As you may know, running this site isn’t all that I do. I also have a full time job, and that job sometimes requires travel. Unfortunately, I don’t have a corporate credit card for charging my travel expenses. I do, however, get reimbursed (within limits) by my employer – though I have to track and turn in the requisite documentation.
Unfortunately, I often end up scrambling to find and assemble the necessary paperwork, and then get it turned in on time. I’ve been working to improve things, though, and I thought I’d share some tips for making travel reimbursement easier.
Know what’s allowable
For starters, it’s very important to understand what can and cannot be reimbursed. While this may seem obvious, there are some subtleties to be aware of. For example, when it comes to meals, is alcohol allowable? In many cases it is, but for some employers, it’s a no-no. And what about dollar limits? When traveling for business, do you have an open checkbook, or do you need to keep your meals under a certain dollar amount?
Know what sort of documentation you need
Another important issue what sort of documentation is required. For example, do you need to turn in receipts for your meals, or can you simply claim a per diem amount? And if you are required to turn in receipts, will a charge slip suffice, or does it need to be an itemized receipt? It’s not uncommon for a restaurant to leave you with a charge slip instead of a detailed receipt, so you may need to ask.
What about copies vs. originals? Or using credit card statement in place of a lost receipt? Some employers are more flexible than others, so be careful not to lose anything essential – which bring us to…
Track and annotate your paperwork
Once you know what’s allowable, and how to document it, you’ll need to actually keep track of your receipts and other details while on the road. In the past, this has been my downfall. I’ll start accumulating receipts in one spot, but over time (especially on longer trips) things get spread around. I’ll end up with some things in my wallet, and others in my pocket, on the hotel dresser, in my computer bag, etc.
To combat this problem, I’ve started creating a dedicated envelope that I put in my computer bag and each night I go through my wallet, pockets, etc. and put everything in the envelope. This works pretty well, though you have to have the discipline to actually use it on a regular basis.
Another good idea is to annotate your receipts with any information that you might need later. For example, if you need to indicate who was at a particular meal when dining with clients, jot that info down while it’s still fresh in your mind. If you don’t, you’ll wind up spending way too much time trying to reconstruct that information later.
Oh, and you might also want to get into the habit of snapping a photo of each receipt with your smartphone. If your employer will accept copies, this picture might take the place of a lost receipt. And even if they won’t accept it, the picture will serve as a reminder of what you’re owed, and help you figure out which receipts may have gotten lost and need to replaced.
Submit your request promptly
And finally… You need to make a point of requesting reimbursement as quickly as possible after you return home. Obviously, you don’t want to make an interest-free loan to your employer – wouldn’t you rather have that money safely back in your own savings account? And more importantly, you need to do this because it will allow you to hunt down any missing details before they’re lost forever.
Maybe you’ve mis-placed a receipt. If you wait too long, you may forget about it entirely, or be unable to get a replacement. Likewise, if you’ve failed to properly annotate any of your receipts, as suggested above, you’ll be more able to fill in the gaps if you tackle this task while it’s still fresh in your mind.
Your tips for travel reimbursement
Okay, those are my four major tips for simplifying the process of travel reimbursement. What about you? I’m sure that a number of you are professional road warriors, so I’d love to hear any tips that you might have to offer.