If you have a business where employees travel, you should have a solid travel policy in place. Your policy should be a balance of detail and briefness. If it's too long and incomprehensible to the average employee, achieving full compliance will be near impossible. In contrast, having a brief one-sheet policy will give your employees an overview, but will not provide enough information for them to fully understand the policy.
To avoid confusion and increase compliance, work with your travel management partner, or TMC, to build a carefully structured written policy for all employees to understand.
Making the transition to managed travel typically sparks a lot of questions from employees. Knowing the key questions will save you not only time, but also help you craft a policy that is solid, lacks loopholes, and is consistent for all travelers.
Here are some common questions and how you should prepare for them.
Question #1: What determines the mode for transportation?
Your employees may ask when they will be allowed to purchase plane tickets. The answer should boil down to time. Is it quicker to drive? In some cases it is a no-brainer, in others such as DC to New York, it may be more complicated.
For example, while it is reasonable to expect an employee to drive from DC to New York, flying can allow them to get there for a one-day meeting and back in the same day, saving money on hotel rooms.
For short distances, you may have an employee ask about taking the train instead. The same factors may apply. For a multi-day meeting, it makes more sense to use a slower means of travel. Outline in your travel policy exactly what will constitute booking a flight, taking the train, or driving your car.
Question #2: Can I Make My Own Bookings?
Some people might prefer a different agency, and this instance should be clearly stated in your policy. If your employees do want to choose a different agency or different hotel there should be specific parameters set by the company and plausible reasons outlined by the employee for why they wish to diverge from the norm. For example, if you have a traveler who uses a wheelchair, then it is wise to listen to them if they tell you that a specific hotel's "accessible" rooms only have over the tub showers they are unable to use.
Some companies have a set of preferred hotels—in which case, employees should be encouraged to get loyalty cards. It can be reasonable to let an employee choose their hotel, as long as it is comparable in price and distance from the meeting. For in-hotel meetings, you should tell them you want them in the hotel if possible. Giving travelers too many options is a quick way to increase costs and decrease compliance.
Companies that allow employees to book on their own travel tend to find issues with reporting. People may not forward their itineraries to the travel management company, making it hard to track spending data. If you decide to let your employee book on their own, have your policy outline precisely what will permit them book alone and what documents they will need to report.
Question #3: What Happens If I Go Outside of the Travel Policy?
When on the road, emergencies and special instances may arise that causes an employee to go off the travel policy. This will also depend on your company culture. More corporate companies will be more strict than tech start-up because they have fewer regulations to meet than a tech start-up. Be sure to outline the accepted circumstances and procedures to follow when the exceptions are met.
Your policy might also include things like how far in advance to book airfare to reduce costs, whether employees are required to pre-register for conferences, and how to request reimbursement for mileage on personal vehicles. Making your policy comprehensive and working with a TMC who has more experience drafting corporate travel policies will save a lot of time and hassle in the long run.
Question #4: What Documentation Should I Keep?
The type of documentation travelers must keep should be thoroughly detailed in the travel policy. The type of company culture defines what documents should be kept and reported.
Some may require employees to keep all original, itemized receipts except for items included in per diem such as tolls, taxi fare, bus fare, parking, etc. While other companies may only ask for receipts starting at a certain amount, which saves time on processing those receipts.
Your policy should state whether electronic receipts are acceptable—keep in mind that some vendors will no longer print receipts.
Question #5: How Much Can I Spend on Food?
The most straightforward answer is to use the government's levels for per diem, which saves the time of working out costs for different locations. You should also set a distance limit for paying per diem (45 or 50 miles is standard, with 50 miles being the distance the IRS uses to determine whether the hotel and per diem are deductible).
If it's reasonable for an employee to come home for dinner after a meeting, then the company might not feel obligated to pay for it. Make sure that travelers know that per diem also includes other incidental expenses, and does not include free food such as airline meals, meals paid for by a vendor or client, etc.
Question #6: Can I Fly First Class?
Whether or not your company allows its employees to fly first class or business class needs to be specifically outlined in the policy. Some companies allow upgrades if their trip will be more than 6 hours or depending on the management level of the employee.
Companies should encourage employees to get a frequent flyer card with their preferred airline, so they can potentially use their miles for upgrades and not rely on the company. Otherwise, they should pay for upgrades themselves.
One exception to be mindful of is in case of a last-minute travel emergency where coach tickets were not available.
Question #7: Can I Stay A Couple More Days?
If you are sending an employee to a popular destination, like Las Vegas, they may ask about adding 'vacation time' to their trip. If this is the case, then they have to keep very careful records. If adding extra days results in a significant increase in airfare, then you may ask them to reimburse that variance. Needless to say, they should pay for their own hotel room. Make sure the policy on this is evident, especially with regards to airfare.
Question #8: Can I Take My Spouse/Significant Other/Kid?
Your policy should make an explicit statement about expenses related to family members or traveling companions, whether the employee should pay that at all times or if there are specific exceptions.
In unique cases, senior executives may have good reason to take their spouse with them, for example, to attend a networking event where a plus one is expected. For the most part, they should pay the airfare, food, etc. for their companions.
Question #9: What Can I Not Expense?
It's a good idea to have a definitive list of what you will not cover in your policy. This might include things like child care, costs incurred because the traveler failed to cancel reservations that were no longer needed, airline club membership, evening wear, etc.
In some cases, you might make exceptions. For example, if you are sending an employee overseas who never travels abroad and has no passport, you could pay for their passport, while you would not pay for the passport renewal for an employee who already has one.
Creating a list of items you will not pay for or reimburse is an excellent way to reduce the number of times you hear this question.
Having a solid travel policy that clearly addresses these factors will help save you and your travel management company time. A good travel management company will help ensure that everyone knows the policy and abides by it.