Travel Policy Anatomy 101
A travel policy is a daunting thing. Editing an existing one is the sensation you’ve forgotten something from your grocery list to the nth power and writing one from scratch is like plotting out an epic. Let’s dissect the elements of a policy. It’ll lower your stress levels.
Overall, a policy exists to direct a traveller, both in the making of travel arrangements, and how to spend during the trip itself. The policy should address most if not all relevant points which fall under those two categories, which is frankly quite a lot. A good way to approach the subject is by listing the various services a traveller may need.
First, you’ve got the various methods of transportation: air, rail, car, and forms of public transit. Second, there’s lodging. Third, there’s meals, entertainment, and other expenses. Outside of these services but still relevant are contingency plans and procedures for emergencies.
Duty of Care
Now’s where we talk duty of care. It might seem like a strange time to bring it up, but your responsibility for your employees’ safety applies to every element of the policy. From this point forward, each part of the policy should vocalize any duty of care justifications for certain behaviours. Likewise, if you come across a section of the policy that doesn’t seem to adequately address your liability, you might have a hole to patch up.
First off, you have an umbrella that covers everything: approval. An approval structure that makes sense balances efficacy, logistical reason, and responsibility. For the company at-large, it’s important that potential travel be properly screened. Is this trip necessary? Could alternative methods accomplish the same goal? Efficacy and logistical reason apply to both the would-be traveller and the supervisor, manager, or executive put in the position to approve the arrangements. Whether the traveller’s itinerary requires approvals at multiple junctures in the booking process depends on company culture, the upside being heightened control on spending, and the downside being inefficiency and a perceived lack of trust in employees. Whatever you decide is appropriate, make sure the proper approval channels are clearly delineated in your policy.
Pre-trip education is another thing to consider. If the employee in question is new to business travel, they might benefit from general tips and tricks on packing or navigating an airport. If the destination country has different business customs or etiquette, a package of cultural material could be useful. At the very least, direct your travellers to travel advisories, like those on travel.gc.ca for Canadians.
How to Book
Notice that many of the services a traveller needs can be booked in advance. What channels are your travellers permitted to use for booking? If you work with a travel management company, you probably have an online booking tool or portal. Be sure to provide contact information and hours of service, for help with complex bookings or other complications. Are travellers allowed to use external booking services? If so, how will you fulfil your duty of care responsibilities? Many travel management companies use traveller tracking services, so you might want to emphasize that booking through them is mandatory, for that reason and others, such as discounts, reconciliation, and flexibility.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Now let’s get into the individual kinds of transportation. It’s said (by me) that you can travel a hundred miles for a dollar or ten-thousand dollars, depending on how you want to get there. Air, rail, and car rental bookings should all specify what class of seat or vehicle is permitted. Consider that for different lengths of travel, different classes of seat may be advisable. The concept of reasonability should be introduced here; a flight with four connections and a twenty-hour layover may be the cheapest, but for a slight increase in cost, a much more reasonable option is almost certainly preferable. Often, travellers will want to benefit from their various airline loyalty programs for their business trips, and while some booking tools allow this, one best practice is communicating that selecting an airline solely for points is not permitted. As an aside, trains are often an underrated alternative to flights for domestic travel. Consider recommending rail travel for certain accessible destinations.
Ground transportation introduces some fun new stuff to think about. Which suits the trip best: taxi/rideshare, shuttle services, rental car, public transit, or personal vehicle? The context of the trip specifics usually makes the choice significantly easier. If the traveller is going to a conference taking place in their hotel, they can forego car rental and take a shuttle, taxi, or public transit from the airport. If the stay is longer and there will be multiple meeting-places some distance from the hotel, a rental car becomes preferable. Car rental booking is often included in your travel management company’s online portal, meaning it can be booked in advance along with airfare and lodging. The most important thing to make absolutely clear with car rental is whether the traveller should opt for insurance or not, as well as clear information on the subject of accident claims and deductibles. When choosing between shuttles, taxis, and rideshare services, the policy could recommend that the traveller decide based on relative cost and practicality for that trip. Public transit will almost always be the least expensive option, however, some systems being better than others, considerations should be made with regard for efficiency and safety. For trips where the traveller makes use of their personal vehicle, make a mention of the risks involved, as well as whether the driver is compensated for their gas expenses or mileage. Lastly, mention whether parking charges and tolls will be reimbursed.
Lodging next. Like airfare and car rental, if hotel reservations can be made through your dedicated booking tool, push it. One way to do so is to state rather simply that bookings made outside this channel will not be reimbursed. You may have preferred local hotels at a given destination with your travel management company. Make sure to emphasize that these are preferred, unless fully booked or rendered impractical due to the destination particulars. Are travellers permitted to order room service or make use of their mini bar? If internet access is not provided, will travellers be reimbursed for any charges they incur? Can travellers use laundry services?
Food and Fun
Meals and entertainment can be particularly ambiguous, as their reasonability can be hard to determine. Some policies describe an exact daily budget for meals, with any expenditure over the limit paid out of pocket. Others encourage travellers to use their own judgement. Somewhat similarly, consider whether your travellers are entitled to a roaming package for their cell phone, depending on the requirements of their trip.
Emergency procedures should be in place for issues with travel registrations such as cancellations, medical accidents or problems, and general emergencies, such as a lost passport, assault, natural disasters, or political unrest. Travel emergencies should be within the scope of support of your travel management company, who in most cases will have a dedicated agent team for such situations. Medical emergencies will most likely fall under the jurisdiction of your insurance provider. Finally, large scale general emergencies would necessitate contacting an emergency consular service for your country, such as Global Affairs Canada for Canadians.
As for post-trip information, describe how and when expense reports are to be filed, and how reimbursements are handled. Decide whether the traveller is accorded a day off following the trip, if the destination was international or if the return journey took place late at night, for instance. Specify also whether employees are eligible to extend their trips for personal vacations.
That just about touches each of the various elements of a corporate travel policy. Now that you’ve got an idea of the discrete parts, you can begin to organize your thinking about what policies and models best suit your company’s budget and culture.
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