How Should I Handle Travel Expenses?

Planning for travel costs is essential. Your client won’t be happy if you suddenly produce a bill that wasn’t approved in advance. Here are some tips to consider:

·       Planes: Because fares and related charges for seats, baggage and so on change daily, footnote your proposal budget saying “based on fares as of (date).” Then two to three weeks in advance of your trip, check out costs and prepare a more detailed trip budget. Email it to your client for approval. Once you have booked, if a client requires a change or cancellation, negotiate the change fees.

·       Automobiles: If your client is located in your town, typically you don’t charge mileage to and from their site. It’s part of doing business just as if you were employed there full time. If you drive out of town to do your research, keep a log of your mileage. It’s a legitimate expense. Use the same rate per mile that local government employees charge. When renting a car, get a typical mid-range car. Look for bargains through loyalty programs but don’t rent a wreck. You need to be safe.

·       Lodging: It’s easy to find bargain hotel rates on the internet. Large employers, like universities and government departments, often have preferred rates. You can access them by having your client make the reservation for you or by providing proof that you are a contractor. A letter on official letterhead usually works.

·       Food: Clients often have a daily rate as a guideline for all meals and incidentals but you will still have to submit receipts. In large centers food can be very expensive so stay away from the Top Ten and experiment with ethnic or local cuisine. Alcohol is not included so have your glass of wine on a separate check.

·       Other travel expenses: There are lots of other travel costs such as parking, taxis, ferries, toll charges, and baggage storage. These tend to be reimbursable as is.

Finally consider these rules of thumb:

·       Treat your client’s travel budget like your own. Be frugal not profligate.

·       Keep receipts for everything.

·       Check to see if tax is already charged. Don’t double bill.

·       When travelling for two projects on the same trip split the costs and tell your clients.

·       If billing travel time, delete the hours you spend in transit working on other projects.

·       Consider the competition. If they live where you want to work, make concessions on travel costs. Once they hire you back, you can start to bill for travel.

·       Have fun and see the world. And don’t forget to collect your Air Miles!
Gail V. Barrington

 

Originally published in the Independent Consulting TIG Newsletter, Volume 6, Issue 1. March 2015.

For more information on consulting topics see in Barrington, G. V. (2012). Consulting Start-up & Management: A Guide for Evaluators & Applied Researchers. Los Angeles: SAGE.

https://thetravelingconsultant.wordpress.com/2010/02/03/consultant-policies-travel-expenses-2/

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