What We Learn From The Movie Up In The Air

[EDIT: Some small spoilers contained herein.] I highly recommend watching the new movie Up in the Air, especially if you have any role in managing travel expenses. It is a movie about how important it is to travel, to meet people in person, and that no matter how advanced our technology gets, you cannot shift everything to the Internet in lieu of travel.

It also shows the life of your most important customers--the road warriors--and how they function when they travel for living. For this movie, some of the actual travelers were interviewed in order to capture their lives and make the movie authentic.

Here are some of the points, without giving up the plot of the movie:

- They truly care about their frequent flyer/guest points and their preferred VIP status. Why? Not only because of better treatment, but also their status allows them to travel efficiently, minimizing the time they spend checking in/out.

- Don’t check bags. Why? In the movie, the title character Ryan Bingham, whose job is to conduct layoffs on behalf of his customers, traveling 322 days/year. He tells his fellow traveler (to whom he is teaching the ropes of traveling) that if you check bags, you would spend extra 35 minutes a flight, which translates to 157 hours, equaling 7 days a year for him.

- Some things should not be done via web conference and other electronic means. Why? Firing people over the Internet is like breaking up with someone via text messaging. Travel is necessary to meet with the people you are dealing with (firing people in the movie, shaking your prospective/current customer’s hands, running a seminar).

So before you think about changing suppliers purely for cost reduction or implementing huge budget cuts for travel expenses, do a thorough cost benefit analysis that involves your frequent travelers and travel arrangers.

Understand the nature of trips, talk to key organizations that travel frequently. Create a discussion board, meet with people, understand how many travelers will be affected by the change and try to negotiate as many perks (status match, upgrades, etc.) as possible for them. And ... travel often yourself. Understand what your travelers go through.