Should Companies Use Corporate Rewards to Book Employee Business Travel? 400 Miles Short of Platinum Because of Delta SkyBonus

A women I know very well and who for diplomatic reasons will remain anonymous, fell 400 miles short of Delta Platinum status for 2015 because in November her company discovered the stash of points they had accumulated in Delta’s SkyBonus program for small business. Rather than use the points to reward employees, they burned through the balance to save cost on business trips. Recipients of these tickets do not earn mileage when redeemed outright, while original mileage is earned on upgrade awards. The company has no formal policy however has always allowed employees to earn miles on all their business travel, and allows employees to pay the annual fee to earn Membership Rewards on their Amex corporate cards.

Programs like SkyBonus are targeted to small and medium businesses that do not have large corporate contracts or agency deals. The marketing pitch has recently changed from rewarding employees to “The no-cost, simple way to maximize your company’s travel budget.” On paid tickets, employees earn SkyMiles in their accounts unaffected, while the company collects SkyBonus points. Awards include flights awards and misc awards like beverage coupons and Sky Club passes and memberships. The concept is to reward the company and the employee.

Delta SkyBonus

Companies certainly can use these points to save on travel expenses. I have one friend whose company even seems to use a shady travel agent who appears to be buying miles for award tickets through brokers to redeem for business travel, without transparency.

Should companies do this? When companies allow their employees to earn miles it is tacitly, though often not explicit policy, a form of compensation to make up for the sacrifices employees make in travel (yes, I know, it isn’t a sacrifice for everyone!). Suddenly pulling out the rug without a policy change hardly seems to engender good will.

Readers, what’s your take on how corporate rewards programs should be used? And when someone in HR gets hot flashes about a new way to squeeze employees, how should it be handled? My answer was to find a new employer, her answer was that it doesn’t matter. 🙂

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  • Brian L.

    IMO, companies that pull stuff like this are sleazy misers. If a company I worked for tried this, I would IMMEDIATELY begin looking for a new job.

  • DavidB

    Companies have every right to use these programs for travel since the burden of business travel is not as demanding as made out to be, and the benefits of award trips, elite status and hotel offerings more than makes up for any such rigours of the road. Your friend should have known what was happening and booked a short MR to maintain her status. More often than not, travel is abused by employees and this is best demonstrated by those on sites like FT who rave against MileageRunnes and those who get status on the cheap, while their companies pay full Y or premium cabin fares. From someone who pays for his flights from after tax dollars, I say “suck it up”!

  • omatravel

    I travel a fair amount for work and am thankful my company allows me to collect miles and points for the travel they pay for. I also see it as a perk to make up for the sacrifices I make traveling to conduct business on behalf of the company. I always find it interesting that those who claim the burden is not demanding, are those who typically don’t travel regularly for business. Miles and points help, but they don’t make up for the fact that you tend to miss important life events for those close to you.

    That said, I feel that as long as the company is using the Skybonus or other points per the terms and conditions of the program, it’s their decision how to use them to cut their travel costs. What I do find sleazy are the companies who want employees to sign over miles and points earned to them to be used for corporate travel.

  • John

    For some, travel is exciting. For others, travel is a burden.

    My view is that employees who whine about not getting miles on their occasional business travel should look for a new job. It’s no different for employees at a company that only permits coach on long haul travel. If you don’t like it, then walk. Of course, if you can’t walk, then you have to suck it up.

    On the other hand, if the job requires constant travel, then that’s another story. Consultants earn their miles through the “sacrifice” of constant travel.