Software helps find the right hotel for corporate travelers

New York-based American Express Travel Related Services Co. is planning to add a new automated feature to its corporate travel-analyzing software.

The tool automatically tells company travel managers where corporate travelers tend to stay and which airlines they prefer. For instance, if an employee asks the company travel manager to book him a flight and hotel in a certain city, the software will display any previous preferences the employee has shown, such as a Marriott hotel. If the Marriott's rates are too expensive, the manager can go back to the employee and ask him to stay at a cheaper hotel or one that has discounted rates for business travelers.

The tool should be available for American Express Co. corporate travel customers by the end of the year, the company said.

"It's good. It is a really excellent control thing," said Kate Rice, an analyst at PhoCusWright Inc. in Sherman, Conn. The software, which is built on top of its Portfolio Web tool, is customer-friendly and would be useful to travel managers in large corporations because they view travelers as customers, not necessarily as fellow employees.

"People recognize that travel is a very personal thing," and these things go a long way toward building goodwill, Rice said. However, none of these systems will work unless they have the support of upper management, she said, and then, "it's hard for lower management to buck."

New York-based Amex already provides travel managers with software to analyze corporate travel patterns. Such software includes Portfolio Web and Email, based on business intelligence software from Microstrategy Inc. in McLean, Va. Corporate customers can log in and find travel information sorted by categories such as the region in which an employee traveled, the employee's name and each of his tickets.

In the past year, Amex moved most of its customers off paper reports. Bert Silberstein, director of Information Services at Amex Global Corporate Services, estimated that his company has saved 600 trees in the past year by getting corporate customers to receive their travel data electronically. Travel managers can instantly query the data online or in an e-mailed spreadsheet.

Currently, 85% -- about 75,000 to 80,000 -- of Amex's corporate customer reports are sent electronically. While Amex may not be the first company to offer these kinds of services, because of the company's size, the advancement still has an impact on corporate travel. According to statistics from PhoCusWright, Amex has the largest number of corporate travel customers, with $11.5 billion in sales last year, nearly three times that of its closest competitor, Carlson Wagonlit Travel.

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