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I work in the IT field and I just started working at a new company. One of the requirements of the job (which I view as a positive benefit) is to travel around the world handling client migrations.

The amount of travel was made clear during the interview process. What was not brought up was that I would be responsible for handling my own travel arrangements including the upfront cost of travel and lodging expenses. Travel is 25% of the job, and includes mostly traveling to the other side of the world for a week or two at a time. A plane ticket will be around $3000-$4000 and a week's worth of lodging around $1500. I was told that expenses checks usually come within a week after being submitted.

This was brought up as a side note that it was the way they did things and that was it. My issue, is that it is A LOT of money for me to front, plus I don't have any credit cards (nor do I want to get one). Also, I feel with the money I make, that they could justify me having to pay it upfront. This was a big career move for me, and now I am worried.

Is it normal for a company to have these requirements? If so, what should I do if I simply cannot afford it?

  • The travel is new for me. It was also brought up after I started. There has been some helpful advice within this thread on how to approach things. – BriGuy Mar 24 '14 at 20:42
  • Be aware that if you do manage to get a corporate credit card, you still have to pay it off with your expense reimbursements. If you fail to submit expenses and get it paid off promptly, the credit card will charge monthly interest...which you will have to pay, not the company. – user1602 Jan 25 at 11:55
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It's not necessarily "normal" to handle travel expenses this way, but not unheard of either. I've been with companies who managed all travel arrangements internally, companies which provided an internal self-service interface that employees could use to arrange their own travel (restricted to preferred providers/companies, etc.), and companies which had employees arrange travel themselves and then provided reimbursement after the fact.

As much as you may not want to, the best way to deal with your current situation is to get a credit card with a limit high enough to cover your anticipated costs (or AMEX charge card). Submit your reimbursement claims promptly, and pay the balance off in full each month. Try to get a card that earns points when you use it; you'll rack up a ton.

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    Agreed. If they aren't giving you a corporate credit card to use, then this is your best bet. From what you've said about timing, it sounds like you should get the reimbursement around the time you need to pay the bill, most of the time. – Monica Cellio Mar 23 '14 at 3:33
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    Another nice thing is that if you use a card with benefits (miles, points, etc), doing all this business travel could net you some nice perks. At my office we have the option of using a company card ($10k limit) or using our own cards when booking travel. I tend to use my own and keep the company card for emergency expenses at my destination should my personal cards be stolen or otherwise compromised. – phoebus Mar 23 '14 at 17:32
  • You could also apply for a business visa for only business expenses, and ask your company to co-sign. – DevNull Apr 26 '17 at 11:50
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There was a time in the USA when bigger companies issued special vinyl called an Air Travel Card that could be used to book tickets. But when the travel agency model collapsed, that collapsed too.

Some US companies issue vinyl to frequent traveler, but it's a tough game for the companies. I've been in two companies where dishonest executives misused company credit cards. (One rascal put his kid's university tuition on the card and refused to repay it, and got away with it.) So, this practice is on the wane in the US.

Some bits of advice for you:

First, GET TO KNOW the person in accounting who handles travel reimbursements. Go to her or him (probably her) and politely ask for advice: "I'm new. What do people do when this travel is a big stretch?" I bet she's heard this question before, and has some answers. Just having the relationship will make things work better.

Second, ask if they ever issue travel advances. Most accounting systems have a scheme where they'll front you some of the travel money if you ask for it. This is NOT an offensive question, even if the answer is no. If they do issue advances, once in a while request one, before an especially costly trip.

Third, see if you can get one of those ordinary green American Express charge cards. Those cards were designed for business travelers; they don't have a credit limit but you have to pay them off every month. Use it only for business travel. Submit the yearly fee as a travel expense. If they won't pay, pay it yourself.

Fourth, if you will spend a lot of time going through US airports, spend the money to get access to the first class club ("Red Carpet Club" etc) of the airline company you will use the most. It's worth it: Their checkin desks, concierge services, lounges, and special reservation telephone lines will make your life much easier. "Road burn" -- travel related exhaustion -- is a real thing, and this will help you avoid it. If you can claim membership as a travel expense, do so. But in any case it's worth it.

Fifth, if you stay in a particular US hotel a lot, leave a modest tip for the housekeeper. What goes around comes around. If you're known as a generous guy the staff will take care of you.

Happy trails :-)

8

You don't say what part of the world you live in, so keep in mind my answer is from a North American perspective.

Yes, in my experience that's a completely normal way to do things. You would get reimbursed before having to pay the credit card bills (of course it comes off your credit limit, so for the sort of person that keeps their credit cards close to the limit it might be inconvenient). Some workplaces might give advances, but I think an employee who traveled great deal would not expect that. If the company goes bankrupt, you could conceivably get stuck with the bills as an unsecured creditor, depending on the laws where you are, but it appears they don't make a habit of that for ordinary employees.

A week to pay approved expense claims is pretty reasonable. I do know of one consulting company that does millions of dollars in travel, and they have a central booking for airfares, and they take discounts and so on, but the employees are responsible for paying everything else and claiming back items that are eligible for reimbursement (be sure you know in advance what the exact policies are with regard to this).

I honestly can't see how you could consider that amount of travel without multiple credit cards. You would otherwise have to make cash deposits to check into hotels or rent cars, and purchase of air tickets with $4,000 cash would likely attract the unwanted attention of authorities. You might have to carry huge amounts of cash to cover unexpected medical expenses until your insurance kicked in (you are going to get insurance, right?). Even a brief medical issue requiring hospitalization can cost thousands of dollars, even in relatively cheap countries, if you want to go to the good facilities that ex-pats use, and they will usually want payment then and there.

You can bet that your company will not want to reimburse cash that you lose or have stolen, so having credit cards protects you, in most cases, completely.

You could ask about getting a company credit card, but I doubt that is going to happen. Perhaps you should reconsider whether this position is right for you, particularly if it's going to be difficult for you to get credit cards with appropriate credit limits in a short period of time. A possible solution might be to use debit cards, but you would still be out the cash.

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    I appreciate your input. I don't plan on traveling/buying things with wads of cash or anything like that... I can use a checking card when needed. I \expect to pay upfront for meals and general travel expenses. My issues is more for things like airfare and hotels for 1-3 weeks at a time. I feel like having an employee front $3-5K to travel should be brought up during the interview process as well. Switching jobs again isn't something that can easily be done in my field either. There are also multiple reasons people don't want to use/get a CC, besides limits or ability. – BriGuy Mar 22 '14 at 3:54
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    It's seriously normal for employees in the USA to have to buy their own plane tickets and submit an expense claim? Damn, I have never heard of any Australian company (even tiny companies of a couple of dozen employees) behaving that way. That sounds absolutely crazy. – Carson63000 Mar 22 '14 at 11:26
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    @Carson63000 Many employees see this as a benefit as it gives them a lot of control over their travel itineraries and also can get them member benefits (miles, points, cash back, etc) when using their own credit cards. My company used to book everything separately and require company cards, and in general folks are a lot happier now that we can book our own travel. – phoebus Mar 23 '14 at 17:35
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    @BriGuy Financial advice is a bit off-topic here, but I would highly encourage you to get a credit card or two even if you only intend to use them sparingly. Using them on a limited basis will help build credit for you, and having them for emergencies can be very helpful. In the US your credit score is often unbelievably (and some would say unjustly) important to your ability to live the sort of life you want. – phoebus Mar 23 '14 at 17:38
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    One data point- I was asked to travel with an employee of a company to meet with a couple of their suppliers- the company policy was as the OP indicated, and I was okay with that, but the employee balked, so the company coughed up $10 or $12k as an advance. It's more work for the accounting folks, but if they will do it, it can work out. – Spehro Pefhany Mar 23 '14 at 17:44
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I'm not sure why you don't want to get a credit card. Getting one and using it ONLY for this purpose would make your book-keeping and expense-claiming so much simpler. If you already had a card, I'd be suggesting you get a second one to use for this. Back in the day companies would sometimes arrange for the corporate Amex account to issue cards in employee's names, with the rule that the card was NEVER to be used for any personal expense. I guess that stopped happening over the past few decades, but you can simulate the effect by getting a card you use only for this. If you get one that gives cashback or points or the like you will probably get value back from it that equals the annual fee. You may also get a more pleasant travel experience - lounge access, free checked bags - or other side-effects you weren't expecting.

You basically have everything to gain by getting a card like this - keeping it paid off and never missing a payment will improve your credit rating, the online statements will help you remember everything you charged as part of a trip, and cardholder benefits may be useful to you personally. I don't know what is keeping you from getting one, so in the absence of that knowledge I can just wholeheartedly urge you to get one.

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    Some people have issues getting a credit card (past history for example). Others are simply completely opposed to the idea and "credit rating" is not something they care about. – NotMe Mar 23 '14 at 21:52
  • getting one you only use for corporate travel is almost like not having one in terms of living within your means and only buying things you can already afford. – Kate Gregory Mar 23 '14 at 22:20
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    I agree with you; I just personally know a lot of people that are absolutely opposed to them and would sooner change jobs than be forced into it. – NotMe Mar 23 '14 at 22:44
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It is not at all uncommon for companies to operate on the basis of reimbursing submitted expenses rather than issuing a cash advance

I'd suggest that you ask whether it's possible to get a company credit card. That would satisfy your goal of not having a personal credit card, yet let you avoid having to tap into your own savings. And in some cases using a company card may (or may not) reduce how many receipts you need to retain and turn in.

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I have worked for an organization working that way (not a company and not in North America). Most of the time, employees would arrange their travels themselves, pay with a credit card and get the money back afterwards.

But it was also possible to submit a “claim” beforehand with an estimate of the costs. Once the travel was approved by my manager and the form had made its way through the administration, I would get an advance (up to x0% of the estimated cost) either as actual cash or as a bank transfer. Maybe something like that could be possible where you work?

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I'm surprized that nobody suggested that you speak with a company representative and explain your situation - maybe they can offer an advance for the first trip(s), until you manage to put some money aside to fund subsequent trips.

On a note, I think you can travel cheaper then that. I don't know what destiations you exactly have in mind, but you can find (relatively) cheap tickets online, and stay in bed-to-breakfast (you can find those for cheap online as well). It would still be at least a couple of thousands, overall.

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