Is the battle for frequent flyer miles worth risking employee loyalty?

Frequent flyer miles, and who owns them, have long been a bitter battleground in the corporate travel space. Companies say because they pay for the flights, the miles belong to them. Business travellers argue the hardship they endure on the road on behalf of the company means they should retain these miles as a reward.

It is this pursuit of frequent flyer miles that often sees business travellers flout their company’s travel policy.

The jury is still out on who is right on this issue, but for the former prime minister of Denmark, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, retaining his miles after flying first-class on country business, then using those same air miles for a family holiday got him into decidedly hot water with the press.

Perhaps more mutually beneficial to corporates and their travellers would be using frequent flyer miles to attract and retain top talent.

Oz Desai, General Manager Corporate Traveller, explains that travelling for business can be tough: destinations can be challenging with jam-packed itineraries and long days away from home. 

“By allowing travellers to take advantage of airline and hotel loyalty programmes businesses can help to balance the demands of business travel with some travel perks that employees could use for their personal travels and this in turn can strengthen staff retention,” says Desai.

Millennials take work-life balance seriously and have often been stereotyped as the ones to ask 'So what's in it for me?'. As we see more qualified young millennials enter the workforce, businesses will need to consider what perks may be required to attract and retain the best people.

However, this flexibility is a delicate balancing act.  By providing travellers with too much freedom on what airlines and hotel chains they can use may reduce cost control and not allow for consolidation of suppliers or negotiated volume deals.

A traveller-focused travel programme could indeed be the answer to both traveller compliance and to the retention of top talent, according to a recent survey of more than 750 business travellers, sponsored by the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC).

Of those business travellers surveyed in the ARC study, 84 percent said they would be interested in a job offer from another company that required similar travel levels if there was a very attractive travel policy. Some 83 percent said the new firm’s travel policy would be at least equally important, if not more important, than the new pay and responsibilities.

Says Desai: “It is important to consult various stakeholders when drawing up a travel policy and this includes travellers.  By including them in the policy process you can ensure better understanding and buy-in down the line as their views have been considered.

The top 10 percent of travellers out there, your road warriors, are spending nearly four weeks a year of their personal time on a plane. These travellers also spend an average of 88 nights away from home and book nearly 90 percent of flight hours in economy class. That’s a major commitment.”

Increasingly, businesses are starting to realise that allowing corporate travellers to use loyalty miles and points for their own personal use seems a small price to pay for this kind of commitment.