Companies Turn to AI to Curb Business Travel Expenses

Chief financial officers are wrestling with sky-high business travel costs in late 2023, and it’s a problem that figures to grow worse before it gets better. Costs are rising thanks to rising fuel prices, labor shortages, and continuing supply chain headaches,

“Global business travel and events costs are set to climb higher through the remainder of 2023 and into 2024,” states the 2024 Global Business Travel Forecast.

The cost calculator is a real eye-opener.

Airline flight costs are up 72.2% since January 1, 2022, while hotel rates are up 29.8%, the GBTF reports. Auto rental rates are up 9.8% over the same period, but not nearly at the scale of flights and hotels.

Apparently, CFOs have had enough and they’re turning to artificial intelligence to handle the problem.

70% of companies are turning to AI to “manage certain aspects of business travel”, according to the Amex Trendex: Business Travel Edition.

Tried-and-true AI models are starting to make big improvements in business trips. According to the new Amex Trendex: Business Travel Edition*, nearly 70% of companies reported that they currently leverage traditional AI and other technologies to manage certain aspects of business travel.

Speaking at the recent Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) Convention, company financial specialists discussed “how technology and automation can simplify business travel before, during, and after business trips, but especially when it comes to expenses – which historically have been a nuisance for business travelers,” Amex reports.

For starters, companies are looking at more efficient and cost-effective ways to handle business travel issues. “Booking travel and managing expenses can be timely and costly for businesses, and technology is helping them make fast, more informed decisions on what matters most: delivering a safe, secure, and smooth traveler experience,” said Aliya Bokhari, Senior Vice President at American Express.

AI Gets Creative with Business Travel

One way AI is helping CFOs on that front is with trip-specific AI-fueled “virtual debit cards” that “leverage trip data to automatically configure policy controls and spending parameters, which help them stay within company policies,” Amex notes. 73% of U.S. companies already using trip-specific virtual cards to pay for business trips say they will continue to do so, while 82% say they’re considering the cards.

“Virtual Cards provide enhanced security, customization, and cash flow management, while providing better visibility into an organization’s spending,” Amex states. “Automation continues to make virtual cards useful with controls for spending limits, expiration dates, and allowed merchant categories.”
Companies are also leveraging AI to manage business trips as they’re happening. When unexpected itinerary changes occur, AI-based applications can ensure that company travel policies are followed even as an employee traveler has to book that extra leg from Chicago to Portland.

“During the trip, duty of care is also especially important: companies need to know where their employees are traveling and be certain they can get the right help in case there’s an emergency,” Amex noted. Amex also says that companies can use AI data and insights “to help contact and support their team to find medical care, extend their stay, or react to other unexpected circumstances.”

Expense reporting is also getting an AI makeover, particularly with a system software solution developed by Amex and Microsoft that addresses the “pain points’ triggered by the expense reporting process.

The software leans on AI and machine learning to automate and streamline the business expense process while working to make the backend reconciliation and reimbursement experience easier for company financial professionals.

“American Express was one of the first financial services companies to embrace AI technologies, starting with our use of machine learning in 2010 to help prevent fraud,” said Allegra Driscoll, senior vice president and unit CIO in Technology at American Express. “The decision engine that we’re building in partnership with Microsoft is another example of how we employ AI and machine learning capabilities to deliver innovative products and experiences that meet the evolving needs of our customers.”

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