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Why Virtual Cards Are the Next Step In Transforming Business Travel

Why Virtual Cards Are the Next Step In Transforming Business Travel

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Alex Roha

12 Jan 2023
4 minute read
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Today’s road warriors keep all their travel documents on a mobile device — from itineraries to reservations and boarding passes. Of course, they’ll have to pay for stuff along the way. And the most convenient, efficient way to help them do that is by adding a virtual payments card to their digital wallets. 

After all, when shuffling along crowded airport terminals and navigating winding shuttles, the modern business traveler isn’t interested in rifling through their physical wallets in precariously packed suitcases to find the right credit or debit card.

Plus, companies still issuing only physical cards to employees are missing opportunities for greater compliance, lower fraud risk, and happier employees. 

Fortunately, virtual cards are quickly becoming a staple in companies’ tech stacks, from greenhorn passengers to road warriors. Below is a breakdown of how this new payment tool continues to enhance the travel and expense industry.

Why Companies Are Turning to Virtual Cards for Travel

Virtual cards don’t require employees to submit a purchase order or wait for procurement approvals. They offer a fast, efficient way to securely make purchases of any size, with controls and limits ensuring a secure process.

Virtual cards also free travelers from the constraints of physical cards, as there’s no need to wait for new or replacement cards in the mail. There are also no static account numbers that can easily be traced, and no real limit on the number of users, so the cards can continuously scale as the company does. Where virtual cards also shine is in:

  • Automated reconciliation. With built-in controls and approvals based on policy, virtual cards can help make reconciliation occur instantly. This data stream eliminates the need for timely expense reports and offers finance and accounting teams peace of mind.
  • Smart controls with card intelligence. Companies can set limits on employee spending amounts, purposes, frequency, dates, and even just for specific merchants, etc. — letting the card do the work of maintaining policy controls. 
  • Streamlining payments and boosting vendor relations. Straight-through remittance delivery with virtual cards helps vendors automate cash applications and can help vendors receive payments immediately.
  • Reducing unnecessary purchasing. Virtual cards offer higher controls for businesses with spending limits when giving employees access to company funds. Employees can receive notifications if they’ve spent outside their agreed limits or if they’re set to be declined based on the controls put in place.
  • Data analytics for advanced performance. Finance teams can measure the worth of trips, ROI, and even favorable markets by matching contracts to travel expenses.

What to Look for In a Virtual Card for Travel

Just like every employee has a unique way of doing things when traveling, no two virtual card providers are the same. Depending on the needs of various companies, they may want to consider: 

  • Onboarding bonuses. Some virtual cards will offer rewards upon signing up, like cashback balance transfers, 0% introductory APRs, and referral kickbacks.
  • Reward rates and bonuses. After the initial onboarding bonus wears off, long-term rewards can offer continuous perks. Some cards may incentivize users with points based on certain merchants, restaurants, or airlines that turn into miles or cash for future purchases.
  • Transaction security. Virtual cards offer heightened security against fraudsters, as virtual credit card numbers are untraceable without access to a cardholder’s identity or computer system. Look for what security measures are enlisted before signing up to help ensure that fraud and rogue transactions don’t occur. And if they do, look to see what card providers can do about it.
  • Annual fees. Some card providers may charge an annual fee, while others charge no fee but require a minimum spending limit. The penalty for not meeting this limit may be a maintenance fee, so it's important to understand and predict company spending prior to signing up.
  • Foreign transaction fees. For international companies and those with travelers journeying abroad, some virtual cards may include a surcharge for foreign transactions. Depending on the policy around these surcharges, the cost may outweigh the benefit of the card itself.

The Virtual Card Business Travelers Prefer

With Navan Expense, companies can issue unlimited virtual cards for travelers across the globe. Granular policies can be carefully built into each card, and Navan provides a competitive rebate on each dollar of spend.

When virtual cards pair with the Navan's expense management solution, travel, payments, and spend can undergo analysis, reconciliation and reimbursement under one roof — so finance teams aren’t scrambling to sift through various systems for information.  

Some tools have created convenient ways to capture receipts; others have added rudimentary virtual cards to their solution with basic controls. But no other modern expense solution has woven everything together to truly eliminate the legacy process of expenses.


Ready to streamline company spending and eliminate expense reports with virtual cards? Schedule a demo to see how our spend solutions work, or get up and running with Navan in just 5 minutes.

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