The Complete Guide to Corporate Travel Policies
The business travel policy guide you’ve been waiting for!
Creating a business 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. The truth is your policy serves as more than a rule book; it's a guide to better decision-making about your corporate travel program and can save you a world of headaches down the road.
When it comes to company travel, a travel policy brings it all to one place. It acts as an influencer for travelers to make the most cost-effective choices, an important visibility tool for your managers and HR department, and it protects your people if it’s done right.
If you’re new to business travel or haven’t looked at your travel policy in a while, we’ll start with the basics and then move into the nitty gritty of corporate travel policies. We’ll touch on a few best practices for writing a travel policy, what to include, and offer plenty of resources along the way.
Ready to get cracking? Let’s go!
What is a travel policy?
A travel policy is a guide for business travelers to follow that outlines:
- How, where, and when to book
- Approved technology for travel management
- Preferred suppliers for air travel, land travel, and accommodations
- Approvals process for out-of-policy bookings
- 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 travelers and their needs, and protect your company from unforeseen circumstances. It acts as a central document that guides your team to the processes of embarking on company business travel, 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 travelers 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 can give them clarity and help them feel more prepared when traveling for business purposes.
Why do you need a travel policy?
Your travel policy is an extension of your travel program and company culture. It’s the glue that holds your travel program 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 travelers can reference when they’re booking their own travel if they run into a tricky situation abroad, and it helps provide clarity around processes.
As a company though, your travel policy helps centralize your travel program, makes data and tracking more accurate and easier to navigate, and it saves time and money (including on expense management). Plus, if you take the time to craft your policy in an intentional and inclusive way, you’ll have a policy your travelers are happier to follow.
How to create a travel policy
Before setting off to create your travel policy, you’ll want to sit down and draft out the bones of your policy.
Typically, your policy is written up by someone from finance and the person who oversees your travel program. But to help mitigate risk, it’s also a good idea to involve your HR department and even your travelers too! You could be missing out on important risk factors or employee needs otherwise.
You might be wondering how to create a travel policy that employees follow. It’s simple really, you’ll want to make it easy for travelers to navigate, keep it to the point, and reader-friendly.
Are you following best practices to get the most out of your travel policy? Consider writing for skim-readers, find a way to guide them to the information they’re looking for, and if your travel management software allows, automate where possible.
Once you’ve built the framework of your travel policy, you can then fill in the blanks.
Read the full guide
Not sure where to start? No worries! We’ve got you. Here’s how to streamline your process with a travel policy template!
While there’s no one-size-fits-all travel policy for every company, following the set guidelines helps you nail a perfect-for-you policy that can see you through an ever-changing travel climate.
Read the guide: How to create a travel policy that employees will follow
What to include in a travel policy
When you’re crafting your business travel policy, there are so many considerations to be made. Things might come up that you never even thought of, but not to worry. We have loads of resources to help you see this through.
Starting out, it might be looking a little drab and wordy, but depending on your travel program size, a visual travel policy might be just what you need. You can search for examples online or take a look at an example of a visual travel policy we’ve created.
When building your policy, it’s important to include:
1. International or foreign travel policies
When you’ve got travelers all over the globe, you need to build out a policy for international or foreign travel. This is a protects them (and you) on anything from travel safety, to expenses, and everywhere in between.
Whether your travelers are individuals or entire teams, your international travel policy needs to cover:
- How and where to book – is that with a travel manager, online booking tool, 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 travelers expected to cover if they choose to extend their trip for leisure?
By outlining all of this information in your policy, you’ll streamline the process for your finance teams, travel managers, and your travelers. And really, who doesn’t want to make travel a smoother experience?
2. Corporate travel policy for business class travel
Does your corporate travel program 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?
If some certain exceptions and situations might allow for an employee to book business class, regardless of their position, you should include that in your policy as well.
Making this as clear as possible will avoid an approvals nightmare down the road.
3. Corporate meal allowance policy
It’s great if you’ve already centralized most of your business travel expenses like flights, accommodation, transportation, and car rentals, but your people gotta eat! It’s super important to include a meal allowance policy that clearly outlines which meals (and how much) you’ll cover.
Some of your team might be traveling with corporate credit cards, while others might need to be reimbursed. The guidelines and procedures for submitting expenses or asking for reimbursement need to be crystal clear!
Make sure to outline if you have a corporate travel policy for alcohol, too! You don’t want murky policies when it comes to footing the bill for drinks.
Some things to consider for your meal allowance and alcohol travel policy:
- 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. Executive travel policy
We briefly touched on executive travel when we talked about traveling in business class, but there is certainly more to the top dogs traveling.
Executive travel can be a touchy subject if there are more lenient policies in place than there is for less senior team members. Your executives also may need to know the guidelines in place for their own travel, so they don’t accidently go overboard, which could be an accounting nightmare!
You’ll need to make sure you deliver a guide for approvals, procedures, booking deadlines, meals, accommodation, basically everything.
Lay it all out. Make your policy as digestible as possible, and for a busy exec, consider bullet points and titles in bold so they can easily skim to the areas they need to know.
5. Natural disaster or COVID-19 business travel policy
We can all agree that COVID-19 caused business travel to come to a screeching halt. Across most industries, the pandemic impacted client relationships, the ability to gain new clients and caused budgets to get slashed pretty dramatically.
While this was only one event, many businesses have begun to consider the “what-ifs” of their travel programs should another outbreak of COVID or something else happen. Crossing our fingers and toes doesn’t cut it, unfortunately.
There is also the chance of their travel being impacted by a natural disaster. We’ve seen it before – earthquakes, tsunamis, volcano eruptions, hurricanes. Do you have a plan or policy to aid your team and guide them through the unthinkable?
In 2022, we surveyed 120 employees across various industries and businesses. More than half, 51% of respondents said their companies didn’t provide resources or tips for safety on their trips. Duty of care isn’t something to put on the back burner, it’s your legal obligation to make sure your team is informed.
So, what’s the solution, you ask?
Working with a TMC gives you the backup you need if anything ever happens and you have people traveling abroad. At Corporate Traveler, our travel management software, Melon, is a central place to house your policy for quick and easy access. Plus, our travel experts can help you paint the big picture of what to do, who to call, and how to get your team home safely as quickly as possible.
Is there anything missing from your travel policy?
Let’s break it down. If you think of your policy like a sandwich, it should include:
The bread and butter
- 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 Travel Management Company (TMC)? How far in advance should domestic and international trips be booked?
- Preferred suppliers: Do you have preferred partners for air travel, accommodation, ground transport or travel insurance?
- Approvals: Who’s responsible for giving the green light on trips?
- Show me the money: What’s the process for managing/submitting expenses, paying for travel and reimbursements?
- Uh-oh: How will you prevent or deal with non-compliance to the travel policy?
- Noise level: Getting loads of ‘noise’ and questions about things in your policy? This means it’s not clear and it’s time to review why and where the stumbling block is for travelers (or your finance team!)
- Classy, baby: Who gets to fly business class, book 5-star properties or order UberLUX? And how does your business handle upgrades or airport lounge access for long-haul flights?
- 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 programs that can be used during booking?
- Spending money: Do your business travelers have a daily allowance for meals, snacks, and drinks? How much is it, what does it include – and what’s not covered? Can they order room service, drink from the mini-bar, or use the in-house laundry service?
The not-so-secret sauce
- Safety first: your policy should support air, accommodation and ground transport suppliers that have been safety and security vetted. Guidelines or information on travel insurance for work trips is also helpful.
- 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?
How to promote travel policy compliance
Whether compliance is a big or small issue in your company, it takes a little bit of investigating to figure out why it’s an issue at all.
Maybe your policy meets the needs of only a few of your team members. Maybe it’s too difficult to navigate your policy. Or maybe, your policy is written in legalese and makes your travelers vision blur before they go rogue and book how they want.
It could be that your travelers prefer a bit of freedom in booking and would rather do it on their own. Or, maybe they have specific needs that aren’t being met by the options provided.
Whatever their reasons, it’s your job to figure out why they aren’t following and what you can do to build better compliance.
Here are a few tips to improve travel policy compliance:
- Make your policy easy to navigate, understand, and find
- Use an online booking tool (OBT) for travelers who prefer to self-book
- Allow a bit of flexibility so travelers feel they have some autonomy
- Include a category for last-minute bookings so it doesn’t mess up your data
- Understand your traveler needs and build an inclusive policy
When to review and update your travel policy
If the last time you reviewed or upgraded your travel policy was more than a year ago, it’s outdated and needs a refresher. If your company is small and has low turnover, you could probably get away with making small tweaks and optimizations.
But if you have a larger company with multiple departments and higher turnover, you probably need to do an overhaul and review it more regularly. We’re not saying you have to change it every time someone is hired or leaves the company, but making sure it’s relevant to the people who are there and are traveling matters!
Corporate Traveler conducted a survey in 2022, which showed that 48% of respondents didn’t know if their company had resources for specific traveler profiles, while 41% said their company didn’t provide resources for specific traveler profiles. This really goes to show that there’s room for improvement in how policies are built to support their people and their businesses.
A people-first travel program and policy have become necessary as the world grows and begins to understand neurodiversity, disabilities, and cultural differences. When we learn about our team members’ diverse needs, we can better understand how to support them when they venture abroad for our businesses.
GUIDE: Download the How to design a people-first travel program guide
We recommend policy reviews every 3-6 months, but at the minimum, once per year.
Business travel is so unpredictable, as we’ve seen in recent years. There will always be circumstances you can’t avoid as a company, but making sure that you have the necessary checks and balances in place can help to make things just a little easier. If you have groups traveling, VIPS, or people heading to high-risk destinations, it’s important that your policy is relevant.
Don’t forget that travel policies shouldn’t be written and forgotten about – these are living documents that must be regularly updated to make sure they best protect your people.
Remember these best practices when writing your travel policy:
- 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
- Automate as much as you can
- Use technology that’s supports your policy
- 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
And finally, it doesn’t hurt to have a couple of different formats. Consider a visual version and an extended version so the message is delivered best depending on the person reading. For some, it might be easier to digest one over the other.
Looking for a policy review? We’d be happy to work with you.
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