Leadership

Work travel: What you can expense


Many employees aren't familiar with the dos and don'ts of traveling on the company's buck. It all really depends on your company, but here are some things you may want to consider before you board that plane for unknown destinations.

What is your budget?

It's important to establish some kind of budget with your boss before you head off. Most organizations have learned that you don't depend on common sense when it comes to company money. One person's idea of normal spending is another's idea of overindulgence. I once sent three people from my team to a desktop design conference in San Francisco. When they returned I discovered a $180 bar bill for one night, charged to the company credit card. And this was ten years ago! I understand that sales and marketing people sometimes have to entertain clients and that a bill like that would not be out of line. But these people weren't in sales and were just having a little party at the expense of the company. Not cool.

I also had one team member who charged $100 worth of books on the company credit card that she intended to "pay back." Again, not the most professional attitude. Shortly after these two incidents, we stopped giving out the company credit card and had people spend out of their own pockets and then get reimbursed.

If your budget is iffy, what then?

During a business trip to Vegas recently, I got to the hotel in the late afternoon, tired, and just wanting to grab a quick snack. I found a sandwich place located in the hotel and decided to pick something up there. Unfortunately, the cheapest thing on the menu was a $9 hot dog. (ALL BEEF!, according to the sign. I wanted to ask how much they charged for their partial beef hot dogs.) In that case, I had to cave and buy something. I was tired and was a woman alone in a strange city. I felt justified in staying in the hotel that night and not attempting to dodge all the shady looking guys offering free tickets to shows just to find a Wendy's and save a buck.

What you can file under business

For most businesses, reimbursable charges include your meals, taxi fare, tip (bellmen), internet connectivity charges, and phone calls. Just be sure to save your receipts because you will probably be asked to attach them to the expense report.

Can you think of any travel charges you're unsure about?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

5 comments
mdhealy
mdhealy

I work for a big company so our Travel Department has negotiated rates with certain hotels in most of the cities where we regularly go, and certain chains for everywhere else. A key contract provision that we always insist on is "last room availability," which means if the hotel has ANY rooms available we can get the preferred room rate. I gather these days only big companies are able to get that clause from the hotels, because they want the freedom to charge more when they are nearly full, so unless your employer is big enough to have some negotiating clout you will likely find at peak times you cannot get a good room rate.

JamesRL
JamesRL

My employer has a per diem for meals, but flights and hotels are flexible, depending on the area. We have certain chains that we have negotiated special rates with, those are our preferred hotels, and none of them are budget chains. We have very precise guidelines on travel expenses, posted so everyone can see them, and an expense application system that flags anything that breaks policy. James

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

I pop it on, but it's never clear if internet access is paid for or not. A prime example is going to FedEx (because I couldn't access the internet at a client site) to be able to print my boarding pass. On the flip side most of the stuff depends on your company. My company will pretty much let you write off food as long as it is under a certain amount per day (or if you grocery shop you annotate it). What drive me batty though is that hotel and cab rates vary SO much. We have a flat fee that we can pay and then have to talk to our supervisor. Not a huge deal, but you'd think if you were staying in NYC, you're going to be paying a LOT more than Fargo, ND.

rmstebbi
rmstebbi

I think that Internet access should be included but most companies haven't got a firm policy about that. The expectation is that you will use the client site, but that often isn't realistic. Certainly the client expects you to be spending your time on them. I don't know about you but my work day is much longer than 9-5 when I am on the road. I do favor hotels with free internet access, although why mid range hotels do and higher end don't is beyond me. Taxi's like lodging have always required a receipt (unless the trip is less than $25).

rmstebbi
rmstebbi

I am a consultant and I have found that most companies are comfortable with the Federal Per Diem rates for food and incidentals. http://www.gsa.gov/Portal/gsa/ep/programView.do?programId=9703&programPage=%2Fep%2Fprogram%2FgsaOverview.jsp&P=MT&pageTypeId=8203&ooid=16365&channelId=-15943 Use of Per Diem has to be negotiated in advance, there are some companies that still want all the receipts. But it is win/win for all parties. The traveler can spend the money as they see fit and the company saves money in trying to manage their travel and expense paperwork. I do find the hotel limits are low for the metro areas, in fact, many hotels have special rates for gov't travelers that fit the Per Diem rates, but they are not available for most travelers. So when making the hotel reservation, make sure that management approves your hotel choices. The per diem site also lists what is an acceptable expense. Most companies do not allow expenditures that do not fit these categories. There are tax implications when trying to expense purchases.

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