I'm more than content flying economy and was wondering if there was
any precedent for asking that money to be reallocated (the first thing
that comes to mind is paying off my student loans :) )
There is precedent for this: operation slam dunk.
In 1994, the National Basketball Association employed 54
referees....The travel expenses for referees were to be reimbursed by
the NBA once a travel report was submitted. The NBA paid for a first
class airline ticket for flights lasting longer than two hours and a
full fare coach seat on flights shorter than two hours. In turn, the
referees were permitted to downgrade their first class tickets and
pocket the cost difference. This was considered a fringe benefit of
the position and a way to supplement their income. The NBA did not
withhold taxes on this income or report it to the IRS and the referees
did not declare this income on their tax returns considering it a
fringe benefit provided by their employer.
In 1989, the IRS introduced new regulations that required an
arrangement like the fringe benefits supported by the NBA to be
reported as income. However, during the introduction of these new
regulations, the NBA and the referees association were locked in a
bargaining period over a new contract. During the negotiations the NBA
changed the rules frequently which resulted in an unclear process on
how to report the income causing many referees to continue the fringe
benefits as they had in the past...
...In 1993 the IRS received a tip that the referees were not declaring
the airline ticket money as income resulting in the IRS launching
"Operation Slam Dunk." On September 12, 1994, the IRS announced its
investigation and notified more than 50 referees that they were part
of a criminal tax investigation.
In the end they had to pay back taxes, interest and penalties.
The point is that you can ask, but even if they say yes there will probably be tax implications for you. Many companies will not do this becasue of the additional paperwork on their end, and the need to determine what the true cost of the tickets would have been. They also don't want to make this the normal business practice.