February 25 2009 by Chris McGinnis
I'm picking up from last week's column where I shared some interesting snippets from a panel discussion I moderated at the recent Best Western Business Travel Summit in New York City.
Panelists included Linda Rutherford, VP of communications and strategic outreach at Southwest Airlines, George Zilvetti, VP at MasterCard who oversees business development and co-branding, and Best Western's Dorothy Dowling, senior VP of marketing and sales.
Here are some more nifty nuggets of knowledge I picked up from the panel and how they affect you:
- Loyalty program redemption levels are higher than ever. In January, Best Western saw a record 36% increase in free night redemptions by members of its Best Western Rewards program. Southwest has seen similar increases in Rapid Rewards redemptions from the last quarter of 2008 through January. Both companies attribute the increase to economic conditions where business travelers are more frequently redeeming awards for business trips. They are also redeeming more awards to reduce the cost of their vacations.
- To help stem the tide of corporate edicts to cut out business travel altogether, suppliers are rolling out tools that help companies monitor and reduce costs instead. MasterCard offers a service called Dashboard that helps track, manage and reduce travel expenses through the use of its corporate card. Interest in Southwest's online corporate travel booking tool called SWABIZ is on the rise, too, as companies look to low-cost carriers to help control costs.
- Unmanaged travelers--those who don't have an expense account to rely on and a corporate travel manager to tell them what to do--might save the day when it comes to business travel. While many large corporations are ordering travelers to stay home until the economic storm clouds clear, the more independent--and unmanaged--travelers are still hitting the road. At Best Western, these travelers outnumber their managed counterparts by three to one. Southwest sees unmanaged travelers as its most loyal and savvy customers who know how to work the system to their advantage. These folks are accustomed to simplicity and self service, so the current wave of cost reductions and "trading down" is not hitting them as hard as those used to more coddling and care.