As you may know, running this site isn’t all that I do. I also have a full time job, and that job sometimes requires travel. Unfortunately, I don’t have a corporate credit card for charging my travel expenses. I do, however, get reimbursed (within limits) by my employer – though I have to track and turn in the requisite documentation.
Unfortunately, I often end up scrambling to find and assemble the necessary paperwork, and then get it turned in on time. I’ve been working to improve things, though, and I thought I’d share some tips for making travel reimbursement easier.
Know what’s allowable
For starters, it’s very important to understand what can and cannot be reimbursed. While this may seem obvious, there are some subtleties to be aware of. For example, when it comes to meals, is alcohol allowable? In many cases it is, but for some employers, it’s a no-no. And what about dollar limits? When traveling for business, do you have an open checkbook, or do you need to keep your meals under a certain dollar amount?
Know what sort of documentation you need
Another important issue what sort of documentation is required. For example, do you need to turn in receipts for your meals, or can you simply claim a per diem amount? And if you are required to turn in receipts, will a charge slip suffice, or does it need to be an itemized receipt? It’s not uncommon for a restaurant to leave you with a charge slip instead of a detailed receipt, so you may need to ask.
What about copies vs. originals? Or using credit card statement in place of a lost receipt? Some employers are more flexible than others, so be careful not to lose anything essential – which bring us to…
Track and annotate your paperwork
Once you know what’s allowable, and how to document it, you’ll need to actually keep track of your receipts and other details while on the road. In the past, this has been my downfall. I’ll start accumulating receipts in one spot, but over time (especially on longer trips) things get spread around. I’ll end up with some things in my wallet, and others in my pocket, on the hotel dresser, in my computer bag, etc.
To combat this problem, I’ve started creating a dedicated envelope that I put in my computer bag and each night I go through my wallet, pockets, etc. and put everything in the envelope. This works pretty well, though you have to have the discipline to actually use it on a regular basis.
Another good idea is to annotate your receipts with any information that you might need later. For example, if you need to indicate who was at a particular meal when dining with clients, jot that info down while it’s still fresh in your mind. If you don’t, you’ll wind up spending way too much time trying to reconstruct that information later.
Oh, and you might also want to get into the habit of snapping a photo of each receipt with your smartphone. If your employer will accept copies, this picture might take the place of a lost receipt. And even if they won’t accept it, the picture will serve as a reminder of what you’re owed, and help you figure out which receipts may have gotten lost and need to replaced.
Submit your request promptly
And finally… You need to make a point of requesting reimbursement as quickly as possible after you return home. Obviously, you don’t want to make an interest-free loan to your employer – wouldn’t you rather have that money safely back in your own savings account? And more importantly, you need to do this because it will allow you to hunt down any missing details before they’re lost forever.
Maybe you’ve mis-placed a receipt. If you wait too long, you may forget about it entirely, or be unable to get a replacement. Likewise, if you’ve failed to properly annotate any of your receipts, as suggested above, you’ll be more able to fill in the gaps if you tackle this task while it’s still fresh in your mind.
Your tips for travel reimbursement
Okay, those are my four major tips for simplifying the process of travel reimbursement. What about you? I’m sure that a number of you are professional road warriors, so I’d love to hear any tips that you might have to offer.
4 Responses to “Travel Reimbursement Tips”
If your employer reimburses you using per diem rates (in which you are reimbursed a flat amount based on your destination, regardless of what you actually spend) then you don’t *need* to keep careful track of all expenses and receipts. But a few years ago I started tracking my actual expenses, subtracting those from the reimbursement amount, and putting the surplus (if any) into my goal-oriented savings accounts. I used to just let it disappear into my general funds, but now I “reward” myself for not spending too much.
I do the same each night on travel: collect all receipts for that day and put it in an envelope. In addition, I take the largest receipt (physically longest) and wrap all the other receipts from that day into that longest one; then I write the date on the back of the roll.
That way, I don’t need to sort through dates on receipts during submission and its very clear how much I spent on food or travel etc on a given day.
One thing I’ve found, to my pleasant surprise, is that almost all hotels, airlines, etc. can e-mail or fax you a receipt after the fact if you can’t find your original. My company, thankfully, doesn’t require a receipt for meals that are under the allowable amount. (Overages require receipts and justification.)
Also, try to sign up for as many hotel / rental-car / airline programs to receive receipts by e-mail as possible. Nothing to lose, and it’s all waiting in your inbox for you.
Oh, and for those who don’t travel frequently, but do have a corporate card — find out what the inactivity cut off is. The card company may deactivate your card without warning, and leave you scrambling to get it turned back on. (I got bitten by this on my last trip.)
I will agree with those and add another: if your company will reimburse you for your travel expenses, this is an excellent way to rack up points, cash back, or miles on a credit card. You will be receiving the money back from your employer, so it is fair game to filter your expenses through a rewards credit card, and reap the benefits. Be careful though, that you pay the full balance off before you are charged any finance charges. Sometimes, your reimbursement might take longer than the billing cycle for the credit card to come back to you. If played correctly though, this could be an excellent way to rack up some points!