Does your company micromanage your business travel expenses?

We’ve talked about the methods we use for keeping track of our business travel expenses, but I wonder—how do our employers treat usexpense reports while we’re on a business trip?

Like all business travelers, I make a lot of sacrifices traveling for work. That being said my company does a pretty good job at making it relatively painless for me when I travel for business.  I get a reasonable daily allowance for food, I’m rarely asked for explanations when I submit my expenses (as long as they fall within policy), I can book trips last minute without too much hassle,  I can stay pretty much wherever I want, I can choose the method of ground transportation that works best for me once I’ve arrived, I can purchase WiFi whenever I need it,  I can use my own credit card to book everything (except airline tickets) so I rack up points, I can choose who I want to fly with, and if I want a glass of wine to wind down for the day they’ll reimburse alcohol as long as I stay within my daily food allowance.  The only big complaint I have is my company won’t fly me Business Class when I travel internationally.  I usually end up footing the upgrade bill on that when I travel to Manila, which isn’t cheap.  Overall, though, I feel pretty fortunate to work for a company that treats me like a responsible adult and wants to make sure my trips are as comfortable as possible.

When I start to get irritated with constant travel I remind myself that it could be worse.  For instance, when my husband traveled for business he had a very picky travel department.  You couldn’t pick a carrier based on preference; you had to choose the carrier that offered the lowest priced ticket, even if the timing wasn’t ideal.  If you chose a flight that wasn’t the lowest price you had to enter in justification which had to go through an approval process.  The daily food allowance he received was barely half of what I get.  He had to use a corporate card to make purchases, and could only buy food from places considered by the company to be a “food establishment”.  So if he wanted to buy a bag of nuts from a newsstand at the airport the card would get declined.  I understand that they want to avoid people buying nonfood items with their card, but with a strict policy like that, what’s the point of making you submit receipts (which he was also required to do)?  When receipts were submitted his travel department made it as hard as possible for reimbursement (not to mention the software they used for reimbursement was awful).

A few years ago an article came out on CNN that basically called business travelers fraudsters who were out to steal money from their company. (Going back and reading that article makes me mad all over again!) Since then, my own company has gotten both more generous with certain allowable items and pickier about how items are categorized on expense reports. A more recent story said more and more companies are going to start making it harder for business travelers to spend money on business trips.  I totally get that companies want save money and discourage unnecessary spending, but stories I hear about companies micromanaging business travel expenses really bothers  me.  I can speak from firsthand experience that providing business travelers with more freedom during their trips is a huge motivational tool—it lets me run my business much more smoothly.  Just because something costs slightly more doesn’t mean make it bad business sense.  When a business traveler has to spend their trip worrying about whether or not their spending decision will hurt the company’s bottom line it distracts from the purpose of the trip, which is to conduct business.

Readers, do you feel your company’s travel policies are reasonable? Do your expenses get micromanaged?


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  1. Although my company provides a reasonable travel policy, I’ve read stories about Walmart that mandate shared hotel rooms and prohibit eating at some restaurants that serve alcohol. Micromanaging travel costs in a small company with few travels might work but the manpower hours required to scrutinize expense accounts for a large traveling workforce might outweigh any cost savings they find.

  2. This is very interesting! I would say I have it pretty good where I work.

    I have flexibility with transportation, hotel and meals within reason (though I can get no one to tell me what the per diem actually is—I’ve just been told “be reasonable”).

    The only thing remotely inconvenient is that recently they have gone to a zero alcohol policy—for some of our divisions, but not all. And if you have an alcoholic beverage on your ticket at all, the entire meal will be declined. So I can’t just submit the meal minus the cost of the glass of wine, I have to get the server to run it on a separate ticket or not have any. This happened on a recent trip where 4 of us were traveling together (but from 3 divisions). I was unaware of the new policy for my division and I got back to a declined meal and had to essentially plead my case to have dinner (minus my 1 drink) reimbursed which was ridiculous especially since I had included the itemized reciept. None of my other colleagues had any issues with reimbursement and even had their alcohol reimbursed 100%.

    For the record, I don’t really care if alcohol is reimbursed or not but at least communicate the policy or have it consistent across the company!

  3. I would not accept such circumstances. Others might have too, but unless there is something else about your job that you love I would find a more respectful arrangement.

  4. @ Ed — One more reason I would never work for WalMart. Sharing a room is disgusting and is the equivalent of being treated like a child.

  5. I work for the state government in education. While things are much better than they were fifteen years ago, they still are a bit ridiculous in spots. Whenever I have dug in to ascertain why a particularly silly, draconian policy exists, it usually has to do with one of two things: (1) a bad apple employee who did something fraudulent to which the state treasurer’s office over-reacted with a too simple, too broad “fix” or (2) a lack of resources with which to handle the matter in a more efficient way. [sigh] Ah, well. I like the job for other reasons, so I put up with these frustrations. And like many, I just pay for some things myself.

  6. About 90-95% of my travel is international, and we get Business Class by policy (I had eight long haul flights in 2014). We use a corporate travel agency and we use our own credit cards. We also are encouraged to use international chain hotels when possible, and when not possible use best available that is up to western standards.
    When we file reimbursements with our manager, he routinely approves and forwards to the appropriate office. If forwarded in time, we have reimbursement by end of week via direct deposit.
    The biggest pain is that before we travel, we have to submit a budget (that no one is held accountable to) and do a “Safety Assessment” – answering questions about what you do to minimize health risks on long haul flights, travelling by car at the destination, that you will use bug repellant to protect against malaria, and other such nonsense. No matter that we might have a project in Nigeria (hello, Ebola!), or we travel to places in China where there are terrorist attacks.
    But it could be worse.

  7. – We are required to use the corporate credit card for all business travel, although we can keep frequent flyer points.
    – The travel policy requires purchasing the least expensive flight, but exceptions due to flight times are pretty readily granted.
    – We can fly business class on international flights more than 8 hours long (loved that flight that was listed at 8 hours, 10 minutes!).
    – A meal per diem was recently instituted which is somewhat meager, especially in high-priced places like NYC. And you can’t aggregate – I had a week-long trip where one day I went over the per diem, but the other days I was significantly under (someone else paid for lunch and I only had a small snack later.) I got no credit for the 6 days I was under, but had to pay the overage for the one day.

  8. I have been traveling for work for 20+ years, and when I started out as a junior-level employee, the travel policies were much more lenient than they are now. I always flew business class to Europe – now I fly coach, although my company will reimburse for economy+ seating. We used to be able to book any convenient hotel, now there is a list of hotels in every major city, and if we need/want to stay somewhere else, it has to be pre-approved. I particularly liked the time the listed hotel was so far from my client that I would have had to spend more getting to/from the client site than was the savings on the room rate. Fact is, companies are leaner now than they used to be, and travel is an easy expense to scrutinize. I agree completely though that sometimes the policies can be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

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