When clients ask you to travel to their offices for a consultation, it’s generally expected that they will pay for your trip. But what do “travel expenses” entail? Will your colleagues be cool with covering your room-service sushi and in-room movie, or should you just ask for basic lodging and airfare? Here are a few tips for billing clients for work-related travel.
Create a travel expenses policy. If you frequently meet with clients in cities other than your own, put together a standard list of travel requirements (or requests). Do you expect clients to pay you for the time you spend in transit? Must you fly in business class or are you just fine in economy? How much will you need for a per diem? Think of all of the typical expenses that go into a business trip, as well as potential problems, such as needing another night at a hotel due to a canceled flight, and determine whether you or your client will be responsible in each case. Once the document is final, give it to clients as part of your standard contract.
Seek clarification in advance. If you travel less frequently, a travel expenses policy probably isn’t necessary; instead, ask your clients for theirs. Before you book a trip, request a list of what they’ll pay for, such as transportation, hotels, and meals. Most businesses budget only a moderate amount for contractors’ travel expenses, and they won’t be too impressed if you take advantage of their hospitality. Rather than asking them to pay for variable items like meals and cab fares, you may want to suggest a per diem to cover such expenses. When billing, send a carefully itemized invoices, with copies of your receipts.
Don’t go overboard. Billing for too many — or inappropriate — travel expenses could be off-putting to clients. If you’re consulting a scrappy nonprofit, for instance, the executive director probably won’t look kindly upon a bill for a night at the Four Seasons. When calculating the client’s tab, consider what the client’s business is worth to you. If there’s a risk that charging for too many travel expenses could alienate the client and cost you future jobs, you’re better off paying your own way. The good news: It’s all tax-deductible.