U.S. Bancorp has begun offering corporate clients the ability to use virtual account numbers to handle travel expenses.

The bank has supported virtual payments for several years, but mostly on the purchasing side of the business. Its new service, powered by travel and expense booking and settlement technology provider Conferma, replaces manual central billing with single-use account numbers for managing air, hotel and car bookings.

"This partnership allows us to introduce single-use accounts into the travel and booking processes, and it further enables us to integrate with travel agencies to apply one-time use accounts to several bookings," Mary Miklethun, the issuer's vice president of travel payment strategy, said in an interview.

The U.S. Bank Travel VirtualPay service alleviates the need for ghost accounts, agency invoices and hotel direct bills. The service also eliminates the need to reconcile business-travel expenses manually, she says.

When companies use a single corporate account to bill for all airline tickets it buys, it results in perhaps hundreds or thousands of different transactions that must be reconciled by traveler, cost center and other factors, Miklethun says.

By instead applying a one-time use account, payments are made immediately, and the service creates a key to match the traveler with the cost center, she says.

One manufacturing company testing the product spends the equivalent of 11 full-time hours each month reconciling travel expenses. "We'll be able to take that effort off their plate," Miklethun says.

Conferma, which offers similar services in Europe, integrates with the travel agency and can match up the data on the back end for the client.

"Agencies don't need to manually tie all of that together," Miklethun says.

With the single-use accounts, opportunities for account misuse disappear because companies can set the access parameters, such as where travelers may use the accounts and how much they can spend, Miklethun says.

U.S. Bank earns its revenue in the program from corporate card interchange and transaction-processing fees. It also hopes the service drives more corporate card accounts through improved opportunities for customer acquisition in the U.S. Canada and Western Europe, Miklethun says.

Conferma also is working with the travel marketplace provider Sabre to extend the service to a broad base of travel agencies.

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