Managing your travel expenses is a key way to cut your company's costs. But for business travelers, managing those expenses well is also important in ensuring that you get reimbursed fully and promptly.
Although many road warriors may know how to book travel frugally, you'd be surprised how many don't know their way around an expense report. It's just as easy to commit expense report mistakes that will cost you big money as it is to do your report correctly.
Here are twenty tips that might help keep you on the straight and narrow when it comes to managing your 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: If you think you may need to make last-minute changes to your flight, buy a ticket that allows you to re-book without paying a higher airfare and/or change fee penalties.
- Think about where you're going as well as the time of year you're going. Mull the impact of leisure vacation patterns and how they could disrupt your own travel plans, connections, and 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 booking a low-fare carrier. Just remember that the airfare isn't your trip's only major cost. So, if you're thinking of opting for a secondary airport you'll want to factor in the cost of that rental car or taxi before you book.
- On the other hand, weigh the options of time vs. dollars. if I were leaving out of Boston and in a hurry to get to my 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. I find that travel professionals are the best way for me to find the best deals with the least hassle. They're also invaluable when flight disruption push comes to shove.
- If you have flexibility in your flight planning, consider websites that use "predictive modeling." For example, Bing.com tracks up and down patterns of certain airfares. It predicts when certain airfare deals will emerge and then try to plan your business travel accordingly.
- 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-to-hotel shuttle or even a sharing a taxi.
- At the hotel, keep in mind a few basic rules: (1) Steer clear of the minibar; (2) use room service sparingly; and (3) be mindful of the hotel restaurant, which sometimes can be as pricey as the first two.
- If you are a frequent user of hotel Internet services (both DSL and wireless), consider investing in a broadband card, available through your wireless provider. This will enable you to access the Internet from anywhere you have a cellular signal. You'll save money in the long run and be far more productive. Hotel loyalty programs sometimes also offer free Internet access to their members.
- Eating while en route is more of a wildcard than ever before, in terms of convenience, cost, and quality. It is best to bring your own snacks. Always grab a bottle of water after you clear security. Consider buying two--the second bottle will become indispensable if your flight gets marooned on the tarmac.
- 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. Create a folder to hold every important document, including flight itinerary, directions to the hotel, and business meeting agenda. Into this trip folder can also go key items that will accumulate during your trip, including those all-important receipts. Consider a clear plastic envelope with a string wrap closure so you can see what's inside and the contents won't spill out.
- Another tip: Write on each receipt what it was for ("Business breakfast on Aug. 10; guest John Doe, ABC Company, w/M. Valkevich," 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--repeat: three days--otherwise you'll invariably 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 doing your expense report will be a breeze when you sit at your computer.
- It's essential to know what your company's reimbursement policy is before you spend the money. 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 zip through the approval process.
- Often I get reimbursed well before my credit card bill is due. Avoid past-due fees or digging 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. Many road warriors set up separate ATM cards representing their separate business and personal checking accounts, and of course separate business vs. personal credit cards.
If you follow these tips, you'll be well on your way to making the travel expenses process as invisible and painless as possible.
Road Warrior • Miami • Madrid • www.amadeus.com  • Twitter: @tentofortysix