Expedia aligns flex and auto-enrolment

EXCLUSIVE: Expedia postponed its auto-enrolment staging date by three months to align it with the launch of a new flexible benefits scheme.


The organisation had planned to introduce a flexible benefits scheme for some time, but saw the impending auto-enrolment requirements as an ideal opportunity to roll both out at the same time.

It postponed its staging date, which had been 1 November 2013, to 1 January 2014, the same day that its flexible benefits portal went live.

Mirka Slater, Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) benefits manager at Expedia, said: “We had a lot of reviews of auto-enrolment tools and we realised we needed to have a portal, because we have had quite a manual set up at Expedia for some time.

“We [were previously] a small organisation, but we have grown very quickly and become much larger.”

Online benefits portal

Expedia partnered provider Thomsons Online Benefits for its online flexible benefits portal, as well as the communications around the new scheme and auto-enrolment.

“It all comes from the same portal,” said Slater. “We can run reports out of the same tool and keep track of things easily, between all the parties that are involved: external payroll, internal operations, myself in benefits and anyone else involved in managing the data.

“It makes it much easier and clearer for employees to understand as well, what they need to do and what options they have.”

Prior to the portal’s launch, Expedia had an online site for its group self-investment pension plan (Sipp) and a separate online site for its healthcare benefits.

However, most benefits were processed using paper application forms. Slater added: “It was very manual and disjointed. It was quite nice to make it all into one portal. Employees can now log in through a single sign-on.”

Pension contributions

From January, Expedia also changed its pension contribution levels for the group Sipp. It had previously offered just one contribution level, a minimum of 3% from employees and 5% from the employer.

Its new contribution structure includes three different levels: 1% employee and 3% employer, 2% employee and 4% employer, and 3% employee and 5% employer.

Slater said: “We wanted to entice everybody, on any kind of income level, to join the pension scheme, so we added two more contribution levels with a matching from the company.

“We previously had only one contribution level, but it was slightly too high for some employees. We thought if we added two more levels, with different matching from the company, it could capture those employees as well.”

Following auto-enrolment, 69% (786 of 1,133) of employees are members of the pension schemes.

New flexible benefits

Prior to launching flex, Expedia offered a range of core benefits, including private medical insurance, life insurance, long-term disability and critical illness insurance.

Slater said: “We changed the levels on those slightly. We also added new benefits, such as dental insurance, travel insurance, health assessments and discounted gym membership.”

Expedia now provides employees with a flex allowance, at an average of £800 a year, to spend on benefits. “Lower grades will have a lower allowance and higher grades would have a higher allowance,” added Slater.

“The different quirk with this allowance at Expedia is that we also allow employees to use the flex allowance for any gym and fitness reimbursements.

“We have built into the system something called a ‘spending account’, so if employees don’t want any of the benefits, they can use the same amount to reimburse any fitness or sports activities that they do during the calendar year.”

Unique communications

Expedia promoted the flexible benefits scheme using a range of new communications methods, including big cardboard palm trees and suitcases placed around the office, to announce the scheme, which is called Destination Benefits.

“Being Expedia, we have a high-tech environment and employees are bombarded with emails all the time, so we wanted to do something that was not like the communications we normally have,” said Slater.