Millennials and the shift in business travel payments

Millennials are changing how to pay for business travel.

By Diana Hoffman, director of product marketing

This was my first time at the annual Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) convention. I arrived with an open mind and insatiable curiosity. As a marketer who recently joined the corporate travel industry, my number one goal for this week was learning — and fast.

Two key themes surfaced for me at GBTA 2019: Millennials and payments.

Efficient, safe and compliant expense management is critical within any industry and a key element of business travel. The processes and technology that support payments are rapidly changing. These shifts are driven by the demands of millennials, a growing segment of the workforce.

It’s forecasted that millennials will comprise 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025.1 This means that employers must work to respond to evolving expectations and new behavioural norms. This new group of business travellers have grown up in the digital age and because of this, they demand seamless experiences driven by technology. It shouldn’t be surprising that this is an expectation of millennials, since it’s all they’ve ever known.

For these tech-savvy consumers, payment processes need to keep pace with their generation. It’s already becoming clear that traditional credit cards aren’t fulfilling their needs — only one in three millennials carries a credit card.2 And that number is expected to drop even more with credit cards for e-commerce payments shrinking globally to 17 percent by 2022.3

In the educational sessions I attended at GBTA, I heard again and again that virtual payment options, like lodge cards, are a top interest for travel managers. With cultural trends in consumer banking shifting away from physical cards to digital payments, a move to virtual payments like lodge cards for businesses isn’t a surprise. For travellers, especially millennials, it means a higher level of satisfaction and it offers travel managers an opportunity to focus more on savings, compliance and other key elements of their travel programmes. It’s also a way to address changing legislation that’s impacting payment processes such as the Payment Services Directive (PSD2) in the EU.

Virtual payments provide benefits for travel managers such as savings and compliance, and can help address issues like fraud. Purchases can be more secure because buyers receive a unique code that’s used for a specific event or transaction. Savings are gained in efficiency and accuracy with automation that accelerates processes while eliminating errors caused by manual entries at the same time. Compliance can be driven by payment card industry (PCI) compliance numbers being assigned to a single transaction, allowing for easy, automatic matching of bookings to payments.

This control can help you optimise your travel management value chain. Data analysis helps travel managers identify opportunities for savings and monitor trends. Adding regional travel policy nuances into a global travel programme can also deliver benefits. For example, your reporting can provide actionable insights about how you can provide more savings opportunities through VAT returns. Thinking more broadly, with a reduction in the time spent working on reports because of automating expense reconciliation, you may be able to re-deploy valuable resources to other activities that drive greater ROI for your programme.

There’s also a lot to be gained for travellers. When travel programmes use virtual payments, travellers no longer carry the risk associated with using their personal credit cards. Travellers without corporate cards, which millennials often are, benefit from easy payment of their travel expenses. Travellers can also get back valuable time in their day. The annoyances caused by the need to keep track of a ticker-tape parade of paper receipts, and then wasting more time shredding those receipts after you’ve been reimbursed, is over. Another positive result is that travellers, particularly road warriors, benefit from not having to tie up personal finances and then wait for reimbursement of their funds.

Are virtual payments the right next step for your travel programme? Based on my conversations at GBTA, I suspect many will answer “yes”. The growth of virtual payments in business isn’t a surprise given the rise in consumer mobile payments that’s being heavily influenced by a generation that grew up with mobile technology. And, with multiple benefits to be gained for travel managers and travellers, the barriers to adoption seem low.


1. “The (Millennial) Workplace of the Future Is Almost Here — These 3 Things Are About to Change Big Time,” Inc., Jan. 15, 2019,  https://www.inc.com/peter-economy/the-millennial-workplace-of-future-is-almost-here-these-3-things-are-about-to-change-big-time.html.

2. “Why Millennials Are Ditching Credit Cards,” Bloomberg, Feb. 27, 2018,  https://fortune.com/2018/02/27/why-millennials-are-ditching-credit-cards.

3. “Global Payments Report,” Worldplay, Nov. 2018, pg. 9, https://www.paymentscardsandmobile.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Global-Payments-Report_Digital-2018.pdf.