Airlines go after small- to medium-sized businesses

Airlines are using the Web to target a large but fragmented market—business travel conducted by Small- to Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs).
In mid-April, Delta Air Lines announced MYOBTravel. Last week, Continental Airlines announced the launch of RewardOne Travel Manager. Northwest Airlines has E-Biz Perks, a rewards program for employees of SMEs. And, in February, British Airways launched its own small business travel management portal, Your Travel Manager, designed for travel agencies serving small- to medium-sized corporate clients or for companies to use themselves.
The sites share something in common, ease of use for travelers or their travel arrangers. Travel arrangers at SMEs are typically responsible for travel in addition to holding a full time job elsewhere in the organization. The airline sites also give small businesses the opportunity to enjoy price breaks or added rewards that, individually, none of them has a big enough travel spend to qualify for.
At the same time, it gives airlines a chance to use the Web to deepen their relationship with their customers—a lesson they have all taken to heart. And, it helps the airlines shift bookings onto the Web, their lowest-cost distribution channel. Finally, the online unmanaged business travel market is already substantial—and one the airlines clearly want to tap into.
Unmanaged business travel—that is, travel by business people whose companies have no centralized business policy or travel manager—is a growing market. Unmanaged business travelers account for between 25% and 30% of Travelocity’s and Expedia’s customers, one reason both of these mega travel sites have also launched their own business travel programs.
Delta’s site, www.myobtravel.com, is designed for small businesses with five to 50 travelers that spend less than half a million dollars annually on airfare. It caters to travel arrangers as much as it does to travelers themselves. Arrangers can earn Delta SkyMiles while booking travel for others. It also generates custom activity and expense reports for each traveler and trip—another boon for the multi-tasking employees of SMEs. Companies can use MYOBTravel to book air (on all airlines, not just Delta), car, hotel, take advantage of special offers and generate reports for financial tracking. Users can create personal profiles. MYOBTravel users can also reschedule flights for free through the site’s 24-hour customer-service provider, TRX. Its e-mail tool is a way to speed up communication between travel arrangers and travelers themselves.
At launch, MYOBTravel offered no enrollment or transaction fees, discounts on the first, fifth and 10th Delta ticket, bonus miles for spending, bonus miles for Delta flights and weekly and monthly giveaways. It also offers discounts of up to 30% and allows users to search by preferred vendor or schedule. In the works: special promotions and small business loyalty programs. E-travel is its booking engine; Worldspan is its GDS.
With Continental’s RewardOne Travel Manager, smaller companies earn bonuses based on accumulated points earned by their employees’ travel. Travelers continue to earn their own OnePass frequent flyer miles. At www.continental.com/rewardone, travelers can book any of thousands of hotels, rental cars and flights—with Continental and with other carriers as well. Customers can set their air, car and hotel preferences as well as seating, meal preferences, frequent flyer numbers and credit card information. Additionally, travel managers and arrangers can track company travel with online reports. TRX is also providing Continental with online customer support, automated ticket processing and distribution.
Northwest’s E-Biz Perks is designed to help companies earn reward points on their employee’s travel. Rewards include drink coupons, passes or memberships to Northwest’s WorldClubs, upgrades and complimentary tickets.
British Airways’ Your Travel Manager, aimed at both travel agencies and companies themselves, is designed to help businesses save money by implementing more effective travel policies. As with the other airline programs, it gives SMEs the opportunity to book air, car and hotels from a number of suppliers. The portal, developed in partnership with GetThere, can be personalized to reflect corporate travel policies and traveler preferences.
Agencies can set up the portal as their own business travel management system, enabling them to tailor it, co-brand it or link it to their own Web site.
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