A recent study conducted by CWT Solutions Group stirred up some controversy across the web, as a variety of business publications began to conclude that women are better business travelers than men. The basis of these arguments was CWT’s finding that female business travelers book flights, on average, almost two days earlier than their male counterparts. According to the report, the average amount of money saved by booking earlier was $17, which could add up to savings of approximately $48,000 per year for a company with 1,000 travelers.
While this study is impressive in its breadth—examining 6.4 million air bookings in 2014, amounting to a travel population of around 1.8 million people—the claim that women are better business travelers than men needs further exploration. For one, the recent publications claiming that women are better business travelers than men do not define what “better” actually means. Let’s assume, based on the scope of the CWT study, that a better, more efficient traveler is one who saves a company money. Then, for the sake of companies interested in the bottom line, it is important to examine more than just advance booking practices.
Gender Differences in Travel Expenses
One item to consider is that the CWT study only looks at airline booking. A survey conducted by market research company, TNS, which polled 1,001 business travelers, shows that in planning a business trip, women say packing is their first task for preparing, whereas men say booking a hotel is. Since the CWT study only looked at advance booking for flights, there is potential that studies of advance booking for hotels may be needed to add further evidence regarding how business travelers of both genders are saving companies money. If men book hotels early, they could be saving companies money just as women are with early flight booking (although booking hotels too early can also occasionally be more expensive.) Results from a 2010 doctoral thesis also show that women “to a larger extent than men choose to travel long distances to spend the night at home,” whereas men are “more willing to stay the nights elsewhere.” These preferences could lead women to booking more expensive trips in order to ensure they can get home to their families on time; on the other end of the spectrum, men might be more likely to add on an extraneous day, costing the company extra money. Ultimately, more data would need to be collected to determine how hotel booking factors into saving businesses money, and if there are gender differences in those practices.
If being a “better” business traveler is indeed about saving a company money, considering airline and hotel booking should also be balanced with looking at transportation and meal costs, as well as flight upgrades. Interviews with 1,000 business travelers commissioned by BMI Regional, A British Regional Airline, show that female corporate travelers are more likely to eat lighter meals. This factor could potentially save a company a few bucks per traveler, which could add up to significant savings for a bigger business if the company offers a meal per diem. While not related solely to business travel, a Civitas study of women’s travel patterns shows that women are more likely than men to use low-carbon modes of transportation such as public transportation or walking. Less use of cabs can save companies money, if they reimburse for such expenses—although it is unclear if this trend holds true for businesswomen specifically.
While women’s mobility patterns and eating habits could result in savings, the BMI study shows that women pack heavier baggage and are more likely to check their luggage. If a study were to factor in the costs of a checked bag (usually around $25), this would cancel out the money saved from booking early (quoted at $17 by CWT). However, many companies have preferred airlines and relationships that may allow for free checked luggage. So, this will depend on the company. The BMI study also shows that in the interviews, men were more concerned about traveling in business class than women. If the company’s corporate travel policies are loose enough, men upgrading to business class can cost the company some serious cash, which might serve as a factor for considering women “better” business travelers.
There are other studies that also show women are more organized in their approach to planning travel, compared to men. If travelers are more organized in the planning process, this helps travel managers or accountants collect data, get pre-approvals processed, and so forth. From this perspective, women’s organizational skills could be seen as an advantage and potentially a money-saving boost. Yet, marketing director Iain Hildreth tells the Daily Mail that “Women may be better at planning, but it’s interesting to see men tend to find the best deals.” That said, if a company’s practices are to allow employees to search out their own deals, some men may have the upper hand.
Gender Gap Related to Travel Stress
While saving money is important, businesses also need their employees to perform well during their travels. So, being a good business traveler also relates to emotional well-being and preparedness. The TNS study found that women are much more likely than men to be stressed when they are preparing for a business trip. The discussed doctoral thesis also shows that women experience more guilt than men when they travel for work, and they tend to feel more insecure and vulnerable. Yet, none of these studies or the articles discussing them seem to show how stress relates to actual performance. If a woman feels more stressed or guilty, she may not perform as well during a business meeting or may lose focus at a client dinner—giving the edge to men in terms of actual performance. At the same time, stress could just as easily encourage the woman to show up more prepared and ready to perform well because she has been meticulous in planning and preparation.
It is unclear whether stress will help or hurt a female corporate traveler, but studies in gender differences among business leaders may point to a potential answer. Bob Sherwin, formerly the COO of Zenger Folkman—a leadership consultancy—shares in Business Insider data about 16,000 business leaders, based on feedback from their peers, direct reports, and managers. His organization found that women ranked higher in overall leadership effectiveness. When asked to address why, Sherwin notes that the researchers often heard women say that they feel they must “perform twice as well to be thought half as good.” These kinds of pressures could easily lead to the feelings of vulnerability and stress that women feel, which could be intensified by the need to travel; yet, it seems that feeling more pressure to perform leads to better performance—at least in this study.
Males or Females: Who Wins the Trophy?
Confused yet? You should be—because the issue is not as simple as recent publications have made it out to be. There are so many factors that go into determining the effectiveness of a business traveler, and there seem to be too many variables and questions for us to come to a conclusion. Costs for women’s checked baggage could outweigh company savings for advance booking; men’s more laidback traveling style could be a benefit or a challenge in terms of work performance on the road; women’s organizational strengths may endear them to travel managers, but men may actually be the ones finding better deals. Perhaps the issue is that we shouldn’t be examining gender differences at all. In the end, does it really matter which gender is the better business traveler? Does this knowledge actually result in productive change in a company? By exploring gender differences, we may ultimately be reinforcing gender stereotypes. Instead, perhaps we can look to the causes of some of these differences and try to resolve them.
Especially for companies concerned about savings, rather than examining gender differences, their best bet is to make sure there are adequate resources and training for everyone. The co-author of the CWT study, Catalin Ciobanu, said in an interview for the Wall Street Journal that they are currently unsure what actually caused the women in his study to book earlier than men. He said it could be related to different uses of technology or to stress. It could also be related to safety concerns. What businesses can do is explore technologies that make the booking process efficient for everyone; offer appropriate training with those technologies; and also do their best to ease the stress of travelers—something that can often be ignored. Giving employees more control over their travel options, making policies clear and easy to access, and giving workers enough time to recuperate after a work trip may be steps in the right direction. Companies can also ensure that their corporate travel policies have appropriate advance booking procedures, which can easily close any gaps in savings that may be lost by late booking. Travel managers and accountants can pay close attention to checked luggage practices, flight upgrades, and other expense report items that can slip through the cracks. The better business traveler, in the end, may be the traveler who is well supported and well trained by the company he or she works for.
Jenna teaches college-level writing courses at the University of New Haven, and she regularly freelances for 30SecondsToFly. When she’s not writing or teaching, she can be found traveling, running after her toddler, and/or enjoying some mac & cheese.