Would You Pay for Business Travel Upgrades Out of Your Own Pocket?


By Robert McGarvey


New research via Travelport slapped me upside the head so hard I  thought of Mo Howard and believed I was having a Three Stooges moment. Except, apparently, this is reality.

According to Travelport, 55% of us will pay for travel upgrades out of our pocket. This includes better seats on planes, WiFi, and hotel rooms.

The research also underlined how we have in fact become a nation of wimps where 69% of us say we always comply with our organizations’ travel policy. Another 26% say they “frequently” comply.  Meaning that just 5% commonly go rogue.

Color me mistaken.  In the past I have laughed at airline beliefs that we’d pay for seat upgrades – I am apparently wrong.

(I was right, though, in railing that we had become a nation of wimps. Sigh.)  

As for what we told Travelport we’d pay for with our own dough (or frequent flyer miles), 49% said a better airline seat.  52% said a better hotel room. 50% said upgraded hotel WiFi. 50% said upgraded rental cars. Only 19% said there’s nothing they would pay for.

How about you?

I’ll admit I have occasionally used miles to buy upgrades – but I’d earned the miles flying for a specific client and was doing another trip for them and have decided to spend some of those miles for a business class seat.  Taking the sting out of this is that I know the CEO and I know he complies with his company’s coach only policy – but he pretty much never flies coach because he too spends miles. He’s also United Premier 1K so the airline gives him plenty of perks.

But he didn’t ask me to live by rules that don’t apply to him so I have been okay with spending miles on trips for him.

But I can say I have never spent money – mine or a client’s – on an upgraded hotel room (they are fungible to me) and I have never spent money on a rental car upgrade.  Never.

As for hotel WiFi I rarely use it – I consider it hideously unsafe and use cellular hotspots instead – so I’m not buying an upgrade on that.

My policy – going back to my earliest days on business trips and taught me by my bosses – is that if it is legitimately travel related the company should and will reimburse.  If it’s not, forget about it. And there isn’t a lot of gray in that equation.

In those days you could and should bill for a copy of the Wall Street Journal bought at the airport. But not for a Playboy or Mad Magazine.

I also can only think of one time when a client challenged a travel expense and, honestly, I had carelessly passed on a receipt to a secretary who had typed up my invoice. Not her fault. My fault and the client was right to challenge it.

But when it’s needed for work, the employer or client needs be paying for it.  No questions about that, so my policy is to push back against policies that defy my principles.  

Usually, too, my experience is that these are easy wins.  Ask and you get.

A lot of us apparently are no longer asking.

A sliver of good news in the Travelport data is that 90% of us say we are permitted to keep miles and rewards points we earn on business trips.  And I do wonder about the 10% who apparently kick them back into their organization’s coffers.

Also, many of us now use airport expediting services.  43% are in TSA Pre. 33% are in Global Entry. 31% are in Clear.

Often, employers paid for such services.  Just 17% said none of them. (15% said they belonged to none. It’s not clear if many of those 15% work at organizations that don’t reimburse.)

29% said employers reimbursed for TSA Pre. 28% say similar for Global Entry.  23% said likewise for Clear.

Every employer should pay for one such service for employees who travel on business. That is blatantly obvious to me.

A hot button question in the research is: would you let your employer use GPS tracking to monitor where you go when traveling on business?

Understand: it doesn’t bother me that Google knows where I go (I am a Fi subscriber). It also doesn’t bother me that many rental car companies now use GPS tracking.  

But 25% of us say we would definitely disagree with an employer policy of using GPS tracking on us. Another 21 % say they would “somewhat disagree.”

28% like the idea. 17% “somewhat” like it.

Talk about divided opinion.

As for me, I’m not going to take a position on GPS tracking for others. I am okay with it on me. But I won’t insist others think likewise.

It’s a gray area.

But in my mind there should be no divided opinion – no gray area – about reimbursement for business travel related expenses. If it’s a legit business expense the company needs to pony up.




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