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6 ways to shrink your business travel spend on rail tickets

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The Campaign for Better Transport has estimated that rail fares have gone up by 23.5% between 1995 and 2016 – and 2018 isn’t expected to show any respite after the rail industry announced that they will go up by an average 3.5% from 2 January in line with today’s RPI announcement by the Chancellor.

If your organisation travels on business, you will likely be affected by the latest price rises; however, there are still steps you can take to reduce your rail spend. Here are our top tips for reducing your average ticket prices.

 

#1 - Consider fixing your journey times and ALWAYS fix the outbound

It’s fairly common knowledge that the most expensive train tickets are those that give you the flexibility to catch whichever train you want, and it’s also understandable that business travellers like to have that option. No one wants to be hanging around for a 6 pm train when they could be on the 4 o’clock because their meeting finished early. So most travellers just buy the flexible ticket even though it costs their company the most money.

Our experience shows that fixing the return leg of a rail ticket isn’t always practical, but you can still save a significant amount of money by fixing the outbound and keeping the return flexible.

For example, let’s look at a return ticket from Hull to London on the 1st March at 0857 and coming back at 1719. I can buy:

  1. a fixed return ticket for £65
  2. a fixed outbound and a flexible return ticket for £133
  3. a fully flexible ticket for £222

While the £65 ticket won’t be suitable for many business travellers because it restricts you to the exact trains booked, the £133 ticket will because most travellers know which train they will take to reach their meeting on time and this option still gives them the much-needed flexibility on their way home. This example shows a £89 saving without causing the traveller any inconvenience at all.

Take a look at your rail travel reports for 2016, if you have a high use of anytime tickets, you should probably target reducing this by educating your travellers and updating your corporate travel policy. Your corporate travel agent will be able to help, so make sure you seek their advice on how to best to get your travellers on board.


#2 - Is travelling at peak times essential?


Travelling at peak times is considered the norm for business travellers, but could be more habit than necessity. The price difference between off-peak and peak can be vast, let’s look at an example. Return travel from Birmingham to London on the 1st March using an anytime, any route return is £176, yet an off-peak return is just £28.50! This shows a massive saving of £147.50!

Sometimes putting your meeting back by just one hour can allow you to travel off-peak and make a big saving, it also means the train will be quieter and less busy which makes for a much more pleasant journey.


#3 - Book your travel as far in advance as possible


This isn’t exactly a big secret, in fact, every corporate travel agent will be telling their clients that booking travel further in advance will yield them lower rail fares, yet still, many travellers leave it to the last minute. Your corporate travel agent should be able to provide you with reports that show you how far in advance you book (also called lead time) and help you identify the potential savings by improving. This simple adjustment in buying habits can make a drastic difference to the prices paid and it’s definitely worth investing some time in educating your employees about why it’s important. Incentives can work well to get travellers buying into the change so make sure you reward your staff when you start to see improvements.


#4 - Buy a railcard?


It’s worth checking if any of your employees already have or are eligible for a railcard. Railcards provide discounts of up to a third off Standard Anytime, Off-Peak, Standard Advanced and First Class Advanced fares. Even though you have to buy a railcard, it could pay for itself the first time it’s used thanks to the discount. Speak to your corporate travel agent for more advice on purchasing and making sure it’s applied to all applicable bookings.


#5 - Consider alternative operators


Remember there are sometimes multiple operators on one route, and often one operator can be cheaper than another. Have a look at your regular routes to see which operators are being used the most; there may be an opportunity to save money by using an alternative.

For example, an anytime return from Birmingham to London on the 1st March is £176, but if you opt to travel on London Midland only, the cost is only £76, which is £100 saving.

Looking at the alternatives is something your corporate travel agent will be able to assist with so make sure you ask them about it at your next review meeting.


#6 - Check your travel policy is fit for purpose


We often speak to companies who say they have high travel policy compliance, but when we dig a bit deeper, we sometimes find that their travel policy guidelines are so vague, it’s virtually impossible not to comply. With rail travel, this is usually because the policy simply stipulates the employee should travel in standard class. As we saw in the examples above each of following train tickets for are in standard class:


  1. a fixed return ticket for £65
  2. a fixed outbound and a flexible return ticket for £133
  3. a fully flexible ticket for £222

All vastly different costs, but all compliant with the ‘standard class’ travel policy. If the policy were to book ‘the most cost effective ticket’ or ‘the cheapest ticket’ the £222 ticket would actually be out of policy and would therefore save the business £157 or £89, depending on which ticket was booked.

What this shows is that a high policy compliance rate is only as good as the controls within the travel policy. If you leave your policy wide open, of course, your compliance will look great, but it could be because your employees don’t really have anything to comply to.


We hope these tips will help you reduce your rail travel costs in 2017 and beyond, and of course, if you need any further guidance feel free to contact us or ask your questions in the comments below.

The Guide to Reducing Business Travel Costs

 

About Wayne Durkin

Wayne joined the team in 2016 after more than 20 years in corporate travel and brings with him heaps of experience to share with our customers. Wayne leads our account management and sales teams and his knowledge and experience is invaluable when building bespoke solutions for our customers.
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