Ex-Road Warrior Delivers Tips on Cutting Business Travel Expenses

Just as you get the best security advice from an ex-hacker, take it from an old road warrior on how you can cut business travel expenses. While  I am typically an optimistic person, I have been inundated with enough economic news in the past two weeks of this new year to settle on the realization that 2013 is shaping up to be another challenging year.  This of course will lead businesses to continue to focus on doing more with less, especially when it comes to business travel.  While your first reaction may be to cut travel altogether, I warn against this approach as it is most likely going to have a greater negative impact on your company’s revenue than the corresponding cost savings.  According to the New York Times, “Every dollar invested in business travel has historically brought in $20 in extra profits to American businesses.”  Good luck finding any other investment in this day and age that will yield similar returns.

So if we are in agreement that travel is an expensive but necessary evil required to grow sales, how do we make the trips happen without breaking the bank?  Here are some ideas to better manage your travel costs.

  1. Question per diem policies - Take this one from an ex-road warrior.  Daily per diems were a great way to bank a little extra personal cash from travelling to cities with a high cost of living while eating at McDonalds.  Great for the individual, but lost savings for the company.
  2. Hold employees and managers accountable – Having a system in place that provides company visibility to the employee submitting the four nights stay at the W Hotel, and the manager approving it, will generate cost savings without lifting a finger.  Employees are much less likely to sneak one by, and have their buddy manager approve it, if they know there is a chance that it could come back to them later.
  3. Don’t forgot about corporate credit cards – If you provide corporate credit cards to employees without having them justify the cost on an expense report, expect on average these amounts to be higher than out of pocket incidentals in which they must proactively seek reimbursement approval.
  4. Require pre-trip approvals – If you require employees to estimate their travel costs prior to getting on the plane, they are much more likely to stay within the budget they provided than if there was no expectation set up front.  Add to that the ability to compare the amount that was approved prior to the expenses actually incurred and you’ll be surprised how frugal employees will become when tempted to upgrade the flight to Economy Plus.
  5. Manage expenses at a detail level – Keeping track of expenses at an aggregate level makes it very easy to include the mini bar and movie with the hotel bill.  Breaking this out to further detail will again have employees thinking twice about the $10 beer from the hotel fridge.

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