A travel policy is something every company – large or small – needs to have. They make life easier for those who have to deal with the admin of business trips. Whether it’s an office manager, PA, or general travel administrator, a business travel policy is a crucial document that will help streamline the process of booking employee travel.
But what is an employee travel policy?
In a nutshell, an employee travel policy is a collection of procedures and rules for any employees traveling for business. Usually a business travel policy will outline whether or not flights must be economy or business class, how much notice needs to be given before booking a trip, and if there are any extras that can also be reimbursed.
Before you balk at the word ‘rules’, let’s clarify that travel policies aren’t meant to be scary or to restrict anyone. By having all the procedures and expectations in one place, you can significantly reduce confusion for those employees who have to travel while also ensuring their safety by including any insurance information or emergency contact information.
Having an employee travel policy in place benefits both the company and its staff. Procedures are clearer which means things are fair for all employees, and it can reduce extra unnecessary costs.
What to Include in an Employee Travel Policy
When creating your business travel policy, have a discussion with other stakeholders to get a firm idea of what the policy should include as standard and any other items that might help. Getting the finance team, admin team, and CEO or COO involved is a good start, but talking to any staff who frequently travel will give you insight into what does and doesn’t work.
Once you have your team together, decide how much freedom employees will have when it comes to business travel. Many employees, despite having a business travel policy in place, will search for cheaper deals themselves. In fact, a report by Expedia showed that 69% book outside their policy in order to find their own deals.
Will you allow employees to do this and then get reimbursed, or would you rather have them book through a business travel platform with pre-approved rates? Will another designated member of staff such as the office manager do all bookings on behalf of staff or will staff find their own options and get them approved for booking?
Another thing to consider is how strict you’ll be with the rules of expenses and reimbursement. There are a few ways to set out guidelines for this. For example, you can have a detailed and itemized list of what can and can’t be expensed, or you can set a spending cap for anything outside of travel and accommodation. This decision really depends on how strict company management wants to be on costs.
Remember to keep your policy updated once it is created. You don’t want out-of-date information going out to any employees, especially if it might concern any changes to insurance.
With all the initial decisions made, you can move onto curating the different sections that your business travel policy will need. To make this easier for you, we’ve put together an employee travel policy template for you to use.
Employee travel policy template
Below are what we have identified as the most common sections to include in a business travel policy, but there might be some company-specific things you want to put in too.
1. Introduction to the policy
In this section, write a short intro for staff to outline what the policy is for and who they can contact with any questions.
Make it clear that the policy is there for their convenience and also their safety, as well as to save time on admin.
2. Approved procedures
This is the place to clearly outline how staff can book their business travel. If you are using an business travel booking tool, give a brief outline on how to use it and what other information they can find on there. If you’re not, then detail what the procedure is for booking – i.e. Getting a trip approved with the necessary people before getting to the booking stage.
If there are any frequent flyer programs or if you’ve decided to allow leisure extensions to a trip, write in your procedures here. For example, any stipulations that go along with leisure extensions (extending the business trip by using vacation days) such as pre-approval with a certain manager or member of staff. It’s also wise to make it clear that any expenses incurred in the vacation day extension are the responsibility of the employee and not eligible for reimbursing.
3. Categories for reimbursement
This will be the longest section of your employee travel policy as it’s where you need to get really specific about what staff can expense. We advise splitting this clearly into further sections of Transport, Accommodation, Food and Drink, Miscellaneous (i.e. company cellphone usage).
Your transport section will need to cover all modes from flights to trains to taxis. If there are any special allowances – like staff over a certain height being able to choose the extra legroom seats on airplanes – make sure you include these. Do all flights and train journeys have to be economy class? Will flight changes and/or cancellations be covered by the company? Are taxi/Lyft rides capped at a certain amount?
For employees who will be driving on the trip, whether in a rental, personal or company car, be specific about how to expense for gas. For rentals, perhaps set a cap on what employees can spend to keep unnecessary splurging under control – we’d all be tempted by a sports car but it’s not the most economic transport on a business trip!
If you already have a list of pre-approved hotels or hotel chains, include this here. If you don’t, or the trip will be in a city where you haven’t yet discovered appropriate hotels for the list, provide some guidelines so that employees know what to search for. Also include any additional costs that the company will cover such as Wi-Fi fees, tips, breakfast or parking.
You can also include information on non-hotel accommodation such as direct apartment rentals or Airbnb bookings. Costs for these types of accommodation are always fluctuating so perhaps you’d like employees to get the bookings signed off first, or set a spending cap.
It’s common for business travel to involve some interaction with clients, so make sure to factor potential entertainment costs here rather than preparing only for the cost of one employee going out to dinner. To avoid things getting out of hand, a cap on the reimbursable amount per person is also a good idea here.
4. Non-reimbursable items
You can keep this one nice and simple, unlike section three. Just compile a list of things such as minibar snacks, parking fines, or in-flight purchases that the company will not reimburse. Here are a couple of other ideas:
- Dry cleaning
- Paid-for upgrades of flights or hotel rooms
- Loss of personal items
- Excess baggage fees
- Child or pet care
- Luxury car rental
Talk to some of the frequent travelers in the company as well as any senior stakeholders to determine what is fair to exclude from reimbursement.
5. How to submit expenses
This can be an optional section – if you do use a business travel booking tool, then employees don’t need to submit any expenses separately as they can often be done through the tool. However, if you’re managing everything in-house then you’ll definitely want to have a streamlined procedure to minimize having to juggle too much.
Be clear who expense requests must be sent to, what the deadline is, and what information needs to be included. For example: receipts, the date of the transaction, the purpose of it (such as a client lunch) and the amount.
Also let employees know the time frame for reimbursement and how the amount will be paid back.
6. Support and safety
This is another section where you’ll need to be very specific and concise. Outline your health and safety procedures as they relate to employees away on business, and make sure to include information about travel or medical insurance. Employees should have access to any travel insurance documents they might need while away.
Ensure your employees know they have your support even when they aren’t on site. Just because they’re not in the office, doesn’t mean they aren’t still part of the team! Give them phone numbers and hours of operation for whichever employee they can call with questions during their trip as well as the appropriate contact details for your insurance provider or duty of care vendor.
Because mishaps happen, also include guidelines on what to do in the event of a missed or cancelled flight, or issues with hotel bookings. Extra safety precautions include making sure office-based personnel know where the travelling employees are expected to be (hotel or accommodation address and flight times) for the duration of the trip.
Building your employee travel policy
A small business travel policy may be as simple as a PDF document that staff can access any time and use to help them book their own trips, but if you’re a larger company with many employees expecting to travel then automating your travel policy with a business travel booking tool is a smart step. There are many companies that offer this, such as Lola.com, and it will help streamline the business travel booking process. Flights, lodging, expenses – everything is conveniently logged in one place.
Now that you’ve got an employee travel policy template to work with, you can start crafting it. Customize it to the needs of your company and its employees and make sure that you have all relevant travel insurance information ready to hand. If you’re going to have employees pick their accommodation from a pre-approved list, take plenty of time to curate the list and keep it up to date with accurate rates and locations.
When the new and improved business travel policy is ready, roll it out to the company as a whole and be sure to invite feedback from staff. This will help you understand what employees value most in a travel policy and will enable you to make beneficial improvements.
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