5 best practices to get the most out of your travel policy
Picture this: you're sitting in your office, surrounded by a pile of expense reports, travel requests, and a constant stream of emails from employees who seem to have a million and one questions about your company's travel policy.
Meanwhile, you're receiving complaints from accounting that travel expenses are out of control, and you're constantly putting out fires that could have been avoided in the first place. It's clear that something needs to change, but where do you even begin?
A well-designed travel policy changes how travelers book
Imagine your company’s travel policy is a plane. Now, would you want to fly in a plane that was designed haphazardly without that much thought and planning? Or would you want to board a carefully designed plane, keeping your comfort and safety in mind?
Of course, you’d want to fly in a well-designed plane! The same goes for your travel policy.
A well-designed travel policy puts the travelers first and changes how they approach booking. It provides clear employee guidelines and expectations regarding travel-related expenses and booking procedures. Plus, from a travel manager’s perspective, a comprehensive travel policy can help control costs, manage risk, and even make your team happier by getting rid of some of the confusion and uncertainty.
There’s no one-size-fits-all perfect policy, but don't worry – Corporate Traveler's got you covered. We’re here to offer you our top 5 corporate travel policy best practices to help you lay the groundwork for a streamlined and effective travel policy.
5 Best Practices for Writing a People-First Travel Policy
- Write for skim readers
- Guide travelers to the right resources
- Automate your policies
- Stipulate a timeframe for expense claims
- Be prepared for the unexpected
1. Write for skim readers
One of the first steps towards writing a people-first travel policy is understanding how your travelers will read it. And the truth is…
They probably won’t.
Research has shown that adults get distracted every 47 seconds. So if a business traveler is looking at your policy, they’re most likely just searching for a specific answer – and they want it fast. So what can you do?
First, make sure the document is easy to navigate. That means including things like:
- A table of contents
- Visual elements to help guide the eye toward crucial information, like flow charts and tables
- Clear headings and important details in bold
- Bulleted lists (see what we did here?)
And even though it’s a technical document, don’t make it sound like one. An effective travel policy should be clear, concise, and easily comprehended. So skip the long, complex sentence structures and technical jargon, and write in plain, simple English. It helps to pretend like you’re writing it so an eighth-grader can understand it.
2. Guide travelers to the right resources
Remember when we said travelers will only read your policy to find a solution for a specific need? Whether it’s a link, a phone number, or a step-by-step tutorial – a well-managed travel policy should provide them with the right resources.
Instead of treating a travel policy as a list of rules, treat it like a resource sheet. Here are some key pieces of information travelers might need to pull up easily:
Your approved online booking tool (and steps on how to use it)
- QR codes to download your mobile travel app
- Preferred airlines, including class, budgets, and other limits
- Permissible hotels, including guidelines on star-class and incidental expenses
- Guidelines on ground transportation (trains, ride-sharing services, rental cars, and personal car usage)
- How to get travel support
- Travel insurance carrier
- Clarification on the reimbursement process (more on this later)
You can also include other factors specific to your company, but this should at least be the necessary groundwork to help employees make the right choices on their own.
3. Automate your policies
Let’s face it: even with the best communication efforts, there’s always a chance that an employee may violate policy, even unintentionally. So, what can you do?
Build policy into booking.
By building your travel policy into your travel management software, it becomes unavoidably embedded in the booking process, so even the most easily confused employees end up following by default.
Automation tools can sound the alarm on out-of-policy bookings and even provide an audit trail. This can be especially helpful for employees who may struggle to remember procedures and policies, especially after big changes to your travel program.
4. Stipulate a timeframe for expense claims
No one wants to get stuck waiting on the money they’re owed – or worse – find out they’re not getting reimbursed for an expenditure they thought would be covered.
Having a clear and well-defined expense claim process is critical in any travel policy. Employees need to know how to claim their travel expenses, how soon they need to submit an expense report, and when to expect reimbursement.
The policy should also be clear about what expenses are and are not reimbursable, including any limits or exceptions. For example, if an employee needs to book a different seat class to accommodate a disability, the policy should include the process for requesting and approving this expense.
Plus, a submission deadline reduces cash flow issues and provides more accurate and complete expense data for that period (your finance team will thank you later).
5. Be prepared for the unexpected
As a company, you have a duty-of-care responsibility. When it comes to business trips, you need to be prepared for the unexpected. No matter how much effort you put into planning, there will always be a few hiccups along the way.
For instance, lost luggage, canceled or delayed flights, and sudden weather or political emergencies in unfamiliar destinations could all leave your employee stranded.
“Companies need to be prepared to plan for the particular, not just the universal. Every aspect of the travel program needs to be able to fit each of your travelers like a glove, from adaptable plans and experts on call, to technology that makes the journey seamless.” - Emese Graham, DE&I Manager @ FCTG
Don’t let unexpected situations blindside you. Have processes in place to ensure travel safety and security. Make sure they know what to do, where to go, and who to get a hold of if something goes wrong. Taking a proactive and prepared approach to your policy can minimize the impact of emergencies and take care of your team’s well-being while they’re on the road.
BONUS TIP: Update your policy regularly
Here’s a free business travel policy best practice just for you! It isn’t just a “one and done” deal – it’s a living document.
What’s that mean? As your company grows and travel conditions change, so should your travel policy. Revisit your expense policy at least once a year to keep it relevant and effective – and lead you towards new cost-saving solutions.
Data is going to be your best friend here. Here are a few key factors you should look into when updating your travel policy:
- Analyze travel spend patterns – are you throwing a lot of company money at certain suppliers? You might want to see if you can negotiate a new deal or find better rates elsewhere.
- Identify areas of overspending or inefficiency – are employees accruing high parking or travel costs? See if you can get season tickets or other accommodations.
- Evaluate the overall performance of your policy – are you still compliant with any new regulations that have come into play since the policy was established? How can traveler experience be improved?
You may even want to consider enlisting the help of professionals, such as a travel management company with experience in expense management, to give advice on how to optimize your travel policy to better meet the needs of your employees and your business as a whole.
Building a travel policy that's good for business and travelers and meets their needs is no small feat. But whether you're looking to retain your team, attract new talent, or make life a little easier for your travelers, investing in a well-designed travel policy is definitely worth the effort and great for company culture.
By following these travel policy best practices and ensuring your policy meets all travelers' needs, you’ll be on your way to smoother, safer, and more enjoyable travel experiences for all.
What are you waiting for? Start with this travel policy template and watch your business soar to new heights!