Uber and Starbucks are big winners with business expense account crowd

Uber & Starbucks

Uber is fast becoming much more popular as a ground transportation provider, while a bigger chunk of the business traveler expense account crowd heads for Starbucks instead of McDonald’s these days.

Those are two of the biggest takeaways from Certify’s just-released fourth annual SpendSmart report, detailing trends in expensed corporate travel.

Certify, an automated travel and expense management software provider, annually analyzes million of business traveler expense receipts to discern emerging business travel trends in its SpendSmart reports.

The new SpendSmart edition singled out the fast rise of Uber as the biggest development in the fourth quarter of 2016. The report shows Uber with 52 percent of all expenses and receipts in the ground transportation category, up from 40 percent in the fourth quarter a year ago.

Uber also was the most-expensed vendor overall in Certify’s newest report, capturing 6 percent of receipts and expenses throughout all of 2016.

Lyft, Uber’s biggest ride-sharing competitor, commanded 4 percent of expenses and receipts in the fourth quarter of 2016, double the 2 percent it registered in the fourth quarter of 2015. While Lyft’s share is growing faster than Uber, Lyft obviously has a long way to go to catch up.

Uber’s growing dominance also has resulted in a marked decline in both expensed taxi and rental car business. Rental car business declined to 33 percent of the total in the fourth quarter of 2016 from 38 percent a year ago. And taxis dropped to 11 percent in the fourth quarter of 2016 from 20 percent a year ago.

Elsewhere, Starbucks (NYSE: SBUX) trounced McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD) as the most-expensed restaurant chain, with 5.10 percent of expenses in the fourth quarter of 2016, compared to McDonald’s 2.85 percent.

And business travelers appear to prefer to fly a carrier like Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL), known for its on-time performance.

The SpendSmart report had Delta as the most-expensed airline with 20.22 percent of expenses and receipts in the fourth quarter of 2016. American Airlines(NASDAQ: AAL) was second with 17.30 percent, followed by United Airlines (NYSE: UAL) at 14.02 percent and Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV) at 11.15 percent.

Hilton Hotels’ (NYSE: HLT) Hampton Inn chain got the highest share in the expensed hotels category at 8.82 percent, followed closely by Marriott Hotels(NYSE: MAR) at 8.23 percent and Courtyard by Marriott at 7.20 percent.

But when it came to rating hotels overall, a different list popped up in the SpendSmart report. On a scale of 1 to 5, travelers rated Westin Hotels tops (4.6), followed by Homewood Suites (4.4), Embassy Suites (4.3), Hilton Garden Inn(4.3) and Hyatt (4.3) (NYSE: H).

The SpendSmart report took pains to point out that Airbnb is showing signs of gaining traction with business travelers. Though Airbnb ended 2016 with just 0.27 percent of all expenses and receipts in the hotel category, SpendSmart predicted Airbnb could land among the top 15 most-expensed “hotels” by late in 2017.

Once the gold standard in the rental car business, Hertz’s star has fallen in recent times. And that is reflected in the SpendSmart results for the fourth quarter of 2016. National was the most expensed car rental company (24.59 percent), followed by Enterprise (16.76) with Hertz doing no better than third at 14.40 percent. Hertz recently replaced its CEO.

Overall, Certify said the results for fourth quarter 2016 and full-year 2016 indicate a growing personalization of business travel.

Noted Certify CEO Robert Neveu: “Advances in personal technologies and travel-based smartphone apps have made it easier for business travelers to choose the experiences and vendors they prefer. And the companies they work for are following suit with expanded travel policy guidelines to accommodate news services and payment methods.”

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