Looking for examples of a corporate travel policy that is friendly and not punitive to frequent travelers.
March 7, 2011 8:55 AM   Subscribe

Looking for examples of a corporate travel policy that is friendly and not punitive to frequent travelers.

Company is a 50 person start-up with about a dozen frequent travelers (mostly sales and business development professionals). The most frequent travelers are on the road 2-3 weeks a month, mostly in US, and sometimes are required to travel on weekends. Over half of the frequent travelers work remotely from HQ.

It has been decreed that there be a written travel policy, though there are not clear problems that said policy is trying to address. The draft policy, created by someone who does no business travel, is penny-wise and pound foolish.

The draft policy includes rules such as "you must take public transportation from airports" (even if it will add two hours to your trip) . . . "stay at hotel X and Y" (even if not at all proximate to event, incurring added time loss and transportation costs) . . . "no reimbursement for gym fees" (though named list of hotels don't include workout rooms) . . . and so on.

There's an opportunity to revise/replace this draft policy and I'm looking for example policies or guidelines that presume employee trust, take into account the toll of the road, but also acknowledge that there is a general need to not have crazy expenses (nobody is or should be buying business class seats or renting hotel suites, for example).
posted by donovan to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Instead of mandating a hotel, you can look at government lodging rates by location. Sticking exactly to the government rate without having a government ID can be tricky, but you can say they must stay at a hotel that is within, say, 20% of the government rate.

Our company is much larger, but we don't generally have a problem with crazy expenses. Travel is booked through the travel office and it mandates coach seats unless they are unavailable, government-rate rooms unless they are unavailable or too far away (at the manager's discretion). In other words, making sure that there is some oversight when plans are booked, rather than when receipts are submitted.

However, we don't reimburse gym fees or laundry fees or the like. Maybe have an expense account for "misc. travel expenses" that would be spent at the traveller's discretion.
posted by muddgirl at 9:01 AM on March 7, 2011

Most travel policies I've read offer a preferred hotel and then guidance on what is reasonable for a night's hotel stay adjusted for various cities (New York, for example, is ridiculously expensive). If you can find a room within the 'reasonable' number, you can stay there even if it's not at a preferred hotel.

I've never seen a corporate travel policy that mandated use of public transit between the airport and the hotel -- that's completely impractical in a lot of cities for people carrying luggage. It can usually be done, but not without being totally stupid. Most of them suggest use of flat-rate town car service to and from the airport, possibly with the additional suggestion of using Airport Shuttle services where possible.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:05 AM on March 7, 2011

Best travel policy I ever worked under: "Employees travelling for business purposes should neither gain nor suffer as a result of their travel."

Basically: do what makes sense and maintain a quality of life similar to what you would have available if you were in the office (i.e., if the office provides bottled water and gym access, then you can get both of those when on the road).
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 9:06 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Our university allows 150% of the government rate for hotels, with a waiver for if this is absolutely impossible - ie, you must travel on short notice and nothing else is available. We use the government meals/incidentals rate, which I've found fairly generous assuming that you don't actually expect to eat better when you're traveling--it easily allows for better-than-Applebee's/local informal meals.

We have some other rates and restrictions for entertaining faculty/business contacts that would probably be more generous for a corporation.

Our car/cab/bus policy is based on reasonable convenience - ie, you can rent a car if buses are impossible and cabs would be comparable (such as travel to a remote research location). If public transit is available and simple (ie, the metro in DC, BART, etc) there is a cultural expectation that you will use it, but no requirement. You'll hear about it from your department chair if you're always lavish.

There's a lot of expectation that you will justify your expenses - you have to show "prudent" use of university funds in clear language when you submit your receipts. This is more a cultural thing than a spelled-out thing, and is pretty much done by example. I think the assumption is that most people will prefer to be team players rather than seen as gaming the system.
posted by Frowner at 9:20 AM on March 7, 2011

Thanks for the good examples . . . would love any links to full blown reasonable travel policies that could be used/amended.
posted by donovan at 9:26 AM on March 7, 2011

Oh, we do have some spelled-out restrictions - we do not reimburse business-class travel, we do not reimburse for alcohol (except in a limited way for entertaining).

One way to manage travel is to have a secretary book flights and hotels - that way, it's no longer up to the traveler, plus the secretary gets a good sense of what is reasonable for flights and so on. (I both travel and book travel for others; it's fairly easy to aim for flights that leave at reasonable hours and have reasonable layovers rather than the "leave at 4am, six hour layover in Seattle" or "9am nonstop" flights).
posted by Frowner at 9:27 AM on March 7, 2011

Here is the travel policy for a large research university, I don't think it is password protected. It seems pretty reasonable, most of the stipulations are of the "try to take the most economical option" variety. Warning: long
posted by ghharr at 9:41 AM on March 7, 2011

I actually know of a very large company that enforced the "public transport from the airport" portion of its policy, even for New York City. I once saw one of my clients at the bus stop in LaGuardia. He was going to a conference in midtown, and was told that he had to take the bus, even though he had luggage and would miss an hour (or more) of the conference. (My client service deed of the day was getting him into a taxi with me, although that triggered a round from him of "now I need to disclose this as a vendor gift under our ethics policy".)

So, the drafter of the OP's policy may be taking her cue from some fairly extremely enforced policies out there.

I think the most reasonable ones are where there is an "escape clause" that lets a sufficiently high-level manager/VP sign off on variance from the rules. Large corporate travel offices do this all the time. (In one of the law firms I worked at, the branch office accounting manager had to sign off on variance, but this was a mercifully painless process.) So for instance, if all the coach seats are sold out and you absolutely must be there the next day, it makes sense to book the first-class seat.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 10:07 AM on March 7, 2011

Travel is our company's bread and butter, and our travel policy is basically "Don't be an idiot." The people that travel all the time are encouraged to pick a frequent flyer program and hotel rewards program that they stick with (not only does this give the employee a small benefit, it also means that they will more likely be able to get flights in bad weather or overbooked situations and get hotel rooms at preferred hotels). If public transportation is practical, we're encouraged to use it (saves on rental car fees). We generally are reimbursed at a set rate per day of travel for meals and incidentals (currently it's $40/day). If we don't spend it all, we get to keep the balance. That way, no receipt management for the company, and a possible extra bit of cash for the employee.

Our hotel expenditure is definitely looked over. If we are (for instance) a Marriott Rewards member, we're expected to stay at the cheapest Marriott property that is convenient to the customer - no staying at the JW Marriott unless it's the only option. Same with plane flights - we're expected to book as early as possible, and have a list of things to do to try to get the cheapest flight listings. Rental cars are basically supposed to be the cheapest available for that location.

You are correct in thinking that making overly restrictive travel policies is not a good idea. For people who travel constantly, the few perks that they receive (our daily per diem, for example) become fairly important, and trying to remove or cancel things like that can cause bitterness and possibly a rebellion in the ranks. Definitely not good for morale.
posted by deadcowdan at 10:17 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

The company I work for negotiates rates with airlines and hotels, and sponsors (not sure exactly how this works) "preferred" status at some car rental agencies. We also have a dedicated travel agent that makes changes and other travel issues easy to resolve.

Things that I really really like about our travel policy:
-Per diem, rather than straight reimbursement for food. Sometimes more expensive for me, but it saves tons of time on paperwork and I don't have to save receipts.
-Company owns its own cars and has drivers on staff to get you to the airport. I take the subway because it's cheaper and I can walk, but it's nice to have the option when I have an early morning flight before the subway opens up.
-We can bill time towards travel, door-to-door. So if I spend eight hours traveling on Monday that's my workday.
-I have never been hassled for reimbursing any and all travel expenses - ATM fees, exchange fees, internet access, subway fare. Things like gym fees are not reimbursed.
-I can commingle business and personal travel with very little hassle.

What I don't like:
-Coach fares only, with very few exceptions. Long international flights suck in coach.
-The reimbursement office seems to have trouble with travel over weekends - we should be reimbursed for all that time without actually having to work on the weekend, but sometimes it takes a little back-and-forth.
posted by backseatpilot at 10:24 AM on March 7, 2011

This is a matter of having the traveler's interests aligned with the organizations. To do that, you have to make the traveler as comfortable as possible within reasonable standards. The way we looked at it, we looked at their P&L net of travel expenses. Look at each of them as their own little business. You have to assign some profit margin to the business depending on the revenue generated by sales versus a travel cost and then let them make their own darn decisions.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:26 AM on March 7, 2011

I used to work somewhere that would pay an extra 12.5% of salary per day away, plus some small fixed amount (also per day) that was meant to cover random incidental travel expenses.

They paid for evening meals (with receipts). A fixed maximum meal expense was introduced at some point. This capped the spending of a couple of jokers, while many other people increased their spend, picking through menus to work out how to compose an order of exactly the maximum amount.
posted by emilyw at 11:02 AM on March 7, 2011

Here is the one used by the Government of Canada. It is, overall, pretty reasonable (and exhaustive). A good part is the section on principles:

Trust - increase the amount of discretion and latitude for employees and managers to act in a fair and reasonable manner.

Flexibility - create an environment where management decisions respect the duty to accommodate, best respond to employee needs and interests, and consider operational requirements in the determination of travel arrangements.

Respect - create a sensitive, supportive travel environment and processes that respect employee needs.

Valuing people - recognize employees in a professional manner while supporting employees, their families, their health and safety in the travel context.

Transparency - ensure the consistent, fair and equitable application of the policy and its practices.

Modern travel practices - introduce travel management practices that support the principles and are in keeping with travel industry trends and realities; develop and implement an appropriate travel accountability framework and structure.,

posted by urbanlenny at 12:25 PM on March 7, 2011

Best travel policy I ever had gave an $80.00 per diem. Airfare, car rental and hotel were separate but this covered food, transportation and incidentals. It really cut back on paperwork and allowed the employee a lot of flexibility. Get take out instead of a fancy dinner and pocket the money!

If you choose to demand receipts please have a $25.00 minimum requirement.

Absolutely let people keep frequent flier miles.

Business Class for a more than 8 hour flight is a nice perk.

Basically the company has to remember that business travel can be a grind and not the fun filled "vacation" non-travelers think it is. Allowing for small things goes a long way with keeping employees happy. Allow me to paraphrase a story from one of Scott Adams' (of Dilbert fame) books-

"Once when I was traveling, my umbrella was crushed in a cab door. I put a line in my expense report- "Broken Umbrella $15.00. The expense report was rejected. I resubmitted the report, with the umbrella removed but the total was exactly the same. I left this note at the bottom- 'Now try and find the umbrella!'"
posted by JohntheContrarian at 5:01 PM on March 7, 2011

I worked somewhere with a fairly standard travel policy for using government rates and employee per diem based on locale (plus items/services purchased for work reimbursable via receipts).

One aspect that was really nice from a morale side was that if you chose to extend your stay or do other personal travel piggybacking off of the work travel, you could do so by paying the difference between the 'original' planned itinerary and your extended plans.

This meant when one of my coworkers stayed overseas for an extra two days and the flight cost less, she only had to pay for the extra hotel time.

Also, if an employee did any international travel, they could either get bumped up to business class or charge an extra 'work' day. That is, if the traveling lasted longer than X hours, they could charge one travel day and fly business class or charge two travel days and fly economy.
posted by bookdragoness at 10:41 AM on March 8, 2011

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