Two things are clear about business travel. First, based on the results of the travel policy survey by AP Now and PDG, it can be challenging for organizations to manage the related expenses and applicable policies. As the lead researcher for the survey project, I am seeing firsthand the pain that reimbursement teams often encounter. Besides regular battles over missing receipts and other infractions, there are, at times, outrageous expenses to address. More on this below. The second thing about business travel emerged during a lively weekend dinner party with friends. In short, travel is not pleasant (my friends used stronger language) and employers’ policies can make things more difficult on travelers. What can organizations do to help alleviate everyone’s sore spots? Keep reading to learn more, including some insights into the survey results.
Characteristics of a Strong Travel Policy
Consistent enforcement should be a given. Beyond that, here are three elements that appear to be lacking in some organizations, based on the survey results I’m currently analyzing.
Regular Reviews and Updates
Your policy should keep pace with the changing travel landscape. Reviewing it at least annually and making updates as necessary can prevent headaches. The survey results reveal there is room for improvement; for example:
- Only 56% of organizations have reviewed their policy within the past 12 months
- 72% have not updated their policy to reflect employees’ use of Uber, Lyft, and similar
Unfortunately, even the diligent organizations can overlook things. Among those who have done a review within the past 12 months, 60% said the policy does not address Uber, Lyft, and similar.
Clarity and Specificity
It is not possible or recommended to try and address every potential situation within a travel policy. There are too many variables. However, many survey respondents—from the perspective of someone on a reimbursement team—expressed a desire for more details in their policies to minimize conflicts and debates with travelers. I completely agree.
While reviewing outrageous expenses described by respondents, I took the liberty of compiling a list of what an organization could specify in a “prohibited expenses” section of the policy.
ABC Company will not reimburse/pay for:
- tickets for driving violations or parking infractions
- personal car repairs
- gifts for family and/or friends
- personal services (e.g., spa services)
- personal items (e.g., clothing, medicine)
- personal entertainment (e.g., concert tickets, gambling)
- pet care or child care
- expenses incurred by non-employee guests of the traveler
- expenses occurring during non-travel days
Based on this list, you can imagine what respondents shared!
This third piece may sound like a contradiction to consistent enforcement. What I mean by “flexibility” is to allow reasonable exceptions when approved by an appropriate management member, especially when the traveler saves the organization money overall. For example, a traveler taking a red-eye flight when it is the cheapest option, but then purchasing a seat upgrade to be more comfortable. It also saves the cost of another night of lodging.
I know “reasonable” can be subject to interpretation, which is why it is important to be clear about prohibited expenses (things for which exceptions are not allowed), as well as train your management-level travel approvers in order to convey your expectations. Having the flexibility within your policy to make things a little better for travelers can ease their stress and increase job satisfaction.
If you are not a survey respondent, but want to hear more about the survey results, AP Now is offering the related webinar for a fee. Please visit http://www.ap-now.com/products/item126.cfm.
See also travel-related resources offered by Recharged Education.
About the Author
Blog post author Lynn Larson, CPCP, is the founder of Recharged Education. With more than 15 years of Commercial Card experience, her mission is to make industry education readily accessible to all. Learn more…
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