Unused, unflown, and unrefunded tickets are one of the most technically difficult challenges in business travel. Data is sometimes lacking, it’s often manually extracted, and it’s often in the form of raw data. If you haven’t yet, read through Part 1 of this post, where I walked through two main challenges: discovering what happened to disrupted trips and finding out what happened to the associated spend or refund.
Phase 2: Travel picking back up
Having walked through Phase 1: The peak of the first wave, we need to start looking at the current phase and what we expect to see after that.
In the past month or so, we have seen just the early signs of recovery for travel. We are all hopeful that travel can soon be back on its feet, though we can expect muddled progress through potential second and third waves of COVID-19. It’ll likely feel like ‘two steps forward – one step back.’
The recovery of travel is thought to also come with a third challenge – a risk. To understand the risk, let’s go back in time to March. The pandemic had just hit a significant portion of the travel world, and airlines had to cancel many flights immediately. At that time, many airlines were looking to retain as much cash as possible to help them through the forecast recession with next to zero revenue. Airlines were providing travelers with a “voucher” for future use. In some cases, where governments stepped in to require airlines to offer a refund, they could have proposed a voucher with potentially more favorable terms (from a technical perspective – this could be captured as an Unused Tickets). Instructions for reclaiming the vouchers could have sometimes referred the travelers to the airline’s website.
The risk of business travelers receiving vouchers directly from the airlines is that they could reclaim them now with the airlines. In such cases, the flight will likely not be monitored by the TMC, and the Travel Manager will often not have visibility to the fact that it is happening. This puts the company and its travelers at risk in terms of ensuring their safety, bypassing a Duty of Care. It is intimidating to think of a scenario of a (positive) quick travel recovery where hundreds of flights, unfortunately, happen off-program/off-channel by travelers directly re-using vouchers with airlines, and then a second/third wave of COVID-19 hitting and endangering company’s travelers, without the company even being aware that the travelers are on trip.
Beyond the risk of safety and security, there is also a slight but potential risk of improper or even dishonest use of the voucher – for their own personal trips. This could even happen to travelers who have been let go by the company and have not “returned” their voucher to their manager upon leaving.
Not all TMCs can provide visibility into such direct off-program use of vouchers, which may put their clients at risk. Travel Managers may need to seek technology help from one of their TMC’s partners or a 3rd party provider.
Phase 3: Air travel is back
Ultimately, travel will be back. It might take longer than we hoped; it will almost certainly be a bumpy ride. It might be at a lower level than in 2019. But it will be back. And with that, many of the Unused Tickets would have been used. Hence visibility would no longer be a significant challenge, nor would be the risk of their off-program utilization.
With flights back to normal, the airlines would no longer be expected to hold off on the expiration of Unused Tickets. A large volume of these tickets created due to the canceled March-April flights will now reach their expiration date, likely somewhere in 2021. And with that, the challenge of reducing the expiration of Unused Tickets is at its complete relevance.
They are ensuring that year-old Unused Tickets, which commonly have an expiration date set 12 months ahead, won’t expire due to lack of visibility, especially when there isn’t an opportunity to exchange them for new trips. While ticket expiry dates have been extended, it doesn’t change the common narrative I’m hearing daily on exploratory calls: “I just can’t get a report to know when they [airline tickets] expire.
Travel Managers will want to ensure that their TMCs are optimally matching Unused Tickets to new flights with which they could be utilized and exchanged.
These unique times bring novel challenges that have never occurred before at such a scale. Will the future pan out as I captured it above and entailed the obstacles I’ve portrayed? Some will likely materialize, while the rest will likely unfold differently. In any case, I’d like to encourage Travel Managers to invest some of their time in playing out the travel world one year ahead and ensuring they are prepared for the new challenges yet to come.”