As I mentioned Wednesday, I spent last week away from work and home at a conference in Florida (Agile 2017, specifically). Being away and seeing the spending habits of my co-workers made me reflect on travel for work. It seems that there are two schools of thought when it comes to work travel, and I wanted to see where you – my readers – stand.
The question is this – do you still make it frugal when someone else is picking up the tab, or do you splurge on the companies dime? Lets debate.
The Argument For Splurging on Work Travel
Most of my co-workers are solidly in the “splurge” camp. They don’t think twice about spending on things reimbursed by the company – parking, taxis, food, and so on. Some of them in fact think of the limit on expenses like food to be a challenge – how close can they get to the reimbursement amount without going over? I know at least one person who loves it when they get company – paid breakfast and lunch (say at a training event) because then they can spend the entire daily reimbursement amount on just dinner.
There are some solid arguments for spending more on work travel than you might on a personal trip. For example – things like taking a direct flight can be in the companies interest because they lose less productive work time if you’re traveling non-stop. If you’re taking a flight with two or three connections instead, the company is likely losing quite a few hours of productivity. If you’re highly paid, the extra cost for the non-stop flight can be easily outweighed by the benefit of your additional hours of productivity. Also, staying in a decent hotel close to where you’re going to do business can help you work more efficiently.
Don’t forget, your company (especially if a large one like mine) is likely getting some good price breaks from their preferred partners. So you staying at a certain hotel, taking a non-stop flight, or renting a car probably costs your company less than it would cost you to take a personal trip. Usually your company will also put limits on what you can buy – specific hotels, certain rental car companies, caps on food expenses – so whatever splurges you do make will be company-sanctioned and approved.
Making Work Travel Frugal
Even though it’s possible to spend a ton of money, there’s also plenty of places where you can save money. You can buy food at a grocery store, for example, or bring snacks from home. You could take that less-expensive flight with a layover. Or you can get a hotel that’s farther from where you’re doing business/attending a conference, but costs significantly less. Instead of parking in the airport parking garage, you could park in the lot farther away – or have someone drop you off at the airport.
I believe a lot of folks who work for non-profits are familiar with frugal work travel-more through being forced than through choice. I’ve often read on one of my favorite work sites, Ask A Manager, about non-profit workers and teachers doing things that we in the corporate world might be slightly horrified by. Like sharing a hotel room – fortunately usually with someone of the same gender. Or driving excessively long distances crammed in a car with a dozen other people. Being forced to select the cheapest flight possible, even if it means a four hour layover and three connecting flights.
Even if you don’t take it to an extreme, there are certainly ways you can make work travel more frugal-or at least not excessively expensive. Not renting a car if you’re going to be in a place where you can take a taxi/Uber, for example. Parking your car in a less expensive lot, but one still within reasonable distance of the airport. Buying inexpensive meals and not running up to the maximum food budget.
I haven’t even touched on the ways you can run up personal expenses while traveling for work. Souvenirs is one area you could save – I was just at a conference in Orlando, believe me you could spend a lot here alone. Sometimes those of us with kids feel bad about being away so long, so we try to make it up to the kids by picking them up something new. If you’re traveling to Orlando, you could also “swing by” the theme parks – or perhaps do some gambling while in Vegas at a conference. If you have time, you could also see the city you’re staying in before or after the days you’re working. Suffice it to say that you can take a work trip and make it pretty pricey, if you’re so inclined.
My Take: Frugal Work Travel vs. Splurging On Work Travel
Before I give you my take, I wanted to share something I once read in “Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office” on this subject. I read this years ago but it stuck with me ever since.
In one of the chapters, the author shared the story of a “nice girl” traveling for work whose flight was delayed until 2 AM or so. She was fretting about calling her husband to pick her up at the airport at that hour, because she didn’t want to spend the money on a taxi. The author said that this was an example of “being a girl”, because a man wouldn’t hesitate to spend the companies money in that way. I’ve always wondered if this was true – if there was a gendered aspect to how people choose to spend their companies money while traveling for work. I’d love to see some hard data on this question.
I’d put myself squarely leaning toward the frugal end of the scale. I cringe whenever I see how other entities rip off companies. I’m looking at you, conference-charging for parking after charging so much for the conference is a little excessive, hmm!? And when I see co-workers booking dinner at Morimoto because they got a free breakfast & lunch on the company, it makes me wince. Let’s not forget my other co-workers who booked flights – yes, flights – from CT to PA. These are not executives, because if they were, they’d be taking the corporate jet. Ride the train, people!! It’s more fun, more relaxing, and less expensive than flying anyway.
But that doesn’t mean that I’m making my husband pick me up at the airport at 1 AM, either. I take non-stop flights so I lose the minimal amount of work and personal time to travel, and I eat out for breakfast/lunch/dinner more often than I do at home. I actually am very picky about food, though, and much prefer doing some grocery shopping and cooking myself where possible. Most hotel/restaurant food is just frankly not good.
Top five reasons I tend more toward the frugal when traveling for work:
- Spending too much money gives me hives (figurative ones, anyway)
- Eating out sucks. Sure, there are some great and fun places to eat out once in a while. But eating at the hotel because you’re too tired to go out, or buying sub-par food every day, just plain sucks.
- Spending money on work travel is annoying. The more you spend, the more complex your reimbursement request is when you get back. Frankly I’m dreading submitting mine from the past week and I’ve been procrastinating all week long.
- Excessive spending is a bad example. Spending too much on work events and work travel is something that I’ve seen as almost contagious. If one person takes the plane, and not the train, everyone else decides they should fly too. If someone’s going to an expensive restaurant, others will tag along. “Everyone’s doing it”, so it should be fine – right?
- Excessive spending is wasteful. This is one of the key ones for me. Sure, “the company” makes plenty of money. BUT where did that money come from? Our customers. People worked long and hard for the money they paid the company with, and I want to respect that.
I hope this doesn’t make me a “girl” or anything like that (although it’s been a few decades since someone called me a girl).
What’s your philosophy about traveling for work? Do you try to spend right up to the limits given by your company? Do you drive instead of fly, deal with layovers, and have your spouse pick you up at the airport? Let me know in the comments – then pop on over to Twitter and answer my poll on Frugal vs. Splurge so we can collect some data!
Be sure to follow my blog for more great posts via e-mail or WordPress, or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter and say hello! You can also check out what I’m buying or baking on Instagram, what I’m pinning on Pinterest, or the latest books I’m reading (or want to read) over on Goodreads.