CWT ViewPoint: CWT ViewPoint The Impact of Oil Prices and Fuel Surcharges on Corporate Travel. Perspective on industry-shaping developments

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1 CWT ViewPoint: Perspective on industry-shaping developments September 2015 Americas CWT ViewPoint The Impact of Oil Prices and Fuel Surcharges on Corporate Travel Similar to the correlation between fuel and other means of transportation, we all know that oil prices have a significant influence on the price of airline tickets. Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) has carefully monitored the evolution of oil prices and compared them to the fuel surcharges to determine if there is a correlation between the two and to look at the impact these fees have on corporate travel programs. Do you know about their history and impact today to negotiate these fees with your suppliers? History of fuel surcharges Fuel surcharges were introduced into the airline industry in 2004 and at the time, they made sense to travel buyers and consumers. The price of oil had reached an all-time high of $145 a barrel. The airline industry, among other transportation providers who had high volumes of fuel consumption, was spending an exorbitant amount of money on fuel-related expenses, approximately 30 percent of all expenses. The fee was a way for airlines to Since Q3 2014, when the market saw a significant decrease in oil prices, the airline industry has not responded by lowering its fuel surcharges. mitigate the impact of the rising cost of fuel while not increasing passenger fares. Regulations were adopted that required airlines to be transparent in their pricing structures; these are still in practice today. This means that when a traveler is quoted a ticket price, it is very close to the final ticket price. Travelers are no longer surprised by fees and surcharges applied to the ticket cost at the point-of-sale. Beginning in 2012, the airlines changed the name from fuel surcharges to carrier-imposed charges and globally the terms range from airline surcharge, security surcharge, to names not related to fuel. This was done following the passage of a government regulation by the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) that required the airlines to tie fuel surcharges to the actual cost of fuel and provide passengers with an explanation of how they were calculated. It should be noted that historically, carrier-imposed charges are mainly applicable on intercontinental travel. However, U.S. carriers are beginning to add surcharges to travel within specific markets in North America. When these charges were first introduced, it was perceived they would follow the ebb and flow of fuel prices. That hasn t happened. Fast forward to today when many critics have voiced concern that although the cost of fuel has dramatically decreased, airline carriers continue to impose these fees. Copyright 2015 CWT

2 Independent CWT findings cite that since Q3 2014, when the market saw a significant decrease in oil prices, the airline industry has not responded by lowering its fuel surcharges. In performing this analysis, CWT analyzed fuel surcharge data using global distribution system (GDS) information and fuel price evolution data points from January 2011 through March Index (100 = January 2011) January 2011 March 2011 May 2011 July 2011 September 2011 November 2011 January 2012 March 2012 May 2012 Fuel Surcharge Index July 2012 September 2012 Nevember 2012 January 2013 March 2013 May 2013 July 2013 September 2013 Oil Price Index November 2013 January 2014 March 2014May 2014 July 2014 September 2014 November 2014 January 2015 March 2015 Fuel Surcharge vs. Oil Price Index Evolution As the chart above illustrates, several years after fuel surcharges were introduced, they mirrored the charge of oil prices, both averaging around $100 in January However, the gap widened in 2012 and continues today. For example, in January 2015, the average fuel surcharge was $ per flight sector compared to the oil price of $49.48 per barrel. Effects on air, ground transportation and hotel suppliers Of the suppliers across the travel industry, airlines have the greatest impact and advantage when it comes to fuel surcharges. With them, they are able to ensure a certain portion of the final ticket price. The fuel surcharge is not discountable; this helps carriers manage profitability, revenue and yield. For corporate clients, this results in an additional cost which is a non-negotiable and unmanageable category of their spend. Similarly, the effect of surcharges reach beyond the airlines. In the ground transportation space, travelers will see this charge take the shape of refueling service charges. Refueling Service Charge (RSC) Travelers will typically see this fee fluctuate with the price of fuel. The financial impact of this charge will vary by client and is dependent on the percentage of the time travelers refuel versus not prior to returning a rental car. Statistically speaking, CWT data shows that on average, 35-40% of corporate travelers refuel prior to returning a vehicle, which means that 60-65% of the time they are being assessed an RSC. When looking at the total cost of rental, CWT has found that the refueling charge is between four and five percent of the total cost of rental. * *Based on the assumption that the refueling policy is unmanaged, which is defined as: No enforcement of a policy to refuel prior to return the vehicle, and therefore, the supplier is refueling at the higher refueling service charge, and No negotiated refueling cap which would reduce the refueling per gallon charge Copyright 2015 CWT 2 5

3 Today, several major ground transportation suppliers pass along a refueling service charge which helps offset the cost their fuel vendors charge them to deliver fuel to their airport locations. The fee amount varies by location, supplier and the number of rental days. Assessed by rental car suppliers, today, these fees range from $8.50 to $9.25 per gallon. From a hotel perspective, fuel costs do not have the direct impact we see across the Air and Ground practices, but hotels would realize benefits from lower fuel prices: In-person meetings, which frequently translate into overnight stays and hotel bookings, are more apt to happen in corporations that have employees traveling via car. Shuttle expenses would be lower for those hotels that offer airport and office shuttle services. For many companies within the energy sector and support industries, the reduction in oil prices means a reduction in their travel volume. This may slow inflation and market pressures on hotel occupancy levels within those impacted markets, resulting in slower growth in room rates than forecasted. What is the oil price forecast for coming years? According to the World Bank (chart below), oil prices are expected to begin to increase this year, but not expected to reach $100 a barrel until World Bank: Crude Oil, $/Barrel avg spot price (Brent, Dubai, WTI) $/bbl Nominal US Dollars Real 2010 US Dollars Source: World Bank Commodity Forecast Price Data, January 2015 Copyright 2015 CWT 3 5

4 What impact will oil prices have in the future? With current oil prices around the world, airlines in the United States are expected to benefit the most from decreased fuel costs due to their record load factors which is the result of high demand. This gives airlines little incentive to reduce airfares. Overall, we expect airlines will continue to impose these fees and, while we anticipate ongoing reductions in fuel surcharges in response to pressure from the corporate world as oil prices fall (or at least remain low), they will be reduced at a slower pace than oil costs. That said, some airlines are reducing their fuel surcharges. Of those imposing fuel surcharges, British Airways, Cathay Pacific/ Dragonair, Japan Airlines, ANA, AF Group, Alitalia, KLM, Air China, China Eastern and China Southern have noted reductions in fuel surcharges. CWT, along with the rest of the industry will continue to monitor carriers in the Americas to see if they will follow. Bottom line, corporate clients will continue to face challenges around ticket pricing as airlines continue to reclassify fuel surcharges to international surcharge and carrier-imposed surcharge and retain them as a measure of price control. Recommendations to CWT clients While fuel surcharges cannot be avoided, there are some measures you can take to try to minimize the financial impact to your organization: Include fuel surcharge cost in the total fare cost. Airlines often have varying fuel surcharge levels, even on the same route. Use your negotiation period as an opportunity to continue urging carriers overall to integrate fuel surcharges into the base fare. Copyright 2015 CWT 4 5

5 Monitor competitiveness changes throughout the year, not just at time of sourcing. To ensure that airlines remain competitive throughout the life of the program, manage changes in surcharges and renegotiate throughout the life of the program and shift purchasing to another carrier with lower fees if needed. Leverage reductions in oil prices. Travel buyers should leverage the current reductions in oil prices with each carrier as a way to try to reduce fixed fares and overall pricing. Airlines are enjoying significantly lower fuel costs today and therefore, corporate clients should be diligent in approaching the carriers for a reduction in airfare rates. Negotiate lower refueling service fees, including a refueling cap with your ground transportation providers. This fee typically lives within your company rental contract. Travel buyers should leverage their rental volumes to negotiate either a reduction of, or an elimination of these fees along with a refueling cap (e.g. $1.00USD above the national average). Establish and enforce a refueling service policy. One that requires the traveler to refuel, whenever possible, the rental vehicle prior to return it to avoid the higher refueling service charge assessed by the suppliers. While it can be frustrating to see the amount of fuel-associated fees, clients and travelers should keep them in perspective when deciding whether or not they should dictate business travel. The facts, according to Boeing s website: a Boeing 747 uses approximately one gallon of fuel every second; this equates to approximately 36,000 gallons burned for a 10-hour flight, which is approximately five gallons of fuel per mile. And while this sounds like a significant amount of fuel, it s extremely low considering all the factors that come into play. If that B747 is carrying 500 people using five gallons of fuel for every mile, the aircraft is burning 0.01 gallons per person/per mile and getting 100 miles per gallon/per person. Being informed leads to smarter decisions As with any other challenge you are confronted with around cost and supplier negotiations, it is important to be informed and understand the impact to your organization. Yes, fuel surcharges, carrier-imposed fees, or whatever else they may be called do impact your travel budget. But in the majority of cases, they should not be the sole indicator of travel vs. no travel. The financial gain associated with your employees traveling for corporate business will likely far outweigh the negative impact of the fees. Be aware of your travel budget and categories of spend. Plan for possible fee increases and refine your forecasts throughout the year, know your volume thresholds and discuss them during your negotiation season. Lastly, educate your travelers. Make it easy for them to understand and view your corporate travel policy. The benefit is twofold: If they understand who your preferred suppliers are, they are more likely to use them and stay within policy. This will allow your preferred carriers to provide you with usage data that will help you understand and manage your costs. Interested in learning more about how the CWT Solutions Group can help? Please visit and contact your CWT representative. Copyright 2015 CWT 5 5

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