A Step-by-Step Guide to Virtual Cards for Travel Managers


The internet is littered with articles espousing the benefits of virtual cards — or Virtual Account Numbers (VANs); and the industry agrees, VANs are the future.

Now that we are all on the same page, let’s talk about making VANs a reality for your travel program. This article is a step-by-step guide in adopting VANS.

#1: Evaluate Your Travel Program Goals

#2: Understand Your Ecosystem and Available Options

#3: Choose A Virtual Card Product

#4 Operationalize VANs Across Your Enterprise

#5 Set Your KPIs and Measure Your Goals

#6 Increase Your Travel Program Efficiency & Profitability

P.S. If you are new to VANs, no worries, here are places to learn about them here and here.

Step #1: Evaluate Your Travel Program Goals

Think of VANs as a verb, a solution that executes a valuable service. As such, VANs must be adopted with purpose to drive a meaningful measurable goal. Without a specific goal, VANs can be a solution in search of a problem.

Typical travel program goals VANs help achieve:

  1. Increase supplier adoption
  2. Decrease personal card use
  3. Reduce fraudulent charges
  4. Expedite reconciliation time
  5. Earn rebates on spend

Step #2: Understand Your Ecosystem and Available Options

The phrase, “you are only as strong as your weakest link” holds true with VANs. The partners in your ecosystem – banks, travel agencies and 3rd party technology – could heavily influence how quickly and efficiently you adopt VANs.

Key things to understand about your partner ecosystem:

  1. Bank – Do they offer VANs? If so what types?
  2. Travel Agency – Can they support VANs? If so, from which providers?
  3. 3rd Party Technology – Do they integrate VANs? If so, is it seamlessly into existing workflows?

Step #3: Choose A Virtual Card Product

Now that a goal has been identified and alignment within the ecosystem has been established, it is time to choose the type of VAN to subscribe to. Depending on the banking institution, many types of VANs are available.

Common types of VANs include:

  1. Prefunded – Spend up to amount put onto card in advance
  2. Debit – Spend up to amount in debit account with overdraft features
  3. Debit with credit line – Spend up to amount in your debit account with a set credit worthiness additional fund amount
  4. Credit – Spend up to amount based on credit worthiness

Each VAN has its own benefits and features, this is for your travel program to find the right fit. Similar to applying for a consumer card, not every card type is meant for everyone.

Step #4 Operationalize VANs Across Your Enterprise

This step is the most crucial of all! Making VANs work seamlessly in day-to-day operations is the difference between a concept and a successful implementation. It is simple to issue a virtual card, it is not simple to issue one within your current workflow while improving productivity and lowering costs. With many ways to generate a VAN, you want one that drives efficiency rather than more work.

Things to consider in making VANs a reality:

  • Who is requesting the VAN? Technology Partner, Travel Agent, Traveler, Corporation
  • Where is the VAN request generated from? GDS, Portal, Website, Application
  • How is that VAN request being handled? Automatic, Manual, Mixture
  • Who is responsible for maintaining the technology? Technology Partner, Travel Agency, Corporation

Step #5 Set your KPIs and Measure Your Goals

When VANs are properly operationalized, they can be tracked and reported on. Access to proper VAN detail and essential data allows you to isolating trends and understand data. Whether through static reports or on-demand visual dashboards, understanding VAN usage is important.

Common VAN key performance indicators (KPIs) to keep track of:

  • What are the total amount of issued, authorized, settled VANs?
  • What are average amount differences in issued vs settled VANs?
  • Which months are peak issued and settled VAN amounts?
  • What is the average refunded VAN amount?
  • Which travel products are VANs being used for the most and where?

Step #6 Increase Your Travel Program Efficiency & Productivity

Now that the infrastructure to a successful VAN program has been laid, you can test and try different strategies to make it more efficient to your specific program. Being creative in motivating traveler behavior is only possible if a VAN program has sound fundamentals and the ability for customization.

Possible VAN areas to tweak and test:

  • How low can hotel VAN tolerances for incidentals become
  • How low can the ratio of VANs issued to traveler become
  • How high can airline ancillary attachment become when paid by VANs
  • How quickly can my VAN process turnover from start to finish

Ways we can help

In summary, as you look towards introducing VANs in your travel management company, the Cornerstone AutoPay solution is designed to operationalize the request and reconciliation of virtual cards. Operating on a the Cornerstone platform,  Cornerstone AutoPay is an integrated automatic payment platform facilitating VANs for corporations, travel agencies, and developers.

Cornerstone AutoPay and our suite of products service through each step of the guide:

#1: Evaluate Your Travel Program Goals

  • AutoPay reinforces travel program initiatives either directly at payment via our VAN solution or upstream with our business rules logic engine iQCX that powers AutoPay.

#2: Understand Your Ecosystem and Available Options

  • AutoPay integrates to travel agencies, GDSs, payment providers, back office systems, banks and card networks.

#3: Choose A Virtual Card Product

  • AutoPay is a MasterCard prepaid VAN product by eNett; we are in development of more types of VAN products.

#4 Operationalize VANs Across Your Enterprise

  • AutoPay seamlessly integrates into travel workflows by allowing the travel agency to automatically request and generate VANs directly from the GDS. We can also automate movement of VAN and travel data to payment or back office systems.

#5 Set your KPIs and Measure Your Goals

  • We have complement reporting, business intelligence and visualization tools to help drive insights and analytics from your VAN data.

#6 Increase Your Travel Program Efficiency & Profitability

  • Our various suite of products are fully customizable to be tailored to your specific workflow and operational needs.

Why VANs Haven’t Gone Mainstream and How They Can

Shoot TargetIn 1997, Microsoft launched Sidewalk.com, a site intended to house all things local, from restaurant listings to hotels to handymen and so forth. Sidewalk.com went head to head with newspapers to offer arts and entertainment information but couldn’t compete and was eventually purchased by CitySearch. During the same era, AOL launched Digital City; however, AOL’s local endeavor integrated with each city’s content partners—newspapers and magazines—to monetize what they knew users wanted, local online content. They upped the appeal by hiring locals to blog. This new concept aimed at generating fresh local content as well as launching user-generated content such as live polling about local issues.

Why does Digital City matter, though it no longer exists? Many include the Bulletin Board System that AOL used to support Digital City’s blogging and user-content capabilities as one of the key steps along the path to modern social media. At the end of the day, Sidewalk.com and Digital City had similar intents, but only Digital City listened to the needs of their audience, and the site succeeded by integrating a new technology within the existing media framework.

Virtual card technology was developed in 2009; however, in 2013 just 18% of companies were using the technology.[1] The widespread adoption of Virtual Account Numbers (VANs) has been surprisingly sluggish for a product with exceptional value. However, products with value come along every day, and many of them fail. Remember Apple’s MessagePad? It was the precursor to the modern PDA. But it wasn’t user-friendly enough and was possibly ahead of its time.

This idea of “ahead of its time” can often be read as “didn’t respond to consumer needs” or “didn’t integrate with existing consumer technology.” Herein lies one of the most important and, perhaps, under-discussed issues with new technology. Technology does not exist in a bubble.

It can’t revolutionize based simply on its existence.

Technology must fit into today’s systems, bringing Netflix and Hulu to your existing televisions via your current Internet access with an understandable interface.

Many companies have yet to work out the system-to-system communications required to make VANs a valuable enterprise tool. Most hype the intrinsic value of the number, focusing on the one-time use and security of virtual cards. Cornerstone  Information Systems (CIS) sees the role of VANs differently. Rather than just providing the technology of virtual numbers, CIS’s role with AutoPay is to facilitate the integration, data management, and execution of virtual numbers so that they increase the overall value of your service.

Of course, VANs do reduce fraud and improve security. They also help travel managers enforce policy compliance far more effectively primarily by virtue of having a set limit (i.e., a VAN can be issued for the exact amount of an airline ticket). But these are only useful elements if they are properly integrated with a travel manager’s existing technologies. This means:

  1. VANs can be requested from any GDS (and in 30 currencies).
  2. Travel managers do no manual work in getting the numbers integrated across different systems, and the numbers are automatically associated with the booking for tracking and reconciliation.
  3. VANS are integrated with your reporting mechanisms, so you know if you are saving money through travel compliance and can quickly identify issues.
  4. Fewer expense errors with less manual reporting from employees.

When all is said and done and VANs are properly operationalized, they offer increased profitability and efficiency. But you can’t achieve or identify their benefit if they are treated only as a number.

So what will it take for VANs to hit the big time?

Last year, Apple launched Apple Music in an effort to revolutionize the music streaming industry and compete directly with powerhouse Spotify. Recent numbers from Billboard have Spotify at 30 million paid subscribers and Apple Music at 11 million.[2] While Apple Music has met with some success, it is far from toppling Spotify, and just one year in, Apple is already re-launching its interface and working to better integrate its streaming and download platforms. Apple Music must deliver more than music in order to succeed. The company must, instead, figure out what its users need. As Macworld reports, the interface is “needlessly complicated” and the integration with Apple’s existing iTunes has been “a disaster.”[3]

Similarly, a sixteen-digit virtual number on its own won’t provide the value that travel managers need to adopt it.

Interface and integration—fitting VANs into overall operations—are essential to ensuring virtual cards succeed.



[1] McCann, David. Will Virtual Cards Finally Find a Big Market in AP? CFO. May 2015.

[2] People, Glen. As Spotify Nears 30 Million Subscribers and Apple Music Exceeds 11 Million, Is Streaming Turning the Corner? Billoard, February 2016.

[3] Apple Music May Get Returned in June. Macworld. May 4, 2016.