There's always that one wiseguy in the office who loudly tells anyone who will listen how he finds fares online that the corporate travel agent can't. No one will fault you if you secretly wish that your wise friend gets stranded in Cincinnati during a multileg trip.
But what the wiseguy doesn't factor in is how much time he loses booking travel online as opposed to doing his job. Here's how you shut this guy up, save your company some money, and make your life easier. Sign up with one of the corporate offshoots of the big online travel sites — Expedia Corporate Travel, Orbitz for Business, Travelocity Business — that have popped up in the last couple of years. They promise Web rates and reporting tools, and it costs just $5 to book Web fares.
Booking a fare with a live travel agent through one of these services is just $20, though (compare that to the $50 average for a traditional agent). Your time is worth more than the $15 cost savings. Even the services themselves realize that booking online is a time sink; all of them offer VIP service for select executives under the guise of "keeping your executives productive" and throw in additional services such as restaurant reservations (for an additional fee, of course).
Ideally, get yourself on the VIP list and then you'll get the best of the old with the best of the new. But if that doesn't fly, at least carve out a "business class" middle ground and use the 24-7 live agents. Yes, your company's goal is to turn everyone into a Web-booking wiseguy, but no one expects 100% adoption anytime soon. And the next time your friend spouts off about how smart he is at booking travel, suggest that there might be an opening in the reservation center of the Web service you're using.
A version of this article appeared in the April 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.