More than ever, companies need to have a travel policy in place to protect employees and keep costs in check. Whether you are creating a policy from scratch or updating one to fit the current climate, here are some topics that should be covered in your guidelines.
Travel risk management
Especially now as traveler safety and well-being come under sharp focus, companies need to have a travel risk management system in place. We suggest devoting an entire section of the travel policy to this topic and clearly spelling out what steps travelers should take to keep themselves safe as well as what the company is doing to help protect them. Guidelines should touch on how booking in policy can keep them safe, who employees should reach out to if they have an issue on the road, what they should do if they fall ill during a trip, and where they can find the latest safety and health advisories regarding their destinations.
This part of the policy should explain how employees can book trips – whether it should be done through the travel management company’s (TMC’s) booking tool or another platform – as well as any parameters you wish to set in regard to costs and destinations.
To keep closer tabs on where employees are heading, some companies have moved to a mandated booking policy in which travelers must book their trips using the company’s approved tools – not directly with the providers or online travel agencies. This way, all itinerary details, including hotel data, are captured and easily retrievable if an emergency arises. In addition, such a policy allows the TMC to seamlessly and proactively provide service for the full, end-to-end trip.
You also may wish to define “essential vs. nonessential” travel to prevent unnecessary travel as well as specify acceptable reasons to travel (e.g., client-facing trips vs. internal trips).
Travel requests/pre-trip approvals
Another way to avoid unnecessary travel, especially to high-risk destinations, is to implement a pre-trip approval process. This entails employees submitting a travel request to an approver, usually a business unit leader, to confirm the appropriateness of each business trip and sign off on it before travelers can make their reservations. Be sure to outline which pertinent details travelers need to include when making trip requests, such as the destination, dates of travel, the purpose of the business trip, and estimated costs.
If your company has special corporate rates with select travel suppliers (airlines, hotels, car rental agencies, etc.), explain to employees in the travel policy that it’s vital they book with these suppliers to maximize savings.
Even if you do not have such agreements in place, you still may require employees to only book with airlines, hotels, and car rental agencies that have company-approved cleaning and safety standards and prohibit them from booking accommodations where hygiene standards haven’t been vetted.
In addition to encouraging employees to book with the company’s preferred airline carrier(s), the policy may require employees to only book from travel providers that offer flexible cancellation policies and refundable rates in case plans change quickly. Guidelines for how to take advantage of unused airline credits to optimize spend also should be included.
To keep costs down, you also can implement rules on what kind of cabin class employees can book. For instance, what circumstances, if any, can a traveler book business class? Does this extend to all business travelers or just your top executives? And when can travelers book premier economy over economy?
The travel policy should also spell out which amenities (such as checked luggage, meals, and in-flight entertainment) are and are not covered by the organization.
In addition to driving employees to book with preferred suppliers whose safety and health standards your company has vetted, travelers should book accommodations that offer flexible cancellation policies. In today’s environment, travel plans can change at a moment’s notice.
You also might specify that employees only should book standard rooms and which incidental expenses – such as in-room Wi-Fi, room service, valet parking, late checkout/early check-in fees – and hotel dry cleaning, are reimbursable.
If offering rail as an option, spell out when employees may book business class vs. coach or express vs. regional.
There also should be guidelines in place on how travelers should get from Point A to Point B once they arrive at their destination. To reduce risks, many companies have been moving toward taxi and ridesharing services and advising employees to avoid public transportation – even if it isn’t the most economical option.
Some companies also are allowing travelers to rent cars to minimize person-to-person contact. For rentals, denote the class of vehicle employees can procure and how other costs, like fuel, tolls, and parking, will be covered. Be sure to include details about auto insurance coverage and information on whom to call if a traveler gets into an accident.
Per diem expenses
You’ll need to inform employees what their daily allowance is for meals, gratuities, and incidental expenses. Many US companies base them on the per diem guidelines set by the General Services Administration for US cities and states and those established by the US Department of State for foreign countries.
You also might spell out in this section any guidelines for entertaining clients. This may include safety considerations when meeting a client out and what fees the company will cover.
Payment and reimbursement
This part of the policy should explain how travel costs should be paid for — whether through a centralized corporate account, the employee’s own personal credit card, or a mix of both. Also detail how travelers should submit their expenses for reimbursement, including what kind of forms and receipts are required, the deadline for submission, and the length of time it will take to be reimbursed.
You also might outline the scenarios in which a traveler will not be reimbursed, like when they make out-of-policy choices.
Want to learn more about what you can do to bolster your travel program?