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How corporate travel managers can approach the unused ticket problem

June 4, 2020

If you’re a corporate travel manager, chances are you’re staring at a sizeable black hole in your company’s travel budget right […]

If you’re a corporate travel manager, chances are you’re staring at a sizeable black hole in your company’s travel budget right now. Companies worldwide are out of pocket to the tune of billions as they struggle to recoup the costs of business flights canceled during the COVID-19 pandemic. Delta recently announced refunds of $1.2B to customers from cancelled flights, mostly covered with airline travel waivers due to the pandemic. 

Cirium understands how frustrating it is to manually match travel waivers to disrupted flights. It’s a time-consuming and complex undertaking requiring layers of communication between airlines and TMCs, and, if not addressed properly can result in the loss of tickets or missed refunds.

When COVID-19 began disrupting operations, airlines worked swiftly to address the challenge of re-accommodating passengers.

They issued a flood of new waivers for flights. Cirium data shows an increase of 165% for waivers in effect, rapidly surging from the week of Jan 30 (62 waivers) to the week of March 30 (171 waivers).

When we compared the week of March 23, 2020—the peak of total COVID-19 related waivers globally—to the same week in 2019, we saw over a 10-fold increase in active waivers.

The entire corporate travel sector is in a state of confusion.

The fact is, once an airline cancels a flight, it can no longer be monitored as a live trip—nor can it be matched to qualifying waivers.  

So what can travel managers do?

Despite the strained resources and budgets, there is still an opportunity to understand outstanding costs. By looking closely at the data available, empowered travel managers can action refunds or start re-applying those funds. 

Here are a few simple steps for travel managers to avoid getting overwhelmed: 

  1. Gather data related to your program—unused tickets, HR policy updates, etc. 
  2. Gauge traveler sentiment—take the pulse of your road warriors and listen to their concerns about traveling in a post-COVID world 
  3. Stay abreast of who is adapting—safety of your travelers is one of your chief concerns, which of your vendors is taking steps to ensure that safety 
  4. Make a plan—where do you need the most insight, what can you do to focus on that 
  5. Bring in your third-party resources and partners to delegate key actions 

Cirium already partners across the industry to look at solutions with our data analytics and technology. 

It’s about sheer volume. For many waivers today, we have seen an excess of 10 versions of the same waiver. Operationally, how can any agency or travel program manage the ratio of limited human manpower to the hundreds of details across all the airline travel waivers changes? 

When airlines began issuing system-wide waivers due to COVID-19 restrictions, they chose to provide blanket coverage across all airports. It changed the game for everyone. Groups who never had to think about refunds and unused tickets are now facing this manual process for the first time.  

What makes matching cancelled tickets harder than active trips?

The details that connect a waiver to an unused ticket break down across several areas. You need to know the date and time elements for the ticket, what was scheduled, the actual cancellation details and more. You must also know where to look through the waiver details to parse out the date ranges for how long the waiver is in effect. Finally, if you want to verify the qualifications for any regulatory refunds, you need to check against applicable regulatory policies. Typically, to qualify for refunds or compensation, you have to compare when the airline canceled the flight against when the traveler canceled the trip. 

How corporate travel managers can get their travel spend back

Many travel managers already benefit from their TMCs offering Travel Waiver Services. As we partner across the industry in new ways, we can work together to address these gaps in technology and communication. Cirium is equipped to be part of the solution, and partner with our TMC customers, and their corporate travel manager clients, to understand the needs. 

How Cirium’s travel waiver solution works

We have more than 70 TMCs worldwide already monitoring active trips with our Travel Waiver Services solutionmost recently with JTB, as well as Fox World TravelGant Travel Management. Corporations can benefit from the proactive capabilities of agencies with waiver monitoring technology. In fact, there are five different quantified savings from getting more proactive with disruption management. 

Some corporate clients of our TMC customers have been invited to join our beta program to analyze applicable waivers for unused tickets.  

Through our early analysis of applicable waivers for unused tickets, we are looking at identifying the following insights: 

  • Details for each potentially applicable waiver matching a canceled ticket 
  • Identification of which canceled tickets are potentially eligible for US DOT refund 
  • How can this data be easily consumed by TMCs for processing refunds 

Interested in how we are solving corporate travel problems?

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processing airline travel waivers

If you’re concerned about how to approach your plan for recovering hidden costs, you can work with your TMC, or technology partners, to gather additional information.

Partnering with TMCs and technology providers – checklist:

  • What insights and processes do you use to effectively match available waivers to both active trips and unused tickets? 
  • Given the sheer volume of waivers now available, how can you specifically assist us to provide details of the waivers and their possibility eligibility? 
  • How can we work together recover the outstanding spend from past canceled tickets? 
  • How can we stay in constant communication with all this information and work in partnership with my team?  

This is an industry problem we will solve the more we work together. We welcome ideas and input from across the industry.

We want to help the corporate travel sector reset their travel programs. If you’re in need of discussing trip monitoring, waiver matching, or unused tickets, our team could discuss some of your options with you. 


Charles Brossman, Senior Product Manager at Cirium, leads our Proactive Travel Solutions Suite, which includes trip disruption monitoring and alerts for travelers and agents, as well as airline waiver automation. 

For further information, connect with us here.

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