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I'm being relocated to a different country in a few weeks. As part of the package, the company pays for 4 roundtrip flights (travel time is around ~20 hours) in business class (so I can travel back and forth from home country). This amounts to about $30,000 USD.

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 :) )

Figure the answer is no for a variety of reasons, but wanted to pose the question.

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    Is that 4 flights per year or 4 flights for the duration of you being an expat? – Michael Karas Feb 5 at 10:59
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    Are you willing to consider reallocating to some other relocation expense (like shipping of your personal belongings, pets, housing expense, utility deposits, etc)? – Keeta Feb 5 at 12:03
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    please post answers in the answers section. OP: i think it's a "benefit", how was it communicated? when company told you about relocation, was there negotiation session? – Oct18 is day of silence on SE Feb 5 at 16:44
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    Have you actually flown 20 hour flights before?? Or are you merely speculating that the experience must surely be bearable? – Harper Feb 5 at 21:00
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    A 20-hour flight in business is completely different than in economy. You may need several days to get back to normal routine after 20-hour flight in economy, and that is not considering difference in timezone. It could be that your employer wants you to get to work faster than taking a few days off because you are tired from the long flight. And that's why they are paying etc. EVERYONE knows that business class travel is expensive. – Farhan Feb 7 at 20:18

13 Answers 13

170

There's no harm in asking, but you probably shouldn't be expecting them to allow you to take a cash alternative.

The chances are that they're paying for business class flights because they want you to be able to get off the plane at the other end in a fit state to start working and not because it's a luxury perk.

My suggestion is to make the most of it, because dealing with the jet lag/travel fatigue after a journey of that length is going to be grueling enough.

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    there is harm in asking he might end up flying economy (becasue he has said he is willing to) but not get any benefit in return – jk. Feb 5 at 10:57
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    I agree with @jk. - and even if - by chance - you got some money this time, the company will consider whether they'll keep throwing you "bonus" money for the flight, or just pay you (and perhaps everyone) economy to start with. If they wanted to give you a bonus, or give you a higher wage, they'd do so. What they want to do here is make your trip more pleasant, so you're fit and in good shape when you get there. – Aaa Feb 5 at 11:12
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    @Fattie I joined this stack just to say that my company's policy is that if the flight is over 11 hours long it gets bumped to business class, but the employee can choose to stay in economy class and they get half the difference saved given to them as a bonus. So there is a chance :D – LCIII Feb 5 at 14:34
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    What will definitely make you feel better about taking the business class trips instead of risking asking for cash is that you can also consider the mileage you're going to get as an extra bonus here. 4 20-hour roundtrip business class flights is probably enough to get you to diamond-tier class (assuming the typical ranks of silver, gold, diamond, executive) on any airline (or very close) and at least one, probably two free economy trips to a nearby destination. That's probably worth a few thousand in cash by itself. – Conor Feb 5 at 15:44
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    @jk It's extremely unlikely that they'd use this as an excuse to downgrade his flights without any benefit in return. Think about it logically; there'll be a company policy as to which flights all employees are entitled to under their circumstances and that's not going to change as the result of a single inquiry. Rather, he's asking if there's also a company policy that would allow him to downgrade his flights in exchange for some of the money. Other companies are known to have such policies and the worst that can happen is that he finds out that his doesn't. – Matthew Barber Feb 5 at 22:18
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I am pretty sure that those 4 round trip flights would be considered a business expense. However, if your company paid off your student loans this would not be considered a business expense. There are tax implications.

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    The company would likely not pay off the student loans directly, they'd probably just pay the money to the employee as a bonus. Salary and bonuses are business expenses, just like buying flights, so I don't see how that would make any difference to the company. Of course, OP will not get the full 30,000$, because of taxes, withholdings etc. – sleske Feb 5 at 6:55
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    Ok, but that's not what you wrote :-). There are probably no tax implications for the company, just for the employee. – sleske Feb 5 at 7:44
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    @sleske Obviously this is location dependent but in many jurisdictions (UK, US etc) there certainly are tax implications for a company in paying wages vs paying business expenses. – motosubatsu Feb 5 at 9:13
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    @sleske it does vary quite a bit by jurisdiction, but for example in the US there's things like FICA, in the UK there's [Employer's NI ](en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Insurance). In some scenarios it can be cheaper to pay money as bonuses/wages rather than paying for the product/service expense directly – motosubatsu Feb 5 at 9:43
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    @sleske yes they could subtract it from the amount and essentially pass the "cost" of it on to the employee, which I now realize you said in your first comment, apologies I had somehow missed that one! – motosubatsu Feb 5 at 9:56
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There are reasons why your company might want their employees to fly business class instead economy class:

  • They see a business value in ensuring that their employees are relaxed when they arrive at their destination, because they believe that it will help them to work better.
  • It's a prestige thing. They want to show everyone that they care about their employees and that they can afford it, so they insist on having them fly business class.
  • They might have a deal with the airline which gives them a bulk discount on business class flights, so they don't actually save any money by having you fly economy.

So you can offer to them to fly economy class, but they might have good reasons to deny the request.

  • Prestige thing is pretty much a good idea. It is a good opportunity to network with present and possible future customers. – Rui F Ribeiro Feb 5 at 22:33
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    You also wont get bumped off a flight in business class... – vikingsteve Feb 6 at 14:21
  • +1 for mentioning bulk – Andrey Feb 6 at 21:15
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precedent for asking that money to be reallocated

YES. I have heard of at least two companies that offer Business Class as an entitlement on long haul flight but will give the traveler a fixed amount bonus if they book into Economy. Meaning, Business -or- Economy + $1000.

The only thing OP needs to do is ask their Manager is such a deal exists. The bonus will likely be taxable.

Please, let's stop assuming OP is trying to scam the company. Also, it's likely the amount is notably less than $30k due to contracts, rebates etc.

If there's a company rule that says Flights > X get Business class, then that's just what happens. They understand the cost and are prepared for it.

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    Who said anything about the OP trying to scam anybody? – David Richerby Feb 6 at 22:11
  • @DavidRicherby There's two Answers, now way down the list, which allude to potential fraud. I Answer right behind them. – Johns-305 Feb 6 at 22:33
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  1. The flights may have been pre-ordered and you're simply using them up. They're not paying any extra.

    Some businesses that require many frequent travel will order a block of tickets between their sites so it can be expensed ahead of time, so as to not fluctuate their monthly expenses. They're not going to give the money to you, but will simply use it another time.

  2. They need you to work without any extra downtime.

    4 flights at $30,000 USD are long flights. After 20 hours in economy, I'll be surprised if you can even walk, nevermind working the next day. Just because you can handle economy, doesn't mean there will not be a cost. The business wants you to work for them after the flight with as little downtime as possible. If you're important enough to fly you there, your work must affect many people.

  • The business expects you to work for the entire duration of the travel. Every minute of the flight and every minute of lounge time. – Fattie Feb 5 at 12:52
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    @Fattie Normal working hours and sleep still apply. If that wasn't true, my employer would just book whole Amtrak trains and shuttle them across the country for no reason. – Harper Feb 5 at 20:56
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    @Fattie I find it unbelievable that any employer would expect an employee to spend an entire 20 hour flight working. Many (most?) would expect you to be reasonably productive during that time, but I seriously doubt any would expect you to put in 2.5 work days non-stop just because you're crammed into an aluminum (or carbon fiber) tube at 39,000 feet. If your boss expects that, maybe you should consider a different employer. Worse, if you expect that of your employees, maybe that's why they're looking for a different employer! – FreeMan Feb 6 at 13:31
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    @Fattie Considering that the book-end flights are (as I read it) the flights to relocate, not just come back to the mothership for a meeting or two, I would imagine that they are giving the OP some time to actually relocate. Even if they are providing the housing, it takes time to pack up and unpack for a relocation - it's not like he's working off-site for a week. – FreeMan Feb 6 at 13:34
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    @Fattie maybe I (fortunately) haven't done enough business travel, but "delightful", "spacious", and "luxury" are not words that have ever described any of my work-related travel. – FreeMan Feb 6 at 13:47
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Usually the business will have set aside that amount for a reason. Buying business class flights is only done in my company when the employee is expected to fly long haul, and still be able to work the following day (so to minimise jetlag). With a 20 hour flight this is probably your case.

You can't lose much by asking to reallocate some of the money, but you are far more likely to be granted something like 8 flights instead of 4 when using economy, than something that doesn't benefit the business in any way. (And as mentioned by other answers, tax/business expenses etc will play into this)

In the past, I've been able to downgrade from business to economy in exchange for an extra conference later that year, not the same thing but shows that it can happen, especially when it benefits the company, & they don't lose any money.

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    One company allowed using the money for spouses to fly to visit the employee. – Keith McClary Feb 5 at 22:19
5

You might consider asking for an economy class flight and a "relocation bonus" which would be a cash payout - the difference between the business and economy class ticket prices. You might couch the question something like this:

Hey boss, I've got some expenses that I'll have to deal with during the relocation. I greatly appreciate the offer of the business class tickets, but I'm willing to fly economy if I could get that extra money as a "relocation bonus". It won't end up costing the company any more money than they're planing on paying out anyway, and this way it will help me out a bit more.

By saying "during the relocation" you're not explicitly tying the money to the relocation itself, only things you'll be paying for while you're an ex-pat. Some may consider this splitting hairs, but you are not actually claiming it's a relocation expense. Whether you consider this a reasonable hair-split or not is up to you.

Of course, the cash payout to you would be recorded as income (as any employer paid bonus would be) and would have the tax implications tied to it that your regular salary would, as well.

4

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.

  • Saw that coming. That was always compensation, and they always owed income tax on it. This is part of OP's problem, he hasn't thought through the tax consequences. – Harper Feb 5 at 20:54
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I wouldn't ask because 1.) it's quite improbable (for reasons already said in other answers) and 2.) they might decide to fly you in economy class instead without giving you extra cash (already mentioned in a comment) and you really do not want to lose that privilege for 4 20 hour flights.

2

I'm more than content flying economy and was wondering if there was any precedent for asking that money to be reallocated

Contrary to other answers here, I'm going to say near enough an outright no.

They won't be able to give you a cash alternative for all manner of reasons (processes likely not in place for it, tax implications, additional admin time spent processing an odd request, etc.)

So the outcomes, realistically, of this scenario will be the following:

  • Either you mention it, they say no, and nothing changes;
  • ...or you mention it, they think "hey, this guy's happy to fly economy, that'll save us a few bucks", and you end up flying economy for a 20 hour flight with no additional compensation. Many companies have policies where you can volunteer to fly economy to save them money, and I suspect this is the camp you may unwittingly land in.

Needless to say, that means it's a question not worth asking in my book.

0

To answer specifically the question about whether there is precedent for reallocating the money: Yes! For example this company offers a service for employees to receive gift cards in exchange for choosing less expensive travel options, equivalent in value to about 50% of the costs saved. (Note: I am not affiliated with this company, I just happen to know people who have used their service.) Obviously gift cards are not quite as good as cash, but with careful planning you can probably take advantage of them to save on things you would have bought anyways, making them almost equivalent to cash. So what I would recommend is asking your company to look into starting a program like this -- it may actually save the company quite a bit of money in the long term!

Assuming your trip is coming up fairly soon though, you probably don't have time to actually implement this right now. Something to keep in mind for next time though!

0

How is this being paid? Are they paying for the flights directly? Are you receiving a stipend?

If it's a stipend you are already getting what you are asking. If not I don't see any harm in asking for the stipend but also wouldn't be surprised if they deny that request. I would also expect them to want to break it up if it turns into that. No company wants to pay a full stipend in advanced for the potential loss of your employment in the future.

If you receive that stipend it will be taxed and included on your W-2

I receive a stipend every 90 days for my flights (14 hour international). So, anyone saying you'd have difficulties with that time frame can easily be wrong. I ALWAYS get economy and occasionally i'm 'bumped' up to business class.

-7

is there any precedent for re-allocating that money?

Yes, quietly reallocating funds is sometimes done in order to scam money out of a company or government by unscrupulous employees or groups of employees, sometimes in much more imaginative ways than this.

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    Aren't you jumping to conclusions? OP never spoke of "quietly reallocating". If they ask their boss and the boss agrees, I don't see any scam, unless the boss is violating some company rule. There's no law against paying an employee extra money :-). Of course, OP should not e.g. try to divert the money that pays for the flights or something shady like that. – sleske Feb 5 at 7:01
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    @sleske OP asked for precedents, can you think of any other precedents? If you can feel free to make your own answer. I'm not advising anything, just answering the question posed. – Kilisi Feb 5 at 7:16
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    Actually 'a precedent for asking that money to be reallocated'. Asking for that money to be reallocated is not 'quetly reallocating'. – mcalex Feb 5 at 9:17
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    I could imagine, you are writing this to point out why it is not possible in a sarcastic way. If you could rewrite it as "A company cannot do this, because quietly reallocating would suspect them of shady tricks to move money around" this could become a valid answer. In this way it sounds like you try to suspect the company to actually do this instead of reasoning that they avoid this and probably do not want to change their very correct behaviour. – allo Feb 5 at 9:28
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    @mcalex depends if they ask quietly or not ;) – Kilisi Feb 5 at 9:35

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