the booking has been started.
And remember, 'best fare' isn't necessarily best value
We live in a "pay-for-use" world, and really cheap fares may not include luggage, meals, or even the ability to choose your seat. When those extras are added on, you're sometimes looking at more than the cost of a more expensive basic ticket.
And there are other benefits. If travellers have special status with an airline, they get access to a premium lounge before departure. And that means free wifi, snacks and drinks – and a quiet place to do some work. Travellers will agree that the lounge access is probably worth some additional fare costs.
Of course, we can’t talk about air travel without talking about frequent flyer programs. Unfortunately, these are a fact of life and there’s no doubt they affect traveller behaviour. Frequent flyer programs aren’t going away, so it’s up to travel managers to ensure that travellers are enrolled in the right ones – the ones affiliated with mandated airlines. That, at least, will provide some reinforcement for choosing the right carrier.
Air travel still constitutes a large proportion of travel spend, so it’s important to take a BFOD approach – one that saves you money, meets traveller needs and ticks the boxes for safety and security.