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A complete guide to travel and expense management
Discover what qualifies as a business expense, what doesn't and how to successfully roll out an expense policy that's easy for employees to follow.
Even if you’ve set up comprehensive guidelines for how employees book their hotels and transportation, expenses from business trips can add up, so it’s important to give employees structure so they know what qualifies as an expense, what doesn’t and how they can be reimbursed for anything they spend when they’re traveling. This will make sure there is no ambiguity around the topic, and that you can control your travel budget. It will also help you gain more visibility when you’re doing your financial planning, because you’ll have more information to allocate the right budget towards your business travel.
What qualifies as a business travel expense?
A business travel expense is any expense that an employee incurs when they’re traveling on behalf of the company. The expense will depend on what sort of business trip it is, and what the company has outlined as in or out of policy. Setting the guidelines for what’s permitted is important, because it makes sure that employees understand the parameters they need to work within, and avoids any confusion when it comes to reimbursement.
What is best practice for travel and expense reimbursement?
Best-practice for travel and expense reimbursement is where the employee gathers physical (or digital) copies of receipts or other supporting documents to show what they've spent during their trip. Employees then prepare expense reports, which are submitted to the finance department. The finance department or approver reviews these reports and decides whether to approve or reject them. Nowadays there are quicker, more efficient ways to do this with the help of expense tools such as Expensify, but the real magic happens when you can integrate your expense tool into your travel management system (TMS) because that means you can store everything in one central place, and gather specific data that relates to travel.
Why is the travel and expense reimbursement process important?
- Finance and regulatory - Having clear travel expense documentation helps the finance teams assess how much is being spent on travel, so they can forecast for the next year, and evaluate whether travel is driving value for the business. It also helps ensure that there is a record of spending for any tax audits or inspections.
- Cost Control - Having a clear policy and a well defined reimbursement process means that the company can keep tighter control of spending for business related travel.
- Policy compliance - A robust travel and expense reimbursement process helps make sure that business travelers comply with the relevant policies. It's in their interest to do so, so they're not left out of pocket if they don't comply with the rules.
Examples of travel expenses:
Below you can find of common business travel expenses, and why they do or do not qualify.
Airfares, train tickets, car rentals, taxi fares or any other modes of transport needed to get employees from A to B.
Hotels or any other sort of lodging needed for the stay.
Three meals a day (if breakfast is not included with the hotel booking). Businesses typically set a per diem allowance for meals based on the destination (for example, your per diem will differ from Bangalore to a city like London where eating out may be more expensive).
|Conference or Event Fees
If the business trip is for a conference or event, employees may incur expenses such as entry fees, or other fees related to attending the conference.
If the business trip involves networking or generating new business, entertaining could be a big portion of the outgoings - everything from a coffee and a catch up to a client dinner could be expensed.
Employees will need to use their phones when they’re traveling for business, as well as the internet, for example accessing google maps when they’re on the go. As a business, if you don’t have unlimited roaming data plans, this will be an extra expense.
If employees need to present at a conference, they would typically expense any printed materials needed for this, or the cost to transport equipment from A to B. For example, architects might travel with their own physical architectural models to present at a client meeting, which need to be transported as “fragile” on the plane.
Anything that doesn’t fit into the above categories, but is an expense that relates to a business trip, for example, parking fees, paying for tolls, credit card transaction fees, visas to enter the country.
What does not qualify as a business expense?
There are some expenses that a company cannot claim because they are non tax deductible, or simply because they go beyond the realms of what the company deems as acceptable for business travel. These include expenses for any partner or spouse to travel with the employee as well as:
How to roll out a travel and expense policy
- Communicate the expense guidelines clearly - Explain why it’s important to have employee cooperation around the travel expense policy - that it makes it fair for everyone, but also helps the business better monitor how much it is spending on travel. Emphasize that expenses out of policy will not be reimbursed.
- Set up a clear structure for reimbursement - Depending on whether you’ve issued company credit cards, or employees need to charge expenses directly to their personal cards, set explicit guidelines for how they should expense and how they will be reimbursed. Getting employees to label their expenses correctly will also help save you a lot of time sorting through and allocating the expense to different budgets.
- Be explicit about the sign-off process - Typically an employee would need to provide proof (usually a receipt) of the business expense, which is then submitted to their manager. The manager checks and then approves the expense.The finance team is then responsible for the final sign off. There are a number of great software solutions on the market that can take the strain out of this process, such as Expensify, Brex and Center.
- Provide a point of contact for any questions or feedback - It’s better for the employee to check whether something is in scope before they make the purchase, to avoid any awkwardness in the reclaiming process. Having a readily available contact, such as the travel or office manager, can help with this.
How Goodwings simplifies expense management for travel
When you choose Goodwings, you can integrate any expense tool of your choice into the platform, which means you can effortlessly see how much is being spent on travel, and capture all the necessary data you need to stay compliant and meet regulatory checks. Here are just a few of the expense tools that you can integrate with Goodwings: