Creating a travel policy for your company can feel really daunting. You don’t want to just throw something together and hope for the best, but it feels impossible to anticipate every possible scenario. Luckily, we’re here to help.
The truth is your travel policy serves as more than a rule book; it's a guide to better decision-making around business travel and can save you a world of headaches down the road – not to mention help you achieve your business purpose, manage expenses incurred, streamline your approval process and keep your travellers safe. Any way you look at it, having a solid travel policy in place makes good business sense.
Ready to get cracking? Let’s go!
What is a travel policy?
A travel policy is a guide for business travellers that outlines:
- How, where, and when to book (for example, booking at least 3 weeks out can make a big difference to costs incurred)
- Your approved online booking tool (OBT) or platform to manage bookings
- Preferred suppliers for air travel, land travel, and accommodations
- The approval process for out-of-policy bookings (in other words, who gets to sign off?)
- Trip extensions and personal travel
- Expenses and what is covered or not covered
- Reimbursement processes
- Business travel insurance information
- Emergency procedures and contacts
Your company’s travel policy should reflect your company culture and values, be supportive of your travellers and their needs, and protect your company from unforeseen circumstances. It acts as a central document that guides your team through the entire travel journey, from start to finish!
While you might hear a few grumbles and groans around the words “policy” or “process,” don’t worry! A travel policy does not need to be rigid and inflexible.
Do your travellers prefer to book on their own? Don’t take away their autonomy. They can still self-book, you’ll just provide them with a better tool and way to do it more efficiently.
Do your people feel prepared for any event that can cause a travel hiccup? With a travel policy, you’re giving them clarity around what to do when things go wrong – and helping them feel more prepared when travelling for business purposes.
Why do you need a travel policy?
Your travel policy is an extension of your travel programme and company culture. It’s the glue that holds everything together – from approvals, expenses, booking processes, and emergency contacts.
Having a travel policy helps you:
- Control travel costs
- Determine how reimbursement works
- Compile a list of trusted and approved travel vendors
- Manage an employee’s travel experience and safety
- Cut rogue bookings – and simplify approvals
- Budget, report on travel expenses and activity, and reconcile bookings
It’s a roadmap or guidebook that your travellers can reference when they’re booking their own travel or if they run into a tricky situation abroad. Think of it as a safety net – and something travellers can turn to when they’re looking for guidance and clarity around processes.
As a company though, your travel policy helps centralise your travel programme, making it easier to control – and see – your company’s spend on airfares, hotels and care hire. Plus, if you take the time to craft your policy in an intentional and inclusive way, you’ll have a policy your travellers are happier to follow.
How do I write a travel policy?
Before setting off to create your travel policy, you’ll want to sit down and draft the bones of it first, ideally with someone from finance, HR and even your travellers too!
Remember, you want to create a policy that employees follow so make sure it’s easy to navigate, short and to the point. Consider writing for skim-readers, find a way to guide them to the information they’re looking for, and upload your new policy onto a travel management platform so that anyone in your company can access it when required.
- Keep it simple and make it pop with visuals, bullet points, and bold headings
- Answer any and every question possible – think of all the eventualities
- Always put your people first
- Implement a quick and simple approval process
- Be flexible with due reason
- Be clear about what’s not allowed
- Update your travel policy at least once a year
- Keep it somewhere easy to find
What to include in a good travel policy?
When building your policy, it’s important to include:
1. International or foreign travel rules, including:
- How and where to book – is that with a travel manager, online booking tool or a travel management company (TMC)?
- Travel insurance coverages and contact info – international numbers and policy information
- Emergency contacts – how to reach them and the process of in-destination emergencies
- Travel expenses – limits and how to file for reimbursement
- Travel documentation – who to contact with questions
- Advance booking timelines – when should they be booking for international travel?
- Travel extensions – are these allowed and what are travellers expected to cover if they choose to extend their trip for leisure?
2. Corporate travel policy for business class
Does your corporate travel programme have different rules, limits, or allowances for different levels of seniority? Are some junior members expected to travel in economy class, while some executives are allowed to book in business class? Or are there certain situations (for example, for frequent fliers) that might allow for an employee to book business class, regardless of their position?
3. Corporate meal allowance
It’s great if you’ve already centralised most of your business travel expenses like flights, accommodation, transportation, and car rentals, but your people have got to eat! It’s important to include a meal allowance policy that clearly outlines things like:
- Which meals are covered and for how much?
- Who is footing the bill for an alcoholic beverage with dinner?
- If entertaining clients, what is the budget, and how flexible is it?
- What is the process of submitting company card expenses?
- What is the process for requesting reimbursement?
Your team will always have questions about the policy on food and drinks, so make sure they can find the info easily and have a point of contact for whoever can offer more clarity.
4. Per Diems
Many SMEs opt to simplify things by giving travellers an agreed Per Diem to cover daily travel expenses like meals and incidentals (parking, Wi-Fi, taxis etc.). A TMC will be able to help you set reasonable Per Diems per country and destination.
5. Executive travel policy
Executive travel can be a touchy subject, especially if there are more lenient policies in place for your top dogs. But your execs also need guidelines in place, not only to keep safe on the road, but so they don’t accidently go overboard with expenses incurred, which can be an accounting nightmare!
6. Natural disaster or COVID-19 business travel policy
While COVID-19 feels like a distant memory, it did bring travel to a screeching halt. Strikes, weather events, natural disasters and volcanic ash clouds have been known to do the same. Make sure your policy guides your team through the unplanned and the unthinkable!
By outlining all of this information in your policy, you’ll streamline the process for your finance teams, travel managers, and your travellers. And really, who doesn’t want to make travel a smoother experience?
The who, what, when, how of travel policies
Making your travel policy as clear as possible will avoid an approvals nightmare down the road.
It helps to ask yourself the following questions?
Who: In your team, who is required to travel? And who, if anyone, can travel business class, book Uber Black or stay at a 5-star hotel?
Where and why: Are there any restrictions on who travels domestically or internationally? Or guidelines around reasons for travel?
When: Are there any restrictions on when business travel is a no-no, like during an auditing period or financial downturn?
How: How should travel arrangements be booked? Through your online booking tool, or with a preferred TMC? How far in advance should domestic and international trips be booked?
What: What are your preferred airlines and hotels? List all your preferred suppliers, from shuttles to car hire and everything in between.
Approvals: Who’s responsible for giving the green light on trips?
Show me the money: What’s the process when it comes to paying for travel, managing/submitting expenses and reimbursements?
Uh-oh: How will you prevent or deal with non-compliance to the travel policy?
All work, some play: What are the conditions if someone wants to extend their business trip to take personal leave? Are you happy for them to enjoy a bleisure trip, and if so, who foots the bill and for what?
Loyalty: Are there any travel rewards or business loyalty programmes that can be used during booking?
Eek … now what: What’s the plan of action in the case of Acts of God or Force Majeure events? Does your team know who to call for help?
What’s next: Who is responsible for updating and reviewing your travel policy, and how often?
First prize is a people-first travel policy that wins the buy-in of your team – and supports your travel programme. Are you struggling to put one together? Or are you coming up against resistance or non-compliance? Our team is on hand to help you sculpt or review your travel policy. All you need to do is get in touch.