Sunday, April 27, 2008

Modernizing association travel policies

Business travel for officers and staff is both a time commitment, and an expense. With all the travel difficulties and new extra costs imposed by airlines and hotels, do your volunteers a favor and spell out the costs you know they are likely to be confronted with - and relay if they are covered as business travel or not. My personal opinion is these are such inconveniences, or potential for an ounce of convenience, that should be given.

If you consult, may be good to spell out to the hiring organization that you do consider these standard costs for business travel expenses.

1. Extra bag charge - $25 for a second bag with some airlines. With business trips sometimes lasting a week, a second bag may not be unusual.

2. Unexpected airport hotel costs if flights canceled. If due to weather, the airline will not cover. You and/or your officers may be at a flight-connecting city. Explain how much of unexpected airport hotel costs may be covered.

3. Leg room seats - my personal annoyance, and I'm an average height. Often about $39 for seats with legroom now; and recently read that airlines may start charging extra ("minimal costs") for aisle and window seats towards the front of the plane.

4. Stand by seats, changing flights - sometimes possible to get earlier flights guaranteed for $25-$100 the day before; or able to change ticket for additional rate. Those extra hours can make a huge difference to productivity. We ask everyone to book tickets far in advance for lowest rates, which can be a problem if when the time gets closer there is a need for different dates. If it's a return flight that needs a change, sometimes it's cheaper to do an AirTran, JetBlue or Southwest new one-way ticket than to rebook with a penalty; sometimes fares have dropped and there's no penalty; or sometimes it just makes sense to book a whole new ticket and use the $50-$100 penalty on another flight you or your officer might need to do.

5. Day rate when red eye flights - hotels sometimes offer ability to keep room late into the afternoon or into early evening for extra cost. Makes a huge difference to have a place to work, relax, pack late, shower, etc. rather than sitting at an airport for 6-8 hours with nowhere else to go or dragging a suitcase to dinner because don't want to have to go back to hotel before leave for airport. Can be as low as $50, or higher. But if you don't have an extra day to lose by waiting for a morning flight to travel all next day, this may be really helpful. An alternative is the $50 day rate charged by airline lounge programs for those who don't already have access to them. At least gives comfortable seats for hours and other benefits (snacks, drinks, television, business work areas, electrical outlets, etc.). Plus the best of the airline ticket agents work there if you find you need to change tickets due to canceled or delayed flights.

6. Internet costs - many hotels still charge $9-$15 for in-room wireless or wired access. I can't imagine how anyone can travel on business without having to do their real job at night, and this remains important "standard" feature in my opinion. And no, going to the lobby to use free wireless is not reasonable option.

Adding $200 - $300 to each trip as "miscellaneous" travel expenses should cover whichever of the above might be needed. In many circumstances, none of them will be needed - but it's important to show your volunteers that you respect what they're giving up to travel on behalf of your organization by having travel policies that spell out recognition of the wide range of nuisance (or convenience) fees they could very well encounter.

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