Understanding the Cost of Traveler Friction

Over the past decade, travel program policies and the role of travel managers have changed dramatically. After the 2007–09 global financial crisis, travel programs came under closer scrutiny from procurement and finance departments, as firms sought to cut costs as much as possible.

In more recent years, however, the pendulum has begun to swing away from heavily financially driven decision-making and toward more traveler-centric models. Today’s corporate travel managers operate increasingly more sophisticated travel programs and work more closely than ever with their counterparts in finance, procurement, human resources, technology and risk.

These programs seek to minimize the total cost of travel by balancing the tangible costs of travel expenses with the intangible costs of traveler friction—the wear and tear of too much travel. This study examines traveler friction from the road warrior’s perspective in order to give travel managers—and other stakeholders—a stronger fact base for considering changes to travel policies, technology, processes and culture.

Future reports will apply ARC’s industry-leading air travel ticketing database, tClara’s Trip Friction® benchmarks and American Express Global Business Travel’s program management expertise to the insights gleaned from this study in order to provide travel managers clear recommendations to create best-in-class programs that attract and retain top talent and positively impact their firm’s bottom line.

The Average Road Warrior

In 2016, the average road warrior:

  • Earns $155,000 annually, is male, married and has two children
  • Takes 26 trips per year and spends 84 nights away from home
  • More than likely works for a firm that has better travel policies for frequent travelers, regardless of rank
  • Is generally satisfied with his firm’s travel policies

While most road warriors are satisfied with their travel policies (86 percent), about half want to travel significantly less in two years, implying a recruiting challenge for many firms. Sixty-four percent of road warriors believe they could get a good job that doesn’t require much travel. Eighty-five percent would be interested in a job from a different firm that requires similar travel levels if it offers a very attractive travel policy. Eighty-three percent say the new firm’s travel policy would be at least equally or more important than the new pay and responsibilities.

Managing Traveler Friction

The average road warrior experienced four of the eight traveler friction symptoms surveyed, such as not sleeping well on the road, worrying about his travel’s impact on his family, getting sick, or needing time off after too much travel. One-third experienced two or fewer symptoms; one-third experienced six or more symptoms.

Although preferences varied widely, the most popular way to improve travel for road warriors is to allow non-stop flights whenever available (18 percent of respondents chose this as their first or second choice), provide better or more convenient hotels (13 percent), allow business-class travel on flights over six hours (13 percent) and paid time off after a long bout of travel (12 percent).

Overall, 41 percent of road warriors asked for improvements in travel policies, followed by better travel cultures at 25 percent (e.g., providing time off or otherwise making it easier to balance travel workload), and better travel technology and processes (22 percent). Only 12 percent preferred more personal benefits.

While there is no silver bullet for reducing traveler friction—travel is too personal of an experience—these results do indicate there are some broad strokes travel managers can take to tailor their program toward higher satisfaction and greater retention of their road warriors.

Understanding Traveler Burnout

While nearly two-thirds of road warriors do not believe they are anywhere near burnout, a large minority (15 percent) report to being either burned out or very close to it. Based on survey feedback, this group is:

  • More likely to work for firms that over-emphasize the need to control travel costs
  • Less willing to travel
  • Less compliant to travel policies
  • More interested in job offers from firms with favorable travel policies
  • Less satisfied with the outcomes of their trips. (The cost of these less-effective trips, while hard to calculate, is potentially very significant.)

The biggest driver of burnout is spending nights away from home. Forty-one percent of burned-out road warriors worry about the negative impact this has on their families. Forty-five percent worry about the negative impacts of travel on their health, happiness or personal relationships.

Trip Quality and Travel Culture Matter More Than Trip Quantity

Surprisingly, traveler burnout is not correlated with trip quantity...

Surprisingly, traveler burnout is not correlated with trip quantity as measured by the number of nights away, number of trips or number of international trips. Furthermore, road warriors report being burned out at all levels of trip volumes, while plenty of the highest-volume travelers report that they are far from being burned out.

When compared to their peers, burned out road warriors:

  • Stay at five-star hotels less often
  • Have more restrictive policies for business-class travel on long flights
  • Are more likely to work for firms that do not offer favorable travel policies to all frequent travelers, regardless of rank

The Big Benefits of Reducing Traveler Friction

While generally satisfied with their travel environments, roughly four out of five road warriors want management to be more aware of business travel’s impact, offer attractive travel policies to frequent travelers regardless of rank, be more aware of their current tolerance for travel and show more appreciation for the travel they do.

Surveyed road warriors were asked to select and rank four improvements that would make their travel easier or better from a list of 24 options. Regardless of the specific improvements selected, road warriors consistently reported that their organization’s adoption of their top four requests would:

  • Increase their willingness to travel by at least 10 percent
  • Significantly improve their productivity (44 percent on average)
  • Have a very or extremely positive impact on their willingness to stay at their firm (64 percent)

It’s clear that firms can expect better recruiting results by offering favorable travel policies for frequent travelers and, more importantly, can expect significantly better outcomes from their business trips.

Road warriors are among a firm’s most valuable resources. They are motivated high earners who are very open to new opportunities. While too much traveler friction can have a negative impact on recruiting, retention, productivity and trip effectiveness, staying connected to road warriors by investing in more accommodating travel policies, better technologies and more supportive travel cultures can clearly pay big dividends.

Survey Methodology

In June 2016, MMGY Global, a global leader of behavioral insights throughout the travel industry, conducted a 13-minute online survey with 757 respondents using the firm’s proprietary AmeriLink™ online survey tool on behalf of the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), American Express Global Business Travel and tClara.

Each respondent met the following qualifications:

  • Born before 1993
  • Personal annual income of $50,000 or more
  • Spent 35 or more nights away from home for business travel during the past 12 months
  • Majority of business trips involved commercial airline or train transportation.

To download the full report, click here.