Did you know that one of the things that some job seekers are now negotiating is to what extent they will be exempt from strict corporate travel policies about what can and cannot be expensed on the road? I had no idea, but as soon as I heard, it made sense.
“It’s sort of funny that your travel policy would be one of the things that you might negotiate now as you’re looking for a new job – assuming you have a good track record of success, especially on the sales side,” said Suzanne Neufang, general manager of GetThere, a corporate travel reservations and expense management company. “We’re hearing this is starting to happen, that people are negotiating to at least be in the VIP travel policy rather than the Joe Shmoe travel policy.”
Neufang is also president of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, a trade group for travel managers. Companies, she said, “are very conscious that if you’ve got this onerous travel policy, you can lose talent.” Even with a high unemployment rate, she added, “there is a high need for the right talent, so you don’t want that right talent to walk out the door just because they found a better travel policy somewhere else.”
I have long argued that hard-working business travelers should object to corporate policies that add more burdens to life on the road – like the policy that won’t reimburse for a room service dinner, even if it was ordered by some weary marketing representative who just arrived in Seattle after flying all day without anything more than 3 ounces of peanuts.
It’s no secret that corporate travel policies can be a little, shall we say, squishy, depending on who in the organization is doing the traveling. High-ranking executives and employees who are seen as directly adding to the bottom line usually can get around even the most strictly enforced travel policies.
A report by GetThere says that while business-travel spending has increased this year over last, travel managers across the board are tightening policies on reimbursements for airline fees. Only 78 percent of travel policies, for example, allowed for the reimbursement of a first checked bag in 2011, compared with 95 percent in 2010, according to the GetThere Corporate Travel Benchmark Report. Only 21 percent of policies reimbursed for preferred coach seats, which airlines are now selling aggressively, down from 24 percent a year earlier.
Caught in the middle
In recent years, the revenue from all the various fees added to base fares has become crucially important to the livelihood of airlines. Last year, airlines worldwide collected $22.5 billion from fees, a 66 percent jump in two years, according to research by IdeaWorksCompany, a consulting firm, and the travel technology company Amadeus.
As managers try to sort out all these fees and cogently plan their budgets, travelers are often caught in the middle. Many choices requiring fees are made during the reservations process, but many more – like last-minute seat selection, standby charges and in-flight Wi-Fi – are offered ad hoc during the trip. Travelers themselves can be bewildered by what’s allowed and what isn’t.
“It’s hit or miss,” Neufang said. “Corporations can be very good about communicating what is or isn’t within policy, and some are a little loose about it and leave it to the travelers’ or their managers’ judgment.” But when policy is not clear on a fee, “a traveler has to make a choice as to whether to pay it or not,” even at the risk of not being reimbursed, she said.
As we’re all watching airline fees, hotels are busily adding more of their own extra charges. Hotels in the United States will collect an estimated $1.95 billion in revenue this year from fees and surcharges, said Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean at the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University.
That’s up from $1.85 billion last year – but only $555 million a decade ago, Hanson said. Common charges, he said in a report last week, include “resort or amenity fees, early departure fees, early reservations-cancellation fees, Internet fees, telephone call surcharges, business center fees (that is, charges for receiving faxes and sending/receiving overnight packages), room service delivery surcharges, minibar restocking fees, charges for in-room safes and automatic gratuities and surcharges.”
To that list, I’d add a few. Like the “groundskeeping” surcharge I once had to pay at a resort and conference hotel in Phoenix that had way too many expansive lawns and gardens for a place in the desert, not to mention an emerald green golf course. Or a charge for “bell captain service,” even if you’ve been avoiding bellhops and taking your own wheeled bags to your room.