Too few companies update their travel programs and expense policies and are often left with older, costlier corporate rates, a new industry study shows.

The oversight may leave companies with pricier rates that could strain travel budgets and even threaten the safety of employees when traveling on the job, according to the American Express (AXP) global business travel group.

Less than one-third of global, multinational and mid-sized companies have updated their travel policies within the last year despite surveys that show up-to-date guidelines help bring them in line with competition through cost savings and improved employee safety and morale.

Just 12% of the 100 corporate policies reviewed by AmEx address traveler security, 30% provide specific guidelines to travelers on when to book flights through non-preferred suppliers, and a surprising 80% fail to address the reimbursement of fees such as checked bags and reservation change fees.

“A healthy travel policy can help companies achieve long-term success [and] support business-critical goals such as risk mitigation and employee engagement,” said Christa Degnan Manning, director of AmEx’s research.

“However, like many improvement resolutions, reviewing and revising travel policy tends to get neglected,” she said. 

EXPERT INSIGHTS provided some tips on how companies can keep travel policies up-to-date to ensure corporate wallets aren’t emptied and road warriors remain safe.

1. Provide guidance to travelers on how to prepare for trips and what to do during their stay.

Companies should explain pre- and post-travel procedures and the protocol for a traveler in the advent of an emergency. Policies should also include information on how to protect corporate assets on the road.

2. Rewrite policies to more clearly explain what is reimbursable and which fees are waived when reservations are booked through preferred suppliers. 

Since about one in four expense reports are sent back to the traveler for clarification or additional documentation, companies should reexamine their reimbursement process so the traveler better understands it and can recoup money faster.

3. Corporations that have contracts for negotiated rates with hotels need to remind employees the importance of booking within the network, such as free WiFi or checked baggage. Companies should also communicate the importance of booking hotels at the same time as air reservations.

4. While it is tempting to book much cheaper airfare through non-preferred suppliers, companies should clearly explain when this is acceptable, as the practice might sometimes jeopardize negotiated corporate rates, unintentionally driving up overall travel costs over time.

Communication is Key

Updating guidelines and policies is just half the equation, said Helen Brough, director of advisory services global policy practice at AmEx global business travel. For travel programs to be effective, companies must also communicate guidelines and changes to employees.

“It is not enough to just develop a travel policy and assume that employees know what to do with it,” she said.

Companies should be actively leveraging and communicating travel policies and enlisting influencers within the company such as human resources, security and legal for support.

They could also establish a policy team responsible for the maintenance of travel programs, so that both the traveler and company are represented and changes are more effectively communicated.

Guidelines should be made accessible to companies through policy messages integrated at the point of sale or even prior to booking, and through corporate intranets, explaining not only what to follow, but why. 

For the tech-savvy road warrior, companies could provide employees access to corporate-supported mobile applications to facilitate communication for day-to-day tasks, emergencies or travel benefits when on the road. 

Corporate travel policies should include rules for the mobile resources and guidelines on how to take advantage of them, AmEx said. 

Follow Jennifer Booton on Twitter at @Jbooton