Business travel isn’t like going on vacation. Your time becomes more valuable and cost becomes less of a consideration. If you’re new to business travel, or even if you’ve been out of the game for a while, here’s a brief beginner’s guide to business travel.
Know Before You Go
Knowing your company’s policies will save you a lot of time and hassle. If you work for a company with more than a handful of employees, it will likely have a travel policy. That policy will dictate everything from how you can spend money to where you can spend it.
Your company will likely have a preferred airline, hotel chain and rental car partner. How rigid a company’s policy is can vary, but policy exceptions can usually be obtained for billable travel, traveling with clients or for special events.
At some companies, you’ll need to use your corporate credit card for everything, while other companies will have you front all the cash for business travel and be reimbursed later. It’s critical that you know your company’s policies and that you follow them in order to avoid problems down the road.
Booking business travel isn’t like booking personal travel. In business travel, time is money. There are the direct costs for things like airfare and hotels, but there’s also the opportunity cost of lost time, which often means time not working. Travel time is dead time, so make the most of direct flights and minimize your nights on the road when possible.
In business travel, it’s not just weather that will determine your packing list. Think about what environments you will be in. How many business meetings will you attend? What’s the dress code for those meetings? Will there be dinners with colleagues? If so, will they be formal business dinners or informal dinners which could necessitate dressing up or down for the evening?
During the Trip
In business travel, it’s almost inevitable that something will go wrong. Roll with it! You can take steps to get ahead of problems. For flight delays and cancelations, make you have an app like TripIt to alert you. When you hear about cancelled flights, re-book immediately. If you work with a travel agent, make sure to have the phone number with you so you can address any issues quickly.
Keep meticulous track of your spending and save all receipts. While not impossible, it can be extremely challenging to get a replacement for a lost receipt. Additionally, every year millions of dollars are lost by business travelers who fail to fully expense everything they are entitled to such as tolls, tips to hotel staff and even meal per diems.
If your company uses Concur to manage travel and expense, take pictures of your receipts as you get them—these pictures can be forwarded to email@example.com later to make uploading your receipts a breeze. Better yet, ask your manager if your company has purchased ExpenseIt as a part of it’s Concur package. ExpenseIt is an invaluable tool for business travelers that allows you to expense as you go. All you have to do is open the app, snap a photo and it will automatically upload the receipt to your Concur account and match it to the correlating expense. This will save you loads of time, and you won’t have to worry about carrying around all those receipts.
Corporate Credit Cards
Many companies have policies requiring you to use a corporate credit card for all charges, while other companies may allow you to use your personal card for some charges—thereby accruing the benefits associated with your personal card. There will also be times when your corporate card—likely American Express—may not be accepted by some merchants. In this instance, it’s especially important to be aware of your company’s policy and also keep careful track of charges. You don’t want to personally pay for a business expense accidently.
After the Trip
Expense reports are the bane of every business traveler’s existence, but they’re critical. Many companies have strict policies for how long you can go after a trip before you must submit your expense report. If you delay, you can find your company docking your reimbursement, or you may be responsible for interest charges.
Here are a couple of lessons learned in years of business travel:
Travel Loyal Programs
Frequent flyer and hotel loyal programs are a benefit of business travel. At most companies, you keep these rewards for personal use. Be sure to sign up for all the programs you can. You can never predict your future business travel plans, so being in all relevant programs will pay off in the long term. In the short-term, consolidating all your travel with a few providers can help you build status and earn additional perks.
No Free Lunch
Never lie on your expense reports and never take advantage of your company’s travel policy. I’ve seen employees who have fudged their expense reports be fired. It’s never worth it, even if other employees tell you “that’s how it’s here.”