Top tips for understanding your employer’s travel policy
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If you travel for business where your employer pays for some — or all — of the costs or reimburses you for doing so, you are likely subject to a written travel policy. These policies can vary hugely depending on the company, type of work you do, where you are travelling and your position in the company.
If you are subject to a travel policy, here are some things you should know.
The process of booking
A good place to start in understanding the policy is how the travel is booked. You should check if you can book any travel yourself, or if it must all be booked through a company portal, a travel department or even an external travel agent. Be careful if the policy is strict on not booking your own travel, as you may not be reimbursed if you decide to breach the policy.
If you are not allowed to book the travel yourself, you may be limited in what is booked for you, particularly if you are looking to maximise your travel by earning miles and points. If you’ve never submitted a travel request, you may wish to speak to colleagues about their experiences in doing so to make the process easier. If you have particular flights or hotels in mind that comply with the policy (more on that below), it may be beneficial to both you and the person booking your travel if you can indicate your preferred options.
Class of service
Some companies have a strict “economy only” policy for all work flights, though some are more generous when it comes to long-haul flights. With the latter, you may be permitted to travel in premium economy or business class if the flight is overnight and you have to work that same day (i.e. head from the airport straight into a meeting) or the flight is over a certain length of time (i.e. six hours).
While it might sound great to be able to book an overnight flight in business class purely to avoid economy, remember that if the flight is short (like New York to London), you may only be able to manage a few hours sleep and may arrive exhausted anyway. Depending on your schedule and personal commitments, you may be more rested taking a day flight in economy the day before, having a proper night sleep in a real bed at your destination and then hit the ground running the following morning.
Best fare of the day (BFOD)
This is a common company travel policy condition. Even if you comply with the conditions of the policy, such as class of service, you may be subject to booking the “cheapest available fare of the day”, regardless of the carrier or time. Note that the cheapest fares of the day may be at the most undesirable times like first thing in the morning or late at night, so if you have a legitimate reason for requiring to fly at a certain time period or take a certain flight, for example, if:
- You have a Monday morning meeting and need to fly somewhere Sunday night but the cheapest fare on Sunday is at 6 a.m.; or
- You live close to Gatwick Airport but the cheapest fare of the day is from Heathrow Airport.
If this is the case, you should point this out to your manager or the travel booker and there may be discretion in the policy for practical considerations such as these. However, if the cheapest fare of the day is a quarter of the cost of your ideal fare, this request may not be granted, so ensure your requests are reasonable.
Preferred travel provider
Your company may have agreements with certain travel providers like airlines or hotels where they’ll get discounted rates in exchange for significant spending each year. If the provider fits into your travel plans, for example, if you love staying in Hyatt properties, it will be ideal if Hyatt is your company’s preferred hotel provider.
Unfortunately, if you have been building status in a Oneworld airline programme like British Airways Executive Club and your company travel policy states that Star Alliance carriers are the preferred provider, this could mean starting all over again in the race to gain elite status — or consider a status match or challenge.
Earning points and status credits
This is a really important distinction to understand in the policy. If your employer has a preferred provider, it may have negotiated lower than publicly available rates. It may have done this by agreeing that these low rates come without some of the benefits the publicly available fares come with, such as earning points, status credits or elite night stays. If the person booking your travel is not sophisticated with fare codes and classes, you may need to determine yourself the fare code for the flights you are booked into to see if it is a non-earning fare class.
This can be a very disappointing part of a travel policy, as all that time you may be required to spend away from home and family due to travelling for your job could be partly compensated by earning points, miles and elite status — the hard way.
Per diem expenses
If you are travelling for an extended period of time, your policy may permit a certain cost per day for your food and drink away from home. This can mean you can have a fancy lunch provided you have a cheap dinner and the total stays under the allowance. Check if the per diem amount covers alcohol and gratuities — some do, some don’t and you don’t want to be caught out racking up expenses you thought were reimbursable but can’t because it is excluded from the policy.
If your policy has a strict economy or premium economy only rule, then unless you have elite status, you may not have lounge access before your work flight. As staff may work more effectively in a lounge while they await their flight than at the gate, some employers will provide lounge memberships to staff, such as Priority Pass or Lounge Key.
This may also take some of the sting out of boarding a long-haul economy flight for work purposes.
Be careful of pushing the boundaries
The travel policy may also allow “reasonable expenses”, such as transport costs from the airport to your hotel. A £30 Uber ride may be reasonable, while a £200 helicopter ride would not. If unsure, check with the policy owner, your manager or colleagues who have travelled for work previously under the policy to understand what is and is not generally acceptable.
For whatever rules the policy has, employees will generally find a way to creatively avoid them. In order to avoid the best fare of the day and fly with their favourite full-service airline rather than a cheap low-cost one, an employee might create a fictional meeting that requires them to fly the more expensive full-service option.
But be careful.
I have heard stories of people losing their jobs because they knowingly breached their travel policy. Asking colleagues can give you a sense of the strictness of the policy though it is unlikely to be a suitable excuse if you are pulled up on something to say you just did it because someone else did.
Travel policies can be both a blessing and a curse. I have friends and family who travel for work — some quite enjoy it, others hate the early starts, long days and disruption to their daily routine.
There can be a way to travel comfortably to do your job and collect valuable rewards in exchange for all those nights away from home. At the same time, they may be drafted by someone looking purely at the bottom line that does not appreciate the intricacies of what it is like to travel regularly for work.
Feature photo by Chris Sloan/The Points Guy.
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