Which of these travel expenses should pay myself?
June 20, 2010 6:26 AM   Subscribe

Help me decide which of these travel expenses are mine and which my organization should pay.

I traveled to do some committee work for my professional organization. The organization pays expenses or this sort of trip and my flight and airfare cost $x.

On my way home, my flight was delayed and I missed my connection. I could have stayed at an airport hotel and flown home late the following day, but that would have meant missing a family commitment. So I rented a car ($y) and started to drive. When I got to tired to continue, I stopped at a motel ($z) and made it home a few hours later in time to do the family thing.

Which expenses should I fairly charge to my professional organization? Some of them were essential to the trip, some were unexpected additions due to the flight delay and others were additions due to my personal need to go home quickly. Which are my responsibility?
posted by Fiery Jack to Work & Money (14 answers total)
You are missing $w, the price that the airport hotel would have charged you for the night (at I'm assuming the distressed traveler's rate). This all comes down to the discretion of your manager and your company's travel policy, but if $y+$z is less than or reasonably close to $w, I would request full reimbursement. If they exceed, I would probably ask for $z but not $y.
posted by onalark at 6:36 AM on June 20, 2010

Anything above and beyond what it would have cost the agency had you not initiated the car rental. In other words, calculate what it would have cost them had you gone with the scenario in which your flight was delayed and you were held over (including any meals not reimbursed by the airline). Anything beyond that number is your responsibility.... Now..that said, if I were the agency ED I would pay the full shot and not ask you to pay anything...

But, make the offer, it keeps you on the high ground.
posted by HuronBob at 6:38 AM on June 20, 2010

You wouldn't have incurred any of these expenses if you hadn't been on a business trip. I wouldn't call any of it your personal responsibility.

"Travel expenses are the ordinary and necessary expenses of traveling away from home for your business, profession, or job.... You cannot deduct expenses that are lavish or extravagant or that are for personal purposes.

You are traveling away from home if your duties require you to be away from the general area of your tax home for a period substantially longer than an ordinary day's work, and you need to get sleep or rest to meet the demands of your work while away. "

from: http://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc511.html

Really it comes down to how you and your employers agree to treat these expenses, but you could legitimately claim all of the expenses you've described.
posted by natteringnabob at 6:38 AM on June 20, 2010

To me, all of them are your organization's responsibility. You didn't cause the missed connection. You didn't have a personal need to get home quickly, you had agreed to be away from your family for X amount of time and when that time was going to be lengthened without you causing it or desiring it you choose the cheapest and most efficient way to get home in time. If you had been requested to be at work for an important meeting would you be questioning the expense? No? Why is your personal life less important than your work? Were you going to paid extra for staying at the airport an extra day (so you saved the company money) or are you thinking you are expected to give up your personal time for free because the company owns you?
posted by saucysault at 6:42 AM on June 20, 2010

The car and the motel are your expenses. The airport hotel and return airfare are expenses for which they are liable but did not incur. They may or may not reimburse you for an equivalent amount against the expenses you did incur; you can only ask.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:17 AM on June 20, 2010

They should pay for it all. I wouldn't ask, I would tell them about the circumstances and submit all of the expenses.
posted by ihadapony at 8:36 AM on June 20, 2010

My customers/firms have always paid the full amount I claimed for this situation, and I've had it a few times given travel during storm season between DFW & AUS. A professional organization might have more limited resources, but I'd go ahead and bill them for it, and give them the opportunity to say 'no' to the expenses.

The other caveat I'll give you is that if you're on a government contract in a situation like this, the auditor will likely catch that you have an 'unspent' leg of the trip, and you'll have to reimburse them for that leg. A large firm or small professional org probably won't catch that nuance, but be prepared for it if they do.
posted by TuffAustin at 9:02 AM on June 20, 2010

They should pay all of it. Your mutual commitment with the organization was for you to provide a specific group of tasks within a specific window of time that closed with your planned arrival home in time for the event; when circumstances beyond your control threatened this agreement, you took steps to protect it.

As an employer (or in this case, representing the professional association) I always tell the staff just to spend whatever they need to be safe and secure--e.g., they shouldn't be sleeping in airports to save a few hundred bucks when they get stranded--or do what they need to do, including getting home when it's important and that I trust them and their judgement. Consequently, I would pay your expenses and, had you gone the other route and gotten home late as a result, I would cut you some slack about your hours the following week, knowing your weekend was shortened due to your work-related matters beyond your control. However, in truth the nature of the family commitment--which, BTW, I would not ever even ask about, but if it came up--would influence how I felt about your decision, e.g., wedding/family reunion/concert you scheduled six month ago/custody weekend/bail hearing = fine but single game in 5-year old kid's soccer season = not so much.

And before anybody jumps on me about the importance of keeping commitments to children, when a parent misses a game (or whatever) due to events beyond his/her control, let it be a teachable moment about how sometimes things don't work out as we hope, despite best efforts, but we persevere.
posted by carmicha at 9:06 AM on June 20, 2010

Disagree. They should pay all of your unavoidable expenses related to getting held over (hotel, meals, incidentals.) However; they did not agree to the rental car/motel plan in advance, so I think they would be within the realm of reasonable reaction to say that the car (and maybe even the motel) is on you. It's not their fault you were in a hurry.

That would be assholish bureaucracy, though - a normal person would approve your charges after the fact, but it really depends on the culture at your workplace. I work for the government, and I'd be out the extra money the second I deviated from the plan without picking up the phone to clear my idea with the travel office. That's all I'm saying.

Put it all in for compensation, see what happens. Worst they can say is no.
posted by ctmf at 9:26 AM on June 20, 2010

I'd discuss it with the organization, but I think you have a decent argument that they should pay it all. Your agreement with your employer involved you getting home by a certain time, not you handing over copious amounts of your free time and missing personal commitments to keep their costs low. Taking your non-work commitments as a fixed variable, the airline is the actor here that raised their costs. Maybe offer to split it as a sign of goodwill and generosity, and in acknowledgment of ctmf's point.
posted by salvia at 10:07 AM on June 20, 2010

Best answer: You cannot deduct expenses that are lavish or extravagant or that are for personal purposes.

Getting home in time for a personal commitment is a personal purpose.

The provided the travel, IE, the plane ticket. That method of travel became inconvenient to you for personal reasons, so you did something else. I suppose if they can get the money back for half of the ticket, that amount should be put towards your car rental.

Legally, anyway. If the price isn't way out of line, they should probably cough up the difference.
posted by gjc at 11:05 AM on June 20, 2010

If you enjoy your volunteer work for this organization, better not to test them with the additional expenses. It could give you a reputation that you don't want.

Chances are good that your organization has a travel reimbursement policy that might address this situation. Have you asked?

Just to add a bit more confusion, gjc has a good point. I recently went through the difference between personal and organizational expenses with one of my volunteer officers when we disallowed her expense for a hotel gym membership. Her (very good) rationale was that she works so hard during conferences that exercising is a must. As I pointed out, however, the same might be said for hair salon appointments (I just don't have time to do it myself), dry cleaning (I wouldn't have worn this suit if it weren't for the conference) or luggage (I needed a bigger suitcase, since our conferences last for four days).

In short, it's less about what's fair than about what your organization's policy is.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:07 PM on June 20, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. There are a lot of ways to look at the issue and I appreciate the range of views clearly expressed here. I think I'll just put in the claim (x+y+z) along with a letter explaining the situation and ask them to pay according to their policy.
posted by Fiery Jack at 7:25 AM on June 21, 2010

If you enjoy your volunteer work for this organization, better not to test them with the additional expenses. It could give you a reputation that you don't want.

That very much depends on the size of the organisation and the approval process. My employer is large and my expenses are processed and reviewed for general compliance with the expense policy by a central department. Once they have been processed by them they get paid and the budget holder gets a report weekly report. I hold a dozen plus budgets and never look at my weekly email - I look at the monthly one with all my monthly budget movements and if specific expenses seem to be high or a budget that shouldn't have any on at that point has some I'll go and investigate....so depending on the size of the organisation and the expense process you may find that nobody actually cares, as long as it's not blatantly obvious that the expenses should not be claimed.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:43 PM on June 22, 2010

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