It’s the dream of nearly every young professional…to trade in the daily 9-5 schlep for a free trip on the company’s dime. Five star hotels, comped meals and drinks, and a few days away from the office. Who wouldn’t love a life of business travel?
While business travel can definitely be a perk, inadvertently (or purposefully) taking advantage of your company’s expense policy could spell trouble for your career. So before you go all out on bottle service on your next trip, check out this next installment of Up In the Air.
Research Your Company’s Expense Policy Before You Go Away
The easiest way to save yourself from expensing mishaps is to learn your company’s expense policy well before you leave for your trip. Talk to your HR department, talk to your manager. Try to get a good idea for what is and isn’t allowed to be expensed, see if there’s a cap on expenses, and ask if there’s anything else you should know about the expensing process before you leave.
The last thing you’ll want to do is spend money on something only to find out later it wasn’t covered under the policy – or worse, to make yourself look unprofessional by expensing certain items. It always pays to know before you go.
Get To Know the Reimbursement Schedule
Another thing you’ll want to consider is the way in which your company reimburses travel expenses. Some may pay right away while others could take a month or longer. If you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford to wait a month for the reimbursement, then you’ll want to be extra careful with the purchases you make on your trip.
Keep Receipts for Anything You Might Expense
It’s not exactly common to keep receipts anymore, but when it comes to expensing, you just have to do it. Don’t assume that showing an itemized credit card statement later will work. Keep receipts for anything you buy on your trip, even if you’re not sure you can expense it. (You might find out later that you can.) Rule number one in business travel expensing is to never make assumptions – keep that paperwork handy!
Use An Integrated Travel and Expense Solution
Instead of gathering and carrying receipts, you can use integrated travel and expense solutions and never have to create expense reports again! Of course, this may take some convincing for your manager to try these solutions for your team.
If you work for a large company, then you may want to consider Concur, Expensify, Chrome River, and others who offer enterprise solutions with an implementation fee to integrate your travel and expense.
If you work for a small or medium-sized company you could try NexTravel. NexTravel works with Expensify, Abacus, and several other expense partners and charge a low monthly fee. Once you book your travel, NexTravel sends receipts to the preferred expense partner and auto-populates expense reports. With some expense partners, like Expensify, they even auto-create receipts for trip-related transactions under specified amounts.
Use an Expense Tool that Uses Smart Technology to Help You Record Your Receipts
Once you’ve convinced your company to try an integrated travel and expense solution, don’t forget to do the same for yourself! Instead of spending time copying and scanning receipts, you can utilize an expense tool that uses smart technology to save you time and your company money.
How most of these tools work is you take a picture of your receipt and have it auto-load into expense reports. Expensify has SmartScan, which inputs the receipt information and then matches the receipt to the expense. With Abacus, as a manager, you’re able to review and approve your employees’ expenses from the mobile app when you’re on the go, or from your computer when you’re in the office. That’s a lot easier than an Excel spreadsheet!
Don’t Expense Items You Would Have Purchased Anyway
Do you normally buy a morning cup of coffee? If so, expensing it might not be the best idea. The whole idea behind expensing things on a business trip is that your company should pay for costs you wouldn’t have incurred if you weren’t on the trip. Career consultant Jennifer Winter discusses this on The Muse:
“Yes, your company should pay for reasonable expenses when you’re out and about representing the company, but nickel-and-diming your expenses will make you look unprofessional and immature, not to mention miserly. Here’s a good trial: If it’s something you typically buy yourself on a regular day of work, don’t expense it (but do keep your receipts, in the off chance your boss offers to pay for the little things as well).”
So if you normally pack a lunch and bring it to work, you should definitely expense the lunches you buy on a business trip. If you take out a few people on behalf of your company (having already been approved by your company), then expense that. But your ritual 2pm coffee or tea? Might not be the best idea.
Don’t Forget to Tip
Business travel can easily throw off your routine and even your budget – but don’t forget about common courtesy because of this. There are a lot of people to tip when traveling: from the cab driver to the valet to the cleaning people and more. Even though tipping is usually done in cash (making it harder to track) you should still do it. Remember, you’re not the only one working on this trip!
Just Say No To Upgrades
What could be more tempting than an upgraded hotel room after a long, cramped flight? Well, if that upgrade is going to cost your company more money, just say no. If someone booked your travel for you, there’s a good chance they had a pre-approved budget in mind. Not only might you not get paid back if you take the upgrade, you could end up looking unprofessional or worse in the eyes of your manager.
All Things Within Reason
No matter what you do, do all things in moderation. Business travel doesn’t mean you should go crazy with champagne, filet mignon, and spa services. Just like (hopefully) every other professional decision you make, keep the best interest of your company and your team in mind. And if that doesn’t convince you…
Remember that your receipts will tell a story. Do you want it to look like you spent the whole time working or playing? Do you want it to look like you’re putting your best foot forward or taking advantage of the company? You have an opportunity to show off your professionalism and decorum – don’t pass it up for a fancy dinner!