Tips for negotiating travel at your job

Negotiating travel policy with your work is both possible and can be beneficial for all concerned. Read this article for tips and best practices.

Posted by Judson L Moore

For many, the dream job often comes with at least a little bit of travel. The truth is, traveling for work is not a vacation. When someone else is floating the bill and watching the bottom line, they tend to care for the ROI more than they do for your experience. That said, many companies are glad to make you a happy employee if you take the initiative of negotiating travel by putting together a plan that demonstrates the benefits to all concerned.

Top tips for negotiating travel

I can tell a lot of stories on this topic, but here are the two most relevant points to negotiating an excellent travel policy with your employer:

  1. Ask Early - If you don’t ask, they probably won’t offer. Ask early so that expectations can get set in advance of travel and accommodation getting confirmed. Once they spend the money, you’re probably locked-in.
  2. Demonstrate the Numbers - Create a spreadsheet to show the costs of travel strictly for work vs. the cost of granting you a few extra days. This budget can include a ticket with a third leg or a delayed return date. If the flight price doesn’t change, and you will cover your lodging costs for the additional days, many employers will go along with your proposed plan.

Here are a few brief stories of how I have negotiated some excellent travel policies. Need advice? Have tips to add? Please leave a comment below and share your story with me at @judsonlmoore.

Holiday swap

Once upon a time, I worked for a company with a paid holiday policy that included Christmas or “any other substitute day” (in the event you don’t celebrate Christmas). This was the written rule, and since I had no family in the area and no plans to travel that year for the Christmas holiday, I requested to work that day so that I could have an additional paid holiday a few weeks later when I was going on a ski trip with friends. I sat in the office all alone for half the day before the boss called and invited me to his place for festivities. I still got my extra paid day off and a great meal to boot! The takeaway here is to be creative. Know the rules of your current policy and if you can find a loophole, take advantage of it.

I worked abroad for a few months on behalf of my employer during the holiday season. I worked on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years’, so before coming home in January, I expected that I would make up those dates by first taking a vacation before returning to home base. I also leveraged the “hardship” of being away from friends and family to gain a few extra paid days off.

In the end, I vacationed in Europe for over two weeks, and it only cost me three regular PTO days. I also found a flight home that allowed me that two-week layover in Europe at the same price as a direct flight home, so I got all of my airfare covered by the company.

The whole thing was a fantastic experience, but it required me to do all of the homework and demonstrate that I would come home a happy employee without costing the company any extra money.

Unpaid leave

From time to time, you might have reason to take off on an adventure or opportunity which can’t be tied to work and is for a longer duration than your paid time off. For this, many companies do have an unpaid leave policy. Even though my employer had a written unpaid leave policy, I was super nervous the first time I asked to use it. Will they think I am quitting? Will they replace me while I am gone? What if they say no to my request? I had many concerns about this.

People take unpaid leave for a wide variety of reasons, and if you have such a policy at your company, get to know who else has used it and ask them about the experience. I found colleagues who went on unpaid leave to write a book, tour Europe, and hike the Appalachian Trail. One great benefit of unpaid leave is that you might maintain other benefits such as health insurance even though you may not be getting paid your salary.

Reallocating expenses

Here is the scenario: You are traveling for work for a few weeks. You stay in a hotel for $140 per night, and you have a per diem of $40 per day. You cost your company $180 each day while you are traveling on their behalf. Your workweek is Monday - Friday, and weekends are free to do as you wish.

Imagine this: if you check out of your hotel on Friday morning before going to the office and check back in on Monday afternoon after returning home from the office, you have $580 at your disposal to negotiate some fun weekend travel at your employer’s expense.

I was in India for 6-months with a similar scenario as this. Every weekend I checked out of my hotel and went off to discover a different part of India. It was incredible. I seldom spent the full $580 on a weekend trip, even with flights, because I would stay at less expensive (but still very lovely) hotels or go with a travel buddy with whom I split the costs (50% discount!).

I saw over a dozen epic destinations around India at no cost to me. While I was at it, I even saved my employer money. This was a perfect win-win scenario for everyone involved.

Reward points

Be sure to register for all the reward points programs for your flights and hotels. These are virtually free perks for you, but they will pass you by if you’re not registered. Also, try to get your employer to put you on flights and in hotels that are part of the same rewards group (Star Alliance and SPG, for example).

Expenses add up when traveling. Consider getting a charge card that earns extra points on travel expenses and has no foreign transaction fees. I favor American Express Platinum and Chase Sapphire Preferred, but there are tons of options out there. For a very in-depth look at rewards programs, check out The Points Guy.

For some additional reading and travel policy negotiation insights, check out this article by Joe Sharkey of the New York Times.

Have you had successes or challenges in negotiating travel policies with your employer? Please share your experiences by leaving a comment below or messaging me at @judsonlmoore.

Judson L Moore
Judson L Moore

Travel addict. Ambitious about making the world a better place. Writing what I learn along the way.

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