I’m fortunate to have a job and clients who still require some business travel.
During one of my past few business trips, I checked into a Westin hotel. That’s where my client’s client made our crew’s housing reservations. I tried handing the front desk rep my Chase Sapphire Reserve® for incidental expenses. (It earns 3X Chase Ultimate Rewards® points on travel purchases after the card’s annual $300 travel statement credit is exhausted).
She told me I could put the card away. My money was no good there.
“(The Company’s Name) is direct billing all charges,” she said. For those who don’t know: “direct billing” means someone is paying for at least part of the room. In most of my experience, it’s usually the room rate, fees (resort or destination fees, etc.) and related taxes
But it’s a rare treat (at least, for me) that all room charges are direct billed. Food, beverages, parking, spa, gift shop, whatever.
And therein presents an interesting dilemma for some people: the ole “What and How Much Can I Charge to My Room?” situation.
It can be complicated — but doesn’t necessarily need to be. Let’s break it down a little.
Business Travel Expenses
Many companies are different in how they treat travel expenses. (If you’re a business travel rookie or live 300 days on the road each year, I’m very interested to hear your take and advice on this.)
One of my clients simply adds a per diem to my day rate when I travel. This way, they don’t have to approve individual expenses. If I want to be cheap and eat at McDonald’s, I can. If I want to treat myself to sushi or steak (or both!), I can. (This, by the way, is one reason I love having airport lounge access. I rarely pay for meals on days I travel home. I simply pop into a lounge and eat there. It was even better before most lounges cut access to arriving flights.)
But you’re sometimes told to submit all your receipts “and we’ll go from there.” Oy. Maybe you’re given a company card and can charge meals, drinks, etc., to that card. If you’re given such instructions.
Or, there’s the direct billing situation.
Consider this: when (and if) you’re given free rein to charge everything to your room and the entire folio is being taken care of by someone else, the people paying (generally) know how much incidentals cost at that hotel. If burgers are $25, they know it. Glasses of wine you actually want to drink might cost $17. They’re probably aware of that. But they also know how much the high-end items cost. If you spend $1,000 on breakfast and dinner in two days, that might trigger a red flag.
During this particular “direct bill everything” trip, though, something stupefying happened.
“I don’t want to make the company mad and charge too much stuff to their account,” one of my colleagues said.
“So don’t,” I said. “Just be reasonable.”
Then they paid out of pocket for their own very modest meal. And it wasn’t anything extravagant. He bought, like, an appetizer sampler platter and a couple of Old Fashioneds. We’re talking maybe $65-ish. (Keep in mind these are hotel prices in a major city downtown market.)
If this person ordered steak, market-price lobster, and a bottle of 2017 Duckhorn Cab, that’s different. Especially if they did it every night.
But this generous company insisted on paying for (what I perceive as reasonable) charges. Let them. (Then, of course, there are companies who don’t see the difference between Manhattan, New York, and Manhattan, Kansas. Commiserate in the below Comments section.)
Here’s my take: charge and expense items that are reasonable. Meals, coffee, water, snacks — that sort of thing. My blood type is basically Venti Cold Brew (sorry, Live and Let’s Fly). I’ll charge a couple of $6 cold-brewed coffees to the client. Bottled water? Sure thing. A cocktail here and there? If your company or client permits it (or doesn’t explicitly forbid booze), go for it.
They know you’re out of town and need your creature comfort-necessities. Now, when it comes to spa treatments or stuff like that, I can’t say I recommend making a client or employer pay for them — unless you’re specifically told to pamper yourself.
I have no problem charging back something in a menu’s middle price area. But that’s about my ceiling. I’m fine with a burger and fries. Maybe I’ll order a cocktail or two.
Think of yourself as a business owner (if you aren’t already). Then think about how you’d want your employees to behave when you tell them you’ll pay for reasonable expenses. Apply that to your situation. That’ll give you a decent idea of how much to spend on someone else’s tab.
Keep in mind that itemized receipts and folio can quickly become rumor mill fodder. (“Such-and-such ordered how many drinks that night? Did they pick up someone at the bar — again?!”)
Just be smart about what you buy. Don’t take the privilege for granted. After all, you want this company to continue employing you! Or, at least, send you out again on trips.
Traveling for business can truly be a wonderful thing. It might be a great way to see the world (or, at least, the country in which you live!) on someone else’s dime. But how much of that dime can present interesting situations.
What are your experiences and guidance about travel expenses?
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