The MacNair Travel Leadership Blog

Are Incidental Travel Costs Impacting Your Overall Travel Expense?

Posted by Mike MacNair on Oct 1, 2015 12:00:00 PM

incidental-travel-costsIt’s interesting to see the changes and upgrades in the travel management business over the past 20+ years. One trend that continues to evolve is the shift from “travel management” to “travel and expense management.” As online booking tools are integrated with automated expense reporting, travel expenses now include a variety of costs that need to be appropriately managed.

The big ones – air, hotel and car - are already integrated into the travel budget. But what are the other incidentals that are changing how you manage and communicate expense reporting, and more importantly, are these expenses defined in a way that makes it easy for both travelers and the finance department to track?

A good first step in answering this question is to define what is considered the best value and best practice for the myriad of expenses that are part of each and every trip. Often we find that there is little or no specific direction on the value expectation for things like parking fees or laundry services. Once expectations are defined on specific items, decision-making for travelers becomes seamless and expense reporting highlights the savings.

What are those substantial expenses that can add up? The following list serves as the perfect starting point of discussion to be sure these expenses are addressed in your corporate travel and expense policy.


It’s a must have for travelers, and it makes life easier for everyone involved in the travel industry. It can also be expensive, depending on where you are and how you use it. Should travelers be using Wifi service? If so, what’s the price limit on paying for Wifi service? Is cell phone usage completely covered, even if Wifi is free? Will your traveler need fax or copy services, and if so, is this addressed in your expense categories? Once these specifics are addressed, your travelers can make better informed choices on how and when they use technology.

International travel

This is an area where expenses can add up quickly, as travelling internationally poses a number of unique challenges. Effectively managing your international travel and expense budget is critical to the success of your travel program. Pre-trip planning is also key, and the following questions need to be considered.

  • Are the above items with regard to technology especially important for your international traveler? According to a 2014 report put out by Visage Mobile, one in 50 companies gets hit with a $15,000 roaming bill every month from their international business travelers. That’s painful for the bottom line.
  • Is your traveler’s healthcare status approved and up-to-date regarding appropriate immunizations? Depending on where your traveler is spending time, immunizations can be costly. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) lists vaccines needed for travel, like Hepatitis A can cost between $30 and $100 per inoculation.
  • Is there the potential for a security risk, and if so does a security firm need to be procured for travel?
  • What about traveler’s insurance – is this appropriate when travelling internationally?
  • Is there a fee to exchange money, or to use an ATM?
  • What about a cost for appropriate documentation such as passports or work VISAs?

Take time to research and gather the appropriate information to make expense reporting easy for your international travelers.

Transportation and meals

Many travel and expense policies include specific direction about transportation and meals, but with app options like Uber, it is imperative to consider the choices that are available for your travelers. 

Recently I was researching the registration fees and additional costs for a conference that I would be attending, and noted that to park at the conference’s convention center was $46 per day. I had to ask myself, would it make more sense to simply take a cab from my hotel instead of renting a car? Is your business traveler wondering about this question or about valet parking and tipping?

Meals are another expense that can get out of control quickly. Are meals automatically reimbursed, or do you offer a per diem? Is there an appropriate expense policy for entertaining business clients or associates? These are the types of questions to consider, and if there’s not an appropriate policy in place on these issues, unnecessary expenses can be incurred.


The cost of checking bags at the airport is well-known, but does your policy have a statement on how many bags can be checked? How about your business travelers who are attending a trade show or have additional materials for a presentation. Are these extra expenses accounted for when deciding how and when they will travel? Does it make more sense to ship trade show displays instead of taking them with you on the plane? Is storage a necessity for your traveler? If so, is that available at the hotel/conference center or is there a need to rent a storage facility?

Additional considerations

Depending on where you’re headed and for what purpose, the following items should also be addressed in your travel and expense policy.

  • Local Assistance – such as guides, interpreters, stenographers and administrative support.
  • Laundry Services – provided by the hotel? Picked up? For how much?
  • Meeting rooms – rental fees, equipment fees and with whom are you meeting.
  • Registration and attendance fees.
  • Entertainment other than meals – concerts, award ceremonies, etc.
  • Surcharges - required resort fees, energy fees, etc.
  • Airport lounges – when is this appropriate? Is this for all staff or just executives? Just international travelers?               
  • Emergency purchases.

As you consider this list and other possible expenses that may arise, address them with your travel squad and/or the executive team and talk about how this can be incorporated into your travel and expense policy. Then be sure there’s a plan in place to communicate this to your business travelers, and ask for their feedback. In addition, recommend preferred suppliers as needed, and talk through the best value for your business, based on expense data, and the appropriate process to track these expenses.

Effectively addressing and creating a system that makes it easy to report these expenses will bring your travel and expense budget back in line with expectations.

Travel Policy Workbook