Expense Reports: To Submit or Not to Submit?By Emily Parker-Woodland
Whether you’re a seasoned business travel pro, or a newbie to the corporate travel world, the dynamics of expense reporting and reimbursement policies are confusing.
No matter which category you fall into, you probably find yourself asking the same question as you’re tallying up your receipts after your latest trip: “To submit, or not to submit?”
Every company’s travel policy is different, and so are the rules around what can and cannot be expensed. But, it’s frustrating to read through rule after rule and still not know whether you are allowed to be reimbursed for something or not. And spending your own money on something you think you’ll be paid back for, only to find out it isn’t reimbursable, is not a situation anyone wants to be in. So we put together a list of common items that are allowed and others that you might think are allowed, but that we’d steer clear of.
This one is pretty obvious, if you need to fly somewhere for work you can expense it. But make sure you know your company’s policy around whether to book economy, premium economy, or first class.
- Checked Baggage
If you are staying for an extended period of time (more than 4 days) then you will probably need to check a bag, and you should expense it. But a great way to save your money and time is to invest in a high quality carry-on in the largest size possible. We love the bigger carry-on from Away Travel.
Just like airfare, if you are required to stay in a hotel for business, you can expense it. And just like for flights, check your company’s policy so you know how much money you are allowed to spend on a per-night rate.
There a ton of ways to get around nowadays, and if you aren’t flying then you are probably taking a train, bus, your own car, or an Uber or taxi. The general rule of thumb is that if you need to take one of these methods for a business purpose (meeting, conference, client visit), you can expense it.
- Mileage driving your own car
Luckily there are government standards when it comes to reimbursing for mileage so you know it’s allowed to be expensed. Just make sure to accurately track the mileage starting from when you are actually on your way to the place of business. If you are driving from your home to your office and then to a meeting, you should only expense the drive from your office to the meeting since you’d need to be in the office anyway.
This is an area that can get a little tricky. You are entitled to three meals a day when traveling for business, so make sure you save your receipts for those. To make sure you get reimbursed, try not to splurge on anything too fancy (think lobster or filet mignon). Keep it to what you’d eat if you were spending your own money.
Usually you can submit reimbursement for things like plays, golf, concerts, etc only if there is a customer or client with you. This is an area where you need to talk to your manager or finance department first. Don’t spend company money on these types of activities without explicit permission.
Depending on how far you live from the airport, you might need to drive and park your own car there for a few days. This is part of your overall transportation and should be submitted for reimbursement.
- Conference supplies, passes, etc
Anything you need to buy in order to do your job properly on the road is fair game. This means that if you are traveling to a conference and in order to work you need to pay for WiFi at the venue, you’re fine. Just make sure to get a record of what was spent.
Most companies will want to make sure you tip properly and should reimburse you for it. If you are tipping someone like a valet or driver, and you aren’t able to get a receipt, write down the amount you tipped as soon as you can so you don’t forget. Small cash transactions like that shouldn’t be an issue with your finance team, and might even roll up into your daily per diem.
Not To Expense:
This really depends on your company’s travel policy, but to be safe we recommend not submitting receipts from a bar or club. If you are with clients and you’ve gotten permission, then great. If not, then err on the side of caution. The only exception might be if it’s part of your dinner, and again, it all depends on your company’s policy. When in doubt, ask for your alcohol to be put on a separate bill so you have a clear record of what is what.
- Room service
Another area where we recommend not getting it with the expectation of being reimbursed. Hotels usually charge high service fees and often mark up prices when delivering to your room, so you run the risk of going over your per diem and not getting reimbursed.
- Dinner (or anything) for someone else
If the person is not a co-worker, client, or customer, do not pay for them with the expectation that you will be reimbursed. Your company is only responsible for you when you’re traveling, so if you meet up with a friend, get separate checks.
- Spa treatments
This is probably obvious but most companies will not pay for you to use the salon or spa at your hotel.
- Other hotel extras
Unless it’s something that you need in order to do your job (daily WiFi or parking at the hotel for example) don’t submit it.
If you run into something not on either list, then you should always use your best judgement. When in doubt, simply ask your manager or finance team whether it’s allowed. You know your company culture and they’ve trusted you to represent them on the road, so trust yourself. And always always keep receipts for everything!