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?