WWYD: Is it worth it for a business traveler to pay for their own flights?

ExpediaI’ve got a conundrum and I need your help figuring out what to do. For the past ten years, my company has paid for flights through a travel agency and I have paid for (and submitted expense reports for)  hotel, car rental, and miscellaneous expenses. However, starting this year my company has said it is now an option for me to book my own flights on sites like Expedia and be reimbursed like any other expense. Cue internal angst!

Here’s my  struggle. I like points, a lot. The points  and  miles I’ve accumulated on my work trips have helped me go on some pretty cool personal trips (pre-kids) and buy some important big ticket items (post-kids). So on the one hand, the idea of getting thousands of  extra points per month is quite appealing. Not to mention the Companion Pass….

However, I am not a  points hound, like a lot of  my  fellow Boarding Area bloggers. I don’t  churn credit cards or do mileage runs. It’s partly because I don’t  have much  extra time or brainpower, but mostly because I am fairly cautious, and married to a very cautious man. I  joke that the Home Warrior is my “best worst-case scenario guy”.

What does this have to do with paying for my own airline tickets? Well, again, the idea of getting all  these extra points every month sounds great. Not only for the actual ticket cost, but for the 2x or 3x bonuses many cards offer for travel purchases. But at the same time it is very reassuring to have the travel agency responsible for my airline tickets in case anything goes wrong. That’s my careful side speaking–I’ve had to call them for an issue maybe three times in ten years! Is it worth it for business travelers to pay for their own flights?

Readers, if you were me what would you do? Take extra points and not worry about the “what-ifs”? Or keep letting the agency handle airline reservations, just in case?


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  1. As an independent contractor, I always book all my own travel directly with the airline websites. When the rare issue does come up, I’ve had good success with the airlines taking care of it. For me, it’s a no brainer. Get the extra points by booking it yourself!

  2. Great question! I’m a frugal guy myself and come from a long line of frugal men. I would love this option at work but I think a few questions come into play before answering. What is the turn around time for reimbursement with your company, how much would you be floating and can you swing the float? If all three of these are manageable, I would definitely go for it. I don’t like MS and have never done it so this would be a great way to get extra points.

  3. @DW that’s a great point. Turnaround time is a couple of weeks. Usually the bottleneck is me! I hate doing expenses and usually delay it as long as possible, to my husband’s consternation. If I start paying for airline tickets I will definitely have to be more on the ball.

  4. As an ex travel agent, I admit to some bias, but if you’re happy with the way things are going, why change?

  5. I’ve rarely had a travel agency do things to my liking, though perhaps you didn’t have such issues with your arrangement. But even more important, if YOU book the travel then YOU are the customer and the airline/hotel deals with you. Airlines and hotels are getting very good at refusing to deal with you if you bought your ticket or made your reservation through a third party. They say YOU are not their customer, the third party is the customer, so the travel agency has to try to work out problems while you’re stuck waiting.

  6. I personally think Expedia is the worst of both worlds. A real travel agent will advocate for you if things go wrong. Airlines will deal with you and help you if you book directly with them (notifications etc) because you are the customer.
    I’ve heard too many horror stories where Expedia only got in the way. They didn’t correctly send notifications of schedule changes, they kept refund money instead of returning it directly, they didn’t advocate for the customer, they made it difficult to change itinerarys.

  7. As a former travel agent, and a really good one I believe, I would say book it yourself online. Your best friends will ITA website and Southwest.com. Once informed, just book it on your favorite site, airline or OTA. The float thing is totally in your court and no one will be able to fix that link for you. When you do have a problem, usually weather related, is when having an agent ready to help you is of real value. So if you live or travel in snow country, you could book those trips that are most likely to have a weather event occur with an agent for a backup. Calling an airline during a snow event is a real pain and could take literally a day to get through unless you have a high status with a particular carrier. For business plan changes, illness or life event issues, you will end up dealing with the carrier at some point anyway if you are on penalty tickets.

  8. The float may not be too big of a deal, since you will presumably be putting the tickets on credit cards. I spent almost six months hopping around Europe and the US last year, buying all of my tickets directly with airlines except for one trip that was totally screwed up by a third party but still ended up saving me several hundred dollars for four ppl from London to Nairobi.

    If you don’t have to be tied to one method or another, I like the previous comment about booking flights where extreme weather would be a factor with a travel agent and the rest on your own. If significant savings are available by third party sites, use them but check your tickets over very carefully as soon as you get them, even the spelling of your name – which is what we had a problem with. Destination, flight times both ways, airports, seat assignment, everything. If there is a problem, the. You have time to fix it before you leave.

    But definitely go for the points, that’s like free money for someone who travels as much as you.

  9. We have always booked our own air. I use a combination of my personal card (when no possible change in plans) and corporate card (when plans could change). We always book directly with the airlines (never through Orbitz, Expedia, etc). In case of issues, the airline handles it directly (have heard horror stories with 3rd party sites).

  10. As someone who books all my own personal travel without an agent and I am “forced” to use a corporate travel agent for business travel I would be super excited if my company offered this option. You might need a bit of learning curve on when issues come up but it is rare and usually you can work it out with the airline, hotel, etc. with no major issues. IROPS are usually a pain but you can go to the lounge airline folks or directly online, etc. It’s not as scary as it seems.
    The up side is that you’ll gain so many more miles and bonuses. Travel agents can be valuable but on simple trips or trips you take often it’s not a big deal really.

  11. Can you continue to use the corporate travel agent AND pay for flights via credit card? My firm allows this so I get the best of both world’s…support from the travel agent and the extra spend on my credit cards.

  12. Book yourself. If you’re a frequent flyer on SW, I’d be thinking more about A-list preferred than companion pass. You’ll get security and boarding preferences, free on-flight wifi, and a special number to call for assistance. I’ve never sat on hold, and I’ve cut my airport time by 30 minutes per flight. Put yourself in control, and ditch the travel agent. It’s just one more line on the expense report that you do anyway.

  13. I am thrilled that my company lets me buy my own air and be reimbursed. I budget for the float, and the amount of miles I’ve accrued over the years has been tremendous. We do also have the agency option at my company and I used them at first, but I know best what I like, and my status with the airlines I fly trumps their assistance during irregular ops. (Though this may be a statement about this particular agency than some of the better corporate travel options others might have access to). When you do book, book on the proprietary site for your airline. Do not even bother with Expedia, then you’re just complicating what should be a great new benefit for you.

  14. Like you I have to use my corporate AMEX as well as the travel agency. While I don’t get tons of bonuses I do get to keep the MR Points from it. I also am very careful as well, last company I worked for made us use our own cards and then would jerk us around on reimbursement so keeping the 1MR point per $ vs 3 on PRG is worth it to me. I also value the Concur travel agency we use in case something goes wrong and usually book my own personal travel with it. as well. If approved via the airline they will cancel and rebook you and take care of all the refunds, etc so I only see a fare difference on my report if any. As far as an extra line on my expense report ,we use Chrome River and its the click of a button that syncs with my corporate card so I don’t really see a difference with that. All and all it would be nice and I may use it from time to time, but I love not worrying about floating anything.

  15. One of the things I have noticed that has not been mentioned is the extra work you will have to do looking for tickets. Looking for flights are the right times, with the right connections, comparing flights etc all takes time. If this is something you like to do then go for it. If not it is something to consider.
    I work for myself and I love doing this but I also know that it can be a time suck and I really should get someone else to do it sometimes

  16. I’d be thrilled with this option of booking your own flights! You are right the points will quickly add up! But having to deal with everything on your own might be annoying!

  17. I think that the most important comment so far has been the one that suggested you book directly with airlines and hotels (rather than through Expedia, e.g.) This is CRITICAL. As the commenter said, it will be much easier if you need to make changes or if you have a problem. Also, there are times that third parties offer great deals, but then it turns out that you will not get points from the airline/hotel because you booked through a third party. Since the cost is reimbursed from your company, anyway, stick with the direct booking approach.
    Also, I second ITA – https://matrix.itasoftware.com (now owned by Google) or Kayak for researching flight options, but also make sure to check directly on airline websites, and again, do your booking directly on the company’s website.
    Good luck. I definitely like being in control of exactly what I’m getting, rather than the back and forth with a travel department.

  18. Thinking of all the travel agents I’ve dealt with in my time, the ones that have been truly kind and helpful have been a rare bird. And I’m talking about the ones where I can call up and say I that I need to travel on a specific day, but I prefer the morning, 11:30am departure is too late, 5:30a am is wayyyy too early, how booked is the flight?, blah blah blah – all the questions I ask myself when looking at itineraries. Most agents won’t put up with this BS so I normally look up the flights on my own and tell the agent what I want booked. Why not skip the step of the agent? And really think of all the times you’ve had an issue – for me it’s been once in my 6 years of active business travel that I’ve had to contact the travel agency during my trip for an issue.

    Book it yourself and hoard the points! The company I work for now has a corporate credit card so I only get points benefits for actual stays/actual travel and not credit card spend / bonuses. I accumulate points a lot more slowly.

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