Managing your travel expenses is an important way to cut your company's costs. Managing those expenses well is also important in ensuring that you get reimbursed fully and promptly.
Although many businesspeople know their way around booking their travel, you'd be surprised how many don't know their way around an expense report. It's just as easy to make mistakes that will cost you big money as it is to do your expense report right.
Here is what I do to manage my travel expenses:
-- "Book in advance" is perhaps the most obvious and yet most commonly ignored piece of advice anyone can give you about how to manage your travel costs intelligently.
-- One caveat to this rule is if you think you may need to make last minute changes to your flight. You need to balance the price of that low fare ticket with the risk of having your travel plans change and possibly paying a higher airfare and/or change fee penalties.
-- Think about where you're going vs. the time of year you're going. Mull vacation patterns and how they could affect your own travel costs.
-- If you have the choice, you may be able to cut costs by using the "less obvious" airport. For example, in Chicago try Midway vs. O'Hare when you booking a low-fare carrier. Just remember that the airfare isn't your trip's only major cost. Thus if you're thinking of opting for Midway you'll want to factor in the cost of that rental car or taxi before you book.
-- On the other hand, if I was in Boston and in a hurry to get to my next destination, I might not worry about saving $100 by flying out of Manchester, N.H. Then again, if I wasn't in a hurry, maybe I'd also consider the fares out of Providence or some other regional airport.
-- Engage the services of a travel agent, whether through your company or on your own. Travel professionals can find you the best deal while also providing expertise and assistance when you need it.
-- If you have flexibility in your flight planning, consider websites that use "predictive modeling." For example, FareCast.com tracks up and down patterns of certain airfares. It predicts when certain airfare deals will emerge.
-- Consider the length of your trip. Does it make sense to rent a car, take a cab, or hire a car service? If your schedule is not too pressing, you can save by taking an airport shuttles or even a shared taxi.
-- At the hotel, remember a few basic cost-cutting rules: (1) Avoid the minibar; (2) limit your room service; and (3) be wary of the hotel restaurant, which can be as costly as the first two.
-- If you are a frequent user of hotel Internet services (both DSL and wireless), consider investing in a wireless network card, available through your wireless provider. This will enable you to access the Internet from anywhere you have a cellular signal and at a considerable cost savings.
-- Eating while en route is more of a wildcard than ever before, in terms of convenience, cost and quality, so it is best to bring your own. Always buy a bottle of water after you clear airport security. Consider buying two -- the second bottle will become indispensable if your flight gets marooned on the tarmac.
-- Examine your options for getting back from the airport. Depending on your schedule, you can save money taking the subway or a bus. That is, unless your flight is returning after the bus stops running.
-- Don't forget to save your receipts from the subway or bus, taxi or shuttle, tolls or parking lot. This will save you time and hassles with your accounting department.
-- Being organized helps in the long run. In fact, before my business trip I create a folder that will hold every important document, including flight itinerary, directions to the hotel, and business meeting agenda. Into this trip folder also goes key items that will accumulate during my trip, including those all-important receipts.
-- Actually all of those loose receipts, boarding passes, and so on, are placed inside a large envelope, which I clip inside my trip folder.
-- Some travelers prefer those clear plastic envelopes that have a string which wraps around a round clasp. This way you not only can see what's inside, you can be sure the contents won't spill out.
-- Another tip: Write on each receipt what it was for ("Business breakfast on Nov. 10; guest John Doe w/O. Wild," for example). Don't take for granted that you will remember the details. After the trip, I sift the receipts into piles that are organized by date and function.
-- Do your expense report within three days, otherwise you'll get backlogged and end up losing money. (Think about organizing your receipts and even doing your expense report on the plane, train, etc.)
-- If you can keep all of your receipts, boarding passes, and other paperwork organized during your trip, you'll find that completing your expense report will be a breeze when you sit at your computer.
-- It's vital to know what your company policy is on reimbursement. Some employers will not reimburse employees for expenses from their house to their home airport, some not for expenses at the home airport. Some won't reimburse for any expenses incurred after you land. Know before your fly so your expense report will fly through your company's approval process.
-- Often I will get reimbursed long before my credit card bill is due. Avoid risks of past due fees or having to dig into your own bank account.
-- The minute I get my expense check I put it into my checking account. Then I write a check to my corporate credit card to pay the bill. Better yet, see if your company offers a direct deposit option for expense reimbursement.
-- To keep your finances organized, you might consider separate accounts for business vs. personal expenses. Some have separate ATM cards representing their separate business and personal checking accounts, and of course separate business vs. personal credit cards.
Checklist. Remember these key how-to points:
-- Book early.
-- Search for the lowest "logical" airfare.
-- Consider the impact of schedule changes.
-- Factor in the travel season.
-- Consider alternate points of departure.
-- Engage the services of a travel professional.
-- Remember that your time has value.
-- Weigh your ground transportation options.
-- Bring your own food, for both comfort and cost savings.
-- Invest in your own wireless connectivity.
-- Never assume when it comes to public transportation schedules.
-- Save your receipts.
-- Stay organized and create a trip folder.
-- Safeguard your receipts in an envelope inside the folder.
-- Write down the details on your receipts.
-- Start your expense report before your trip is over.
-- File your expense report within three days of the end of your trip.
-- Know your company's reimbursement policy.
-- Use your reimbursement money to pay off your trip's charges.
-- Keep your personal and business finances separate.
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