While working as an Istanbul-based consultant for three years, Gillian Morris frequently made work trips to places like Thailand and Abu Dhabi, tacking on a few extra personal days to go dune-riding in a Jeep or attend a camel race on her own dime.
“I found that taking the time to get to know the city or region I was working in made me better at my job,” she says. “I had a more nuanced view of the situation on the
ground than I ever could have gotten from the airplane-to-boardroom-to-hotel work experience.” Research supports Morris’s feeling. Studies from Indiana University, Columbia Business School and other places show that travel broadens the mind and enhances creativity in tangible ways.
Now, as cofounder and CEO of Hitlist, an app she describes as a “personalized mobile travel agent,” Morris encourages her team of 13 (mostly millennials) to the do same. “Any reasonable lodging or transport costs are covered by us when people are going somewhere for a conference,” she says. Often, her employees will stay with friends if they decide to stay longer, since those costs are not covered by her company.
Not everyone has the time or money to linger after a conference or meeting, but those that do are part of the “bizcation” or “bleisure” phenomenon, combining business and leisure travel in one trip. In fact, nearly half (46%) of respondents in BridgeStreet Global Hospitality’s Bleisure Report 2014 said they add personal travel days to every trip or most trips.
Brands have taken notice of this trend; Avis, Days Inn Canada, and Millennium Hotels & Resorts are just a few that are capitalizing on it with special promotions aimed at bizcationers. With growing interest in melding personal and business travel (similar to how 24/7 connectivity has blurred the lines between our personal and professional time), some large companies now address this desire in their formal travel and expense policies.
If you want to tack on extra days to a business trip, Suzanne Wolko, a travel blogger and former global business travel manager for investment firms in the U.S. and U.K., suggests consulting your employers’ accounting or travel and expense department before booking. “They can work with you to determine the right way to book the trip to ensure it is not taxable to the employee,” she says.
Travel might create a tax liability when it provides a benefit to the employee. “Examples would be a one-day business trip and three days personal, or detouring an international flight home to meet family in the Caribbean on vacation, thereby saving them the air cost,” Wolko explains. “Depending on agreements, we might gross up the reimbursement and pay the taxes for the employee, but show it on a W2.”
However, in some cases, extra days may actually save the company money and give the employee a chance to explore the city or rest up before starting work. “When I worked for a firm in London, I would fly out Saturday night for the cheaper airfare,” Wolko says. “If I wanted to stay an extra day or two, that was okay, because there was a savings achieved, and I had no control over the initial dates to London, because I had to be there Monday to Friday for work per my boss.”
For the self-employed, incorporating business activities into a vacation can make at least part of the trip tax deductible, says Christopher Bushong, a tax attorney and partner with Paretis Law in San Diego. For small-business owners, the IRS allows you to count a day as a workday if you spend at least four hours working or set up a meeting where you have to be at a certain place at a certain time.
“Set up meetings with potential customers or people in your industry and talk shop with someone,” Bushong says. “Look up people you may know or friends of friends, take them to lunch, and ask how they do what they do.” That meeting will allow you to count that day as a workday and potentially deduct some of your travel expenses, but meals are only deductible at 50%. The IRS has different standards for what portion of a trip you must work on domestic versus international trips for travel expenses to be deductible.
Whether salaried or self-employed, many Americans are reluctant to take time off, so the notion of bleisure travel could, at least in theory, make it easier to squeeze in personal time away. As Morris says, “Bizcations allow you to make the most of the miles you’re already logging and stimulate more creative thinking.”
Susan Johnston Taylor has covered personal finance and business for publications including the Boston Globe, Entrepreneur.com, and USNews.com.