Although Rocketrip initially was positioned as an alternative to travel management companies, its early customers are using the new travel management and employee rewards platform in conjunction with their designated TMCs. Rocketrip also now is integrating with expense management systems, according to founder Dan Ruch.
Targeting companies with 100 to 2,000 employees, Rocketrip applies algorithms to industry data and corporate travel policies to create a "budget" for a given trip. When booking on the open market or via an approved TMC, employees of enrolled companies earn points for beating the budget, which then can be redeemed at various retailers or via prepaid gift cards.
To close the loop, "We either have built integrations or are building integrations with all the major expense management system providers," Ruch claimed without naming any. He said such links are more important than interfacing to TMC systems because expense is where Rocketrip "really does need functional and technical integration."
"When we receive information from the employee, we can push that data into their expense management system," Ruch explained. "When that expense is approved for reimbursement, we can approve and activate the reward in our system." That, he added, speeds up employees' submission of expense reports because they want to quickly bank their earned points.
On the front end, though Rocketrip was born as a substitute to booking with agencies, "we found that Rocketrip is very powerful when used right alongside a TMC," Ruch said. "Most of our customers use American Express Business Travel or Egencia or Orbitz for Business."
He said those customers "effectively use Rocketrip to push employees into or out of their corporate system." On the former, clients could configure Rocketrip so it only rewards points for employees who beat budgets when they book through the designated TMC. Organizations interested in improving program compliance may favor that approach.
But organizations may instead prefer to make TMC bookings optional, which would reduce transaction fees. In those scenarios, "the travel agent is there for convenience," Ruch said, and the organization can determine if the avoided agency transaction fee should count toward savings and points earned by the employee.
Though Ruch claimed discussions with TMCs about formal partnerships also are underway, he said agency integration is not essential. "All we need is the receipt," he said. "With certain TMCs we will ask that they send to us the receipts directly so employees don't have to."
For travelers, the process begins by logging into the Rocketrip portal, inputting trip dates and locations (as well as whatever combination of airlines, hotels, car rentals and rail they expect to need) and receiving a budget. They then book in the open market or through the required channel and forward the receipt to Rocketrip. Once employees' relevant expenses are approved, Rocketrip adds points earned to their accounts.
After several months of testing, Rocketrip has ironed out pricing details: Whatever employees save based on the budget for the trip in question, 50 percent is converted to points and awarded to the traveler, 40 percent is savings realized by the client organization and the remaining 10 percent goes to Rocketrip. Rocketrip earns no money when employees use the system to book a trip that is over budget.
Rocketrip is publicizing the results of a 90-day pilot by news, opinion and entertainment network TheBlaze. That company has about 200 employees who take about 1,000 trips in total each year. "Despite having a travel policy, employees had no personal motivation to save and could spend at the upper limits of the travel policy," according to information from Rocketrip. Ruch added that TheBlaze has been an American Express Business Travel customer, uses a corporate booking tool and, with a "fully managed" program, "struggles with compliance like everyone else."
He added the company is "a little less concerned of having 100 percent of travel bookings be made through the TMC. They are willing to let employees stay with friends or use open market to save money and earn points." Ruch also noted that budgets determined by Rocketrip "are remarkably close" to TheBlaze's 2013 average ticket price, for example.
Based on 240 bookings, the pilot produced savings of 29 percent, including 42 percent on flights. It also led to big increases in the percentages of flights booked 14 and 21 days in advance.
"We don't penalize employees for booking last-minute; we can't," Ruch said. But a client can customize Rocketrip to further motivate employees by providing additional points if they book at least 14 days in advance, for example, and showing that the fares they choose go up when passing the 14 days before departure interval.