Okay, I admit it. I know at least 10 ways I could save the company money on my travel expenses -- but I don't always use them.
I have my reasons, however, and I think they are good ones. I hope the company's accountants agree.
Reports from across the country indicate that many corporations are trying to cut back on the amounts they fork over for business travel. As a good employee, I try to do my part to keep my expenses in line. But sometimes, I'll admit, I'm not as careful as I might be if I were handing out my own money. Probably there are lots of business travelers like me who spend more than they should.
These aren't outrageously excessive expenditures I'm talking about. My company doesn't authorize first-class or business-class airline seating, so like any dutiful employee, I fly economy class.
Nor do I want to suggest there is any expense account cheating involved. Cheating is altogether different, such as when business travelers ask to be reimbursed for something they never bought. Maybe you claimed you dined with a client in an expensive French restaurant, but all you really had was a hamburger at a fast-food stand and you ate alone. Anyone who does this is on shaky ground.
No, my claims are legitimate. I paid the money. But sometimes I have spent more than was really necessary. If you supervise expense accounts, you may want to read on so you know what folks like me are up to on the road -- and why. Maybe you won't be so tough on us as more cutbacks are adopted.
If you are a business traveler, this account may help you learn where you could trim a little -- occasionally -- from your expenses.
I could save money for my company if I:
Put gas in the rental car before I returned it. When you rent a car, the clerk usually advises you to turn it in with a full gas tank; otherwise, you will have to pay an expensive refill charge.
Do I heed the clerk's advice? Not often. For example, on a recent visit to Sarasota, Fla., I drove a National rental car for 90 miles, using only about a quarter of a tank of gas. I never even considered topping off the tank. When I returned the car, National imposed an $8.55 refill fee, based on a rate of $2.19 a gallon for the nearly four gallons of gas I used. If I had refilled the car myself, I would have saved the company about $4.
My excuse for this and other similar lapses: I'm often in a hurry to get to the airport, and I'm generally in an unfamiliar city. I might miss the plane if I took the time to search for a gas station.
Phoned from a pay phone in the hotel lobby. Many hotels impose a surcharge on phone calls made from guest rooms -- often for local numbers and the information operator as well as long-distance calls. If you have to make a series of business calls, the cost can mount up quickly.
At the Hyatt Hotel in Sarasota, a notice next to the phone in my room informed me that local Sarasota calls would cost 75 cents each and that the hotel's charge for each long-distance call was 75 cents plus 20 cents a minute. I made one very short long-distance call from my room, thereby adding at least 75 cents to my hotel bill. I would have saved the company that 75 cents if I had phoned from the lobby.
My excuse: In a big hotel, the lobby can be a five- or 10-minute trek from my room. The in-room phone is closer.
Watched my diet the way I do at home. The temptation to overindulge is hard to resist when someone else is paying the restaurant check. At home, I seldom have desserts or wine with dinner, at least on weekdays. But I often order both when I'm on the road, thereby increasing the amount of the check by as much as $10.
My excuse: Business travel can be lonely. Sometimes all it takes is a piece of key lime pie to cheer me up.
Took the shuttle bus into town from the airport. Here's where I could save the company a bundle. Most big-city airports offer some form of public transportation, such as shuttle buses, from the airport into town. I usually take a taxi, however, which may double or triple the cost of the trip to town.
For example, a taxi ride from Washington Dulles International Airport to downtown Washington costs close to $30. The Washington Flyer, a bus service operating between Dulles and the Capital Hilton Hotel, charges just $12 one way.
My excuse: I'm often in a hurry to meet someone, so I don't want to take the extra time to wait for the next bus.
Checked out of my hotel on time. On rare occasions, I have paid extra to keep my hotel room past the regular noon checkout time. Some hotels add only a modest charge if you plan to depart by late afternoon; others may ask for the full rate for an additional night no matter what time you leave.
Actually, I have been guilty of this indulgence only a couple of times -- and only when I have been faced with a long flight home and the plane wasn't leaving until evening. For example, overnight flights to the United States from Rio de Janeiro don't depart until 9 or 10 p.m. I kept my room in Rio until it was time to leave for the airport. I was able to rest and freshen up before the flight.
My excuse: In the tropics, I needed it.
Made my plane reservations early enough to take advantage of advance-purchase savings. I'm not as guilty of this as some of my business traveling friends and associates. Though they know well in advance when they are flying, they procrastinate. And then they end up charging their company for a full-fare ticket.
The difference in the price between an advance-purchase ticket and a full-fare ticket, purchased at the last minute, often can amount to hundreds of dollars.
The drawback to buying a ticket well in advance, of course, is that you may be forced to pay a substantial penalty -- up to 100 percent on non-refundable tickets -- if your travel plans change.
Always stayed in budget lodgings. Days Inn is one of several major U.S. hotel chains that offer clean, comfortable lodgings at modest prices. It has properties in most major cities drawing business travelers. And yet, when I can justify it, I prefer to upgrade myself into something a little fancier. The fancier hotels often have fitness centers and lap pools, and they may be more conveniently located.
In Sarasota, the Hyatt, located near the city center, charges $110 a night for a single room. At Days Inn, not far from the airport entrance, the rate is $35. I had business in downtown Sarasota recently, so I checked into the Hyatt. Business travelers frequently are confronted with such decisions. I suspect most would make same choice as I did -- that is, if their company is picking up the tab.
My excuse: Convenience. (The fact that the Hyatt had a water view and the Days Inn looked out upon a busy highway played no part in my decision.)
Avoided valet parking at the airport. Valet parking is a luxury I manage to get along without -- usually. But one afternoon, I arrived at Dulles in a heavy rainstorm that showed no intention of letting up. Since I didn't want to soak the clothes I was wearing -- they had to last me for a couple of days -- I pulled into the valet parking lot. An attendant took my car, and I made a short dash into the terminal. When I returned a couple of days later, my car had been retrieved and was waiting. What efficiency, I thought.
But the service costs, and it showed on my expense account. The valet parking rate at Dulles is $15 for the first 24 hours and $9 a day thereafter. Had I parked in the satellite lot, the cost would have been $5 a day, a substantial savings. But I felt that the rain justified the extra cost.
Safety is another consideration. Travelers, especially women, who know they will be returning to the airport late at night should consider using valet parking -- with their employer's full blessing. The lots can be huge and located well away from the terminal.
Made do with the hotel's free breakfast. Some hotel chains, particularly the all-suite hotels, offer a complimentary buffet breakfast as part of the room rate. You may get a continental breakfast -- juice, pastries and coffee -- or a more traditional breakfast of eggs, hotcakes and sausage. Neither choice appeals to me, so I seek out a restaurant where I can get the breakfast I want, thereby boosting my travel expenses by $10 or so a day.
My excuse: My breakfast is healthier.
Tipped less generously. In private life, I tend to tip on the generous side -- 15 to 20 percent for waiters, 15 to 20 percent for taxis, $1 to $1.50 a bag for porters and bellhops and $1 a night for the housekeeper. I don't tip any less when I'm traveling on business.
My excuse: If I can do it, surely the company can afford to also.