How much will your company spend on travel in 2021? The current atmosphere of uncertainty can make it difficult to forecast business travel needs, and the answer can change with each breaking news story of the day.

Despite the question marks hanging over 2021, we’ve outlined some ways you can gain greater clarity over your travel spend this year, and we’re also including some cost-saving suggestions just in case you need some extra room in your budget if travel activities pick up faster than you’re anticipating.

(Re)define essential/allowable travel

Each business will need to determine what it considers “essential” travel by weighing the risks and benefits of having their employees travel versus not traveling. Some organizations that rely heavily on business travel may have a more flexible interpretation than those that can get by on video calls for the time being.

You may want to break down what is “essential” by category. For instance, perhaps new client meetings are deemed critical, but internal ones are not. Regular re-evaluations of the travel policy and determinations of “essential” travel throughout 2021 will allow flexibility as circumstances evolve.

We also advise surveying your travelers to gauge who is willing to travel at this point since their personal obligations may factor into their readiness to get back out there.

Monitor all types of spend

This year, we suggest dedicating more time to analyzing spend at the granular level to understand where your program is heading.

Because travelers may initially feel more comfortable driving over flying, you may see your car/ground transportation and hotel spend climbing more quickly than air. There may also be a bump in rail travel in some places since it may be perceived as a safer mode of transport.

We also recommend analyzing spend by long-haul vs. short-haul trips since domestic and regional journeys may bounce back faster. In China, for instance, domestic travel has rebounded 100% and even has topped pre-COVID levels, but the country is still restricting international flights.

Monitor supplier news and rates

Bypassing the request for proposal process this season, many suppliers have rolled over client-negotiated rates (CNRs) from 2020 to 2021 and given their clients a pass on fulfilling volume thresholds. So now is not the time to budge from your preferred supplier contracts – but it is a year to keep close tabs on rates. If prices drop below your CNR, ask your preferred supplier for a discount. If rates rise, you’ll be protected from the contract.

This year, also keep a close eye on what’s happening to your suppliers. At least temporarily, airlines may shut down some routes that impact your company’s top destinations, and some hotel properties may come under new management or close permanently. Such changes can affect your spend and may even require you to strike deals with new suppliers.

If you do not have enough volume for a corporate discount, we suggest relying on the special deals we have available through our Preferred Extras™ program, Hotel Rate Guarantee, and air and hotel re-shopping solutions to avoid overpaying.

Don’t let unused airline tickets got to waste

How many airline credits does your company still have available from trip cancellations in 2020? If you’re struggling to answer the question, we understand. Electronic tickets often are forgotten when travel plans change, especially when there’s a significant lapse between the canceled trip and rebooking. Large, multinational companies may need to track and manage millions of dollars’ worth of vouchers and refunds from 2020.

A credit management system that can aggregate refund, waiver, and voucher information in one place can make it much easier to identify and recover unused tickets that otherwise would be forfeited to the airlines. Replacing this manual and time-consuming process with an automated tool also can save on administrative costs.

Enforce a pre-trip approval process

Having a pre-trip approval process can help you curtail unnecessary trips to high-risk destinations, boost policy compliance, and keep spend in check. With pre-trip auditing technology, organizations can review employees’ itineraries before they have been ticketed, and travel to high-risk destinations can be flagged automatically.

But it’s not enough simply to have a pre-trip approval tool set up. You also have to make sure designated approvers understand the criteria for approving and rejecting trip requests. For instance, if the goal is for a trip to stay within a specific budget, approvers will need to look at the costs. If it’s to keep travelers safe, they can evaluate it from a risk standpoint.

By the way, we have tools that can help you analyze a trip from both perspectives. First, our online booking tool offers a full breakdown of trip expenses, including estimated out-of-pocket expenditures, so you can know the total cost of a trip before hitting the “Book” button. Then with our Travel Vitals™ search tool, you can look up key safety information, such as a country’s risk level and how many days travelers need to quarantine, to determine if a trip is safe and worth the investment. Check it out now!