my company’s accountant is nitpicking my pretty frugal travel expenses

A reader writes:

I travel once or twice a month for work, almost all domestic and for fairly short trips. As a resident of Washington, D.C., I almost always fly American from DCA simply because it’s much closer to my house and I have the widest range of non-stops. This has never been a problem, and my colleagues who travel for work do the same, depending on their nearest airport. A few months ago, however, I was called in for a random travel expense audit and the accounting rep said it was inappropriate for me to be using one airport and one airline so often. (Our employee handbook states that employees should consider the least expensive feasible option, including all three D.C.-area airports.)

I replied that the added expense of ground transport to farther-flung airports would routinely add at least $100 to each round-trip, which always makes flying from my preferred airport a wash, and that my status on American means an additional $25-35 savings each way on checked baggage that I’d have to pay on other airlines.

The accounting rep then said that I should use the alternative airports and use public transit, which takes far longer to use (even though our employee manual specifically says the organization reimburses for cabs). The accounting rep said I could also save money by taking flights that leave at 5 a.m. and return after 10 p.m., even though my business needs often call for spending the morning in the office and taking an afternoon flight. As part of the “audit follow up,” he instructed me to send accounting screenshots of all flights on Kayak available ANYTIME ON THE SAME DAY to ensure I am choosing the cheapest option regardless of time of day.

This comes in context of expense reports that are pretty parsimonious already — I usually use Uber Pool, stay at Fairfields and Ramadas and try to keep meal bills at under $15 if I’m not dining at a function — so I don’t understand why the nickel and diming. I talked with my manager, but she can’t do anything without escalating to the CFO, which would require a chit she doesn’t want to cash in. The rules about sending in all flight search options don’t apply to anyone else, just me and whoever else “failed” their travel audit. Obviously this is legal, but it doesn’t seem reasonable. Any advice about what I can say to get this restriction lifted? It’s an annoying extra step and the requirement to take the cheapest flight regardless of the time of day has already been an unpleasant shift in my work-life balance.

What the hell? The point of travel expense rules is to ensure that you’re using the most cost-effective means of travel. Cost-effective doesn’t just mean “cheapest ticket”; it takes into account things like the cost of your travel time, the impact on your work of getting up at the crack of dawn and spending hours longer on the trip when you could have a much shorter day for a de minimis amount more, and general reasonableness. (The other point of travel expense rules, of course, is to ward off the appearance of wastefulness, but that doesn’t seem to be in play in your case either.)

Assuming that doing things your way isn’t costing the company significantly more (I think that’s what you’re saying in your letter, but it’s an important caveat), I think it’s likely that your accounting rep just kind of sucks at his job and isn’t applying any independent reasoning to what he’s telling you to do.

Does he have a boss who isn’t the CFO? I know your manager doesn’t want to talk to the CFO, but if this guy reports to someone else, that’s where I’d start.

But the fact that you’ve already looped in your manager makes this a little more complicated. It made perfect sense to talk to her, but now that she’s said she doesn’t want to expend capital on it with the CFO, it’s important that you don’t do anything that sounds like you’re ignoring that. If your accounting rep reports to someone else, though, you could say this to your manager: “I hear you on not wanting to bug the CFO with this. But what Bob is proposing would seriously mess up my travel schedule — he wants me taking early morning flights on days when I need to be in the office, and he’s telling me to add up to eight hours of travel time (or whatever) to a trip. On top of that, his proposals in many cases wouldn’t even save us money in the end, or would save only a few dollars here and there. This is so patently unreasonable and impractical that I really feel I need to push back. I’d like to talk to Jane (Bob’s boss), because I think she may overrule Bob. I didn’t want to do that without your okay though.”

If Bob reports directly to the CFO, you could still say a version of this, but you’d need to change the language to something like, “I hear you on not wanting to bug the CFO with this, but it’s so out of sync with our travel practices — and will make work travel so much more onerous for me — that I don’t know how else to resolve this. Right now I’m at an impasse with Bob.”

Sometimes “I don’t want to call in a chit with this person above me” means “I’d rather not, but if it’s really important to you, I’ll consider it.”

Of course, other times it means “Nope, not going to happen at all.” But it’s reasonable to let her know how this is impacting you and see if she’ll reconsider.

If that doesn’t work, I’d focus on whichever piece of this is more important to you. Maybe it’s avoiding early-morning departures, or maybe it’s being able to take a cab to the airport rather than public transportation. It might be possible to deal with the rest of the hassle but make a case for that one piece of it directly to the accounting rep. (For example: “I can follow these additional rules, but it’s not possible for me to take a 5 a.m. flight when I have a full day of meetings ahead of me, so in order to do my job effectively, I’m choosing the 8 a.m. flight instead.” Or: “The company manual allows cab reimbursement, and I’ve seen it’s common for other people to take cabs to airports that are further away, so I’ll continue to do that unless there’s a change in that policy at some point.”)

{ 508 comments… read them below or add one }

      1. Justme

        Yes, but because they asked and someone else answered, someone else who didn’t know will now know without searching. Generally when one person has a question then someone else will have the same question.

        Reply
    1. chi type

      Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “call in a marker”? It’s the same idea. Someone owes you a favor, you cash in on it.

      Reply
    2. Falling Diphthong

      The origin is a paper with an IOU of some form. In this context, it’s his boss spending professional capital and/or incurring a professional debt. And OP’s annoyance, while understandable, isn’t quite at the point where she’s willing to break that metaphoric piggy bank.

      Reply
      1. sstabeler

        even though I personally think the accountant is sufficiently out of line that it wouldn’t actually be calling in a favour to escalate this- indeed, if I was said accountant’s boss, I’d consider it to not only not use up the previous favour, but to grant an extra one.

        The reason why I consider it a favour to the CFO? From the sounds of it, the accountant has de facto changed company policy on their own initiative, and done so in such a way as to almost certainly create serious problems for the company. Basically, the accountant is acting well above their pay grade, and so the CFO should know that said accountant needs reminding of the limits of their authority.

        Reply
    3. MechanicalPencil

      Until today, I always heard it said and processed it as “chip”.

      I’m now hoping I have a bag of Lays in my kitchen.

      Reply
      1. That Would Be a Good Band Name

        I think people say “chip” also. Or maybe I’ve just assumed that it was chip in a reference to chips at a casino.

        Reply
        1. MCMonkeyBean

          I have always thought it was chip as in at a casino as well, and I thought it was a typo until Alison used it in her response as well!

          Reply
          1. Skunklet

            It’s mispronounced if they’re using ‘chip’. I was in the Navy, and a special request chit is used to request special things (even routine things) that need to go up the chain of command – which is where I presume this would come from…

            Reply
            1. A Certain Party

              I’ve never seen “chip” used!

              I’ve never heard either said, but many, many times I’ve seen the word chit used in books and articles.

              Reply
          2. Rookie Manager

            There is a phrase ‘cash in your chips’ from casinos which might have got confused for some people with cashing your chit/iou/favour.

            Reply
      2. Wintermute

        chip comes from casino chips, chit comes from betting slips and/or vouchers for small debts (original usage is unclear which came first), marker comes from a loan taken from a casino which they can “call in” to force you to repay them (you may remember the famous “he’s at the table with his nose wide open” scene in the movie Casino where Nickie has his marker called in to stop him from throwing away more money while he’s at the table on drugs and he beats the casino manager with a phone).

        It seems that doing people favors and gambling are often connected in the popular imagination!

        Reply
      3. Oscar Madisoy

        I was always afraid to say the word for feat that the other person might think that I was saying “sh…aving cream, be nice and clean, shave every day and you’ll always look keen.” ♬

        Reply
  1. CaliCali

    This is when following the letter of the law, rather than the intent of the law, gets people into trouble. This is ridiculous! (And frankly, my company would be thrilled if I was spending <$15 on meals while traveling). I'd keep pushing — it seems like a punishment when there was no crime.

    Reply
      1. Not Who I Think I Am

        Yep. “I’m sorry, but these new rules have such an onerous impact on my life that I am no longer able to travel on business, effective immediately.”

        Reply
        1. Naruto

          “Okay, if you’re no longer willing to travel for your job, then we’ll have to let you go and hire someone who is.”

          That’s just not a good way to escalate this issue. It makes things too adversarial, doesn’t leave room for mutual problem solving, and draws a line in the sand where there doesn’t need to be one.

          Reply
      2. Lemon Zinger

        That’s not helpful, because it seems like this travel is an essential component of OP’s job. Refusing to do a work task could lead to OP getting fired.

        Reply
        1. ZVA

          Yeah, I’m surprised by the # of commenters suggesting things like “refuse to go” or “go over your boss’ head”… it seems pretty likely that those things would have negative consequences for her! This accountant seems like a huge pain but she does want to keep her job…

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        2. Annonymouse

          I’d do a cost breakdown for him.

          Oh! You want me to take the $40 cheaper flight at 5am from an airport not near my house?

          Well here’s the breakdown of cost for that:

          Cab to airport (since public transportation doesn’t run that early to get you there. Plus where I’m from cabs charge extra between 10pm – 6am)
          $50
          Flight: $200
          Luggage checkin: $35
          Cab to destination on other end: $25
          Total: $310

          Vs normal way you’d do it:
          Rideshare $15
          Flight: $240
          Cab: $25
          Total: $280

          Also ask him if he’s factored in the cost of not having you available to do work / be contactable by your team and bosses and how that impacts deadlines and therefore money coming in? Or that you’re going to be a sleep deprived mess and not be representing your company in the best light?

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          1. KTM

            Yeah the math and passive-aggressive part of me would inundate the guy with details showing minimal savings and added aggravation. It’s a lot harder to argue with numbers. Then you can say to the accountant, or your boss, ‘is this added hassle, time, and loss of my sleep worth an extra $25’

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            1. Annonymouse

              And with my math it’s actually more expensive – again public transport doesn’t run during certain times.

              Please, take cabs everywhere, expense it and tell overzealous accountant you have no choice since there’s no other transport available.

              That will let you get back to it sooner.

              Reply
            2. always in email jail

              I don’t think it’s passive aggressive, this guy clearly cares about numbers and nothing else. I would totally invest the time to present him with bus schedules and cab fares and baggage check fees etc. and prove that it’s not actually cheaper.

              Reply
          2. Anna

            THIS. OP has my sympathies, as I live in DC and have to deal with the Dulles/BWI/DCA tradeoff regularly (though my office is quite understandable about this, and most of our staff only travel a few times a year). Airport cabs to the distant airports, at least from DC itself, can get way more expensive than $50. And it takes an hour from downtown, and traffic is way less predictable than the Metro at rush hour. It’s. Not. Practical.

            Also, worth noting that with the rise in ultra low-cost airlines and discount economy, the prices displayed on search sites might not accurately represent the actual price you’ll pay–they’ll charge for carry on bags, along with charges for checked luggage (I’m leaving out the lack of assigned seat component, as it sounds like this office would doom OP to middle-seat-near-the-toilet in a heartbeat, if it would save a buck).

            Reply
            1. PennyLane

              This. I too live in DC and often say “Life’s too short to fly out of Dulles.” I almost prefer BWI becuase I find the express MARC to the airport and then the shuttle bus fairly painless, but now that I think of it, I last flew out of BWI in 2014 so . . . yeah, this is ridiculous.

              Reply
          3. Quinalla

            Not just that, do you know your hourly rate? Show him how much more it is costing the company for you to spend hours traveling you would normally be working. If you are working in the morning and catching and afternoon flight, that is 4 hours x your billable hourly rate. That by itself would cost a lot more to the company, but I would absolutely include all the details. I used to travel a lot for my job and some of it is people that don’t travel for work not understanding how taking a $100 cheaper flight that has 1-2 connections vs. a direct flight has a huge time cost, potential for more travel delays, often at least one more meal to buy, etc. Not to mention it being in general sucky for the person traveling, but this accountant likely doesn’t care about that at all.
            I would push back against this HARD, it is as ridiculous as you think it is. Alison’s suggestions of how to do that are great.

            Reply
          4. Turquoise Cow

            Yeah I would break it all down in a spreadsheet for him with every dang flight. Here’s what I did. Here’s the alternative costs. Ok, I’ll consent on a or b but you can clearly see that overall the cost is the same.

            Reply
    1. Blue Anne

      It doesn’t sound like the auditor is even following the letter, if the OP is right about the rule that they should be reimbursed for cabs. I’m a former auditor and I’m kind of side-eyeing this guy.

      Reply
      1. CMart

        It doesn’t sound like this particular accountant IS an auditor. Just the company accountant gone mad with power after being tasked with doing an audit of travel expenses.

        Reply
        1. SenatorMeathooks

          It also sounds like he doesn’t know how to audit properly. Audits are supposed to be checking for compliance, not implementing measures on the fly.

          Also for what it’s worth, I do travel for work and am also an hourly employee, so his demands of early flights and late arrivals will have me making bank.

          Reply
        2. Pomona Sprout

          Gone mad with power is right. He reminds me of the accounting trolls in Dilbert, doing evil things just because they can.

          Reply
      2. Annonymouse

        Sounds like he is living the saying “penny wise, pound foolish.”

        Yes, the sticker price of the 5am flight is cheaper however it doesn’t take into account:
        Luggage check in
        Cab fares to get to airport in time for 5am
        Or airport hotel if they think the cabs are too expensive
        Wasted work time with layovers/lack of sleep.

        I’d love to see him justify using public transportation for 5am:

        Catch 10:03pm train
        Change at place and catch 11:47 transfer
        Get to airport at 12:54
        Checkin
        Sleep in airport
        Arrive disheveled, sleep deprived and stiff because we were cheap with air travel cost which saved minimal dollars or actually costs us more all things considered.

        Reply
    2. bloo

      This reminds me of the comic strip Dilbert where he was being nitpicked about his travel expenses.
      http://dilbert.com/strip/1995-08-24
      When accounting was complaining about him spending more then $10/day on food he was reminded company policy requires him to stun a pigeon with his briefcase on his way back to the hotel and fry it up on his travel iron.

      OP’s nitpicker sounds equally ridiculous.

      Reply
      1. NDC

        The Monday strip a few before that one is also relevant to this discussion :) I’ll put a link in the next comment.

        Reply
      2. Blue Anne

        Oh man. I’m seriously considering posting a couple of the Dilbert accounting strips in my cubicle now.

        I’m an accountant.

        Reply
    3. Anonymoose

      Exactly.

      The only things that came to mind is 1) this dude is new to the organization and is holding his audits as he did at his previous organization (I was curious because he doesn’t want OP to play airline favorites, which could be a public image thing for a non profit who wouldn’t have a ton of money anyway and are also supposed to be transparent), 2) there are indeed cost saving measures about to be put into place for the organization and the accountant is excited to show how he can help impact that effort, 3) this could also be related to this dude’s annual goals of finding ways to save the org money, and he’s taking them oh-so-serious, 4) the organization will be implementing new travel policies and are doing this process ass-backwards instead of updating the policies first.

      Or something totally not in this list. But the fact that it’s such a detour from the norm makes me think that more info is needed before going to the CFO. Can OP’s boss simply CONFIRM via email what the accountant is trying to put into place? That’s basically a polite call-to-arms. I’d want to see if he’s willing to back his ‘ideas’ up on paper. And then I would forward the email (if I’m OP’s leader) to CFO and ask when these changes were implemented as I was previously unaware (which OP’s boss should NOT be, as a manager). Because there seems to be a disconnect between finance and travelers (as well as upper management).

      I still think the accountant has gone rogue, personally. I’d be curious about a follow up on this one.

      Reply
    4. The OG Anonsie

      Even then, it sounds like the LW is following the letter of the law and traveling as cheaply as is reasonably possible. The auditor just doesn’t believe it’s possible that he could be seeing the pattern he sees in choices and it’s also the cheapest, which… Good lord.

      Reply
        1. Wintermute

          especially because the human mind is BUILT to find connections. He’s seeing bias in these travel reports the same way people see jesus on pieces of toast.

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          1. Anonymoose

            “He’s seeing bias in these travel reports the same way people see jesus on pieces of toast.” This made me giggle-snort.

            Reply
    5. #WearAllTheHats

      We use Concur for expenses and we are a small business. Travel rules in place with managerial approval for all trips. Therefore if someone is out of policy, their manager looks at it and says, “Hm, given the context, makes sense.” Cost aside from actual travel = $220/month. Also does expense reports. (I’m not a shill from Concur, it can actually be a giant pain in the ass and it doesn’t always talk to QuickBooks like I would like it to… but it’s a cost-effective start that means Bob in accounting can stop being a skinflint.)

      Reply
  2. KHB

    I’d like to know how they expect you to use public transit to get to a 5 AM flight. The Metro doesn’t run 24 hours a day. Are you supposed to leave the night before and sleep in the airport?

    Reply
    1. Normally A Lurker

      +1000 I’m in NYC, so I actually could, but I work a lot in DC and that was the first thing I thought of – wait, isn’t the DC Metro NOT 24 hours a day?

      Reply
      1. AvonLady Barksdale

        I used to live in NYC and even though I could take the subway at any hour, I was instructed to take a taxi or car service for any work business after 9pm and before 7am. So even without the time restrictions, I think this is… unusual.

        Reply
            1. Mabel

              I wouldn’t be able to deal with luggage on public transportation. Did that when I was younger, but I’m not doing it any more.

              Reply
          1. OxfordComma

            As someone who usually has to pay out of pocket for professional development because the allotment I get barely covers half of it, I am very used to looking at the cheapest possible options and yeah, I am so not taking public transit at 3AM. I am certainly not taking it after say 9PM either. No way, no how. And that’s assuming it’s even available.

            Reply
          2. Ol' Crow

            I find it interesting that the company…rather, the accountant…is not taking safety into consideration. Should something happen to this LW while traveling metro rather than take a cab early in the morning or late at night, I can see a case easily being made for the company being liable, particularly as it was at a company representatives command AND the matter was brought to her boss who felt it wasn’t worth contesting.
            The organization that I work for has written into our travel policy rules about the hotels we are allowed to stay at and even what floors we are not allowed to stay on. And because many of those we are meet with are unknowns, it’s also written into policy where you’re allowed to meet and extricating yourself should you feel unsafe. Our business is to raise money, but they aren’t willing to put anyone in danger to meet our goals.

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          3. MacAilbert

            Okay, yea. I don’t drive on ideological grounds, and I take public transit everywhere in San Francisco (I strongly believe we Americans need to stop driving so much and actually look at mass transit as a viable traffic solution), and I used to work retail closing shifts. Typically I rode home at 11PM, but if I went to the bar after work, I’d be taking the after hours shuttle bus around 2:30AM after the subway closed. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t seen some crazy stuff go down on those night buses. Between the people tripping out on who knows what and behaving… upredictably and the chronically mentally ill homeless population, I can see where people do not at all feel secure.

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            1. Cedrus Libani

              It’s also potentially discriminatory. Making a petite and/or cute woman ride the night bus is, frankly, a much bigger ask than it would be for her colleagues.

              I’m a non-driver (for medical and $$ reasons), and I work weird hours, so I too have spent a fair amount of time on night buses. But I’m built like a tank, and I have a tired-and-cranky face that could melt cement, so I’ve never had an issue. My scrawny, 5’3″ boyfriend, however…he nearly had a panic attack when he realized precisely how I was getting home at 3 am (mile walk through large homeless camp, followed by night bus). I took a poll at the office, and the smaller women wouldn’t consider making that walk in broad daylight.

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              1. Jessie the First (or second)

                “cute woman”? Scrub that from your idea of what causes sexual assaults. Perpetuating bizarre (and incorrect) myths about risk factors for rape and assault is NOT helpful.

                Reply
      2. sam

        Even in NYC though, the airtrain can get complicated overnights/weekends. I just got back from vacation, and couldn’t take the airtrain to JFK on my way out, not because the AIRTRAIN wasn’t running, but because they were actually doing weekend/overnight work on the E train when I was leaving, and I had to be at the airport at 5am Monday morning – so I could theoretically take some *other* form of transportation to the airtrain and then take the airtrain. Which seemed ridiculous. I went old school and just called Carmel.

        (I could have theoretically also taken the A train out to Howard Beach, which takes twice as long, and I just wasn’t going to do that at 3/4 am dragging a bunch of luggage and god knows how long I’d have to wait for an actual train)

        Reply
        1. Normally A Lurker

          That’s what my current company does actually, even if you are just commuting to or from work – if you leave after 9p or have to be here before 7a, you expense the cab/car.

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        2. Lurker #2

          If you’re flying out of a NY area airport and want public transportation, cross the Hudson and go to Newark. NJ Transit has a stop at the airport.

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      3. A Lurker in DC

        YES! I also had this thought… There’s zero public transportation that will get you to a 5am flight at any of DC’s three airports.

        To the point about public transportation more broadly- it sounds like they want the letter writer to fly from IAD or BWI if it’s cheaper, and the metro does not run to those two airports (Dulles will get a metro stop one day- but that’s under construction and will be for several more years). To be fair, it’s not accurate to say there is not public transportation at all. Dulles is reachable by combinations of metro and bus (the 5A from Rosslyn or L’Enfant), and BWI is reachable metro and MARC commuter rail (from Union Station) or metro and bus (forget the number, but it leaves from Greenbelt). However, given one’s starting location, and it sounds like the letter writer is much closer to DCA, those public transportation options can add quite a bit of time to your trip.

        Reply
        1. DMK

          Word. I fly into DC for work once a month, and I will sometimes fly into BWI and out of DCA because of flight times, but flying into BWI requires at least an hour of transport into the city – and that’s if I take Uber or a cab! If I try public transit, it can take up to two hours, between shuttle to MARC to Metro. And MARC (and Amtrak and the Metrobus) run infrequently. It’s a PITA. I put up with it because it means I can be in the office before lunch (instead of coming in the afternoon before), but it’s the worst part of my travel.

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          1. Collarbone High

            Not to mention the frequent delays on both MARC and Metro, especially during morning rush hour. I wouldn’t risk using either one to get me to the airport for a can’t-miss business trip.

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            1. A Lurker in DC

              Yeah, I personally never use public transportation these days to travel to IAD or BWI, and the last time I took the bus from the airport it was only because it happened to arrive right when I needed it, and even then I took an uber to complete my trip. I’m pretty sure these routes are really more often used commuters, even the dedicated airport buses because people who work at the airport rely on them.

              Reply
        2. pomme de terre

          I have lived in both DC and Baltimore, and anyone who tells a DC resident to fly out of BWI instead of DCA for domestic business travel is a monster.

          I live in Baltimore now and will check DCA and Dulles when I’m planning personal trips and EVEN THEN it needs to be about $500 or 12 hours in savings for me to consider it.

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          1. Paige Turner

            Totally a monster! Also I will never fly from IAD unless it’s international. It’s SO FAR and the traffic is always abominable. Taking a cab isn’t going to help because you’ll be stuck in the same traffic as everyone else.

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            1. pomme de terre

              For international flights, I always check Philadelphia as well. I would rather drive to Philadelphia than to Dulles.

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          2. AMPG

            No kidding. I used to fly out of BWI on the shuttle to Hartford regularly, and I only did it because Southwest was so cheap at the time ($49 one way if you timed it right) that it was worth the Metro-MARC-shuttle hassle.

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          3. always in email jail

            Yes. I’m a government employee (not federal) and they are VERY frugal (similar to OPs post) but they would NEVER suggest BWI as an option. It’s a matter of IAD vs DCA, and even then you take into account the mileage to each (or public transportation or cab fare) and the cost of longterm parking

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          4. Sam

            I was a poor graduate student when I lived in DC, so the cheap flights at BWI were very appealing. Even so, I very quickly shifted all travel to DCA because of all the points people have made. It’s so worth the (ultimately minimal) price difference.

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        3. Paige Turner

          I take the B30 to BWI from Greenbelt regularly but starting next month, they are cutting weekend service on the line. :(
          I would never expect someone to choose BWI when DCA is closer because the extra time and transit costs aren’t worth it.

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        4. Anna

          Also, the 5a and B30 (the BWI bus from Greenbelt) are perpetually on the chopping block, due to weird logistics of WMATA’s funding mechanism. The B30 actually just got a service cut this year (Though MARC is pretty comparable in terms of price and travel time). I’ve used all 3 transit options for trips, when needed, but it’s definitely not doable for late night or morning flights.

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      4. Rat Racer

        And! Metro does not go to Dulles. The only way to get to/from Dulles on public transit is to use a series of buses (last I checked). Being forced to fly out of Dulles would absolutely make my blood BOIL.

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    2. Beth

      I am in Chicago, and the train that goes to O’Hare is indeed 24 hours.. but I wouldn’t feel safe being on that train by myself really anytime between midnight and 6am, and if my company demanded it for any reason, I’d push back. Furthermore, my boyfriend had a 6am flight and got there the night before to avoid being on the train during that time .. only to find that the security gate was closed. So, he had to wait until it opened anyways. (Although I found out later, one of the security gates is open 24 hours.. but who knows how far away that gate was from where he’d need to end up!)

      Reply
      1. LizzE

        I am also in Chicago and once made the poor decision to ride the Blue Line at 2 AM to make a 5 AM flight at O’Hare – never again! To complicate my situation further, I don’t live off the Blue Line – I live on the north side – so the Red Line ride downtown to switch over to the Blue Line was an extra level of stress; I was constantly worried about getting mugged.

        Also, as if putting yourself in a risky situation isn’t already bad enough, your acuity and awareness levels are shot in the wee hours of the morning. To expect someone to put themselves in harm’s way while sleep deprived just to save the company $ is a bad business practice.

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        1. anastasia

          Bless you. I did that once, too, except I was far enough away from a Red line, that I had to take the 22, walk to either Addison or Belmont, and then do Red to Blue. Awful life decision.

          I think that a lot of people who don’t take public transit regularly don’t realize how many people have to sleep on the 24/7 trains, and that’s what makes it dangerous.

          Or, you know, drunk bros in Wrigley at 3 am….

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    3. Awkward Interviewee

      In addition, Metro doesn’t go all the way up to BWI, and I don’t think it goes out to Dulles either? So you’re looking at using multiple forms of public transportation, with likely a wait in between each one, if they even run at all at early and late hours. It often really doesn’t make sense to fly out of BWI or Dulles if you’re right by DCA.

      Reply
      1. KHB

        It doesn’t go all the way to Dulles yet, but ever since they opened phase 1 of the Silver Line a couple of years ago, getting to Dulles has been a lot less of a pain. The airport-sponsored bus is now a 15-minute, $5 trip from Reston instead of a 30-minute, $10 trip from Falls Church, and it runs more frequently, too. But the bus doesn’t run when the Metro’s not running.

        Reply
      2. Taylor Swift

        It is actually really easy to take the Metro to the end of the green line and then take the dedicated bus to BWI! Not that OP should do this for work travel (it takes for-freaking-ever), but I loved it as a broke grad student.

        Reply
        1. Another DCA regular

          “Really easy” but only runs once a half hour, and it isn’t the quickest ride either. (And it really sucks if you miss it by 30 seconds and then have to wait for the next one. Not that I know this from personal experience or anything.)

          Reply
      3. AlliH

        I heartily second this. Public transportation between DC and, for example, BWI is slim. Basically you have to take the metro to Union Station and then get a MARC train into Baltimore. While hauling luggage. And now, apparently at some god awful time of the morning. And by the way? Pretty sure the first MARC train out of DC heading to BWI doesn’t depart until like just shy of 6 a.m. So how are you supposed to make the public transportation request match the take the earliest flight request? Also, MARC trains don’t go in to the airport park itself – so on top of the trains you have to then take a shuttle from the Amtrack/MARC to the actual terminal. Maybe you need to point some of these specific bits out to him or your manager to really demonstrate how unworkable and conflicting his requirements are for your travel plans.

        Reply
        1. Emi.

          No, there’s a dedicated bus to BWI (and another to Dulles). It’s still a pain, but not as much of one as the MARC.

          Reply
      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Metro (rail) doesn’t go all the way, but you basically go to the end of the line and then catch a dedicated bus. There’s also a few rapid buses that leave from certain outposts and go directly to the airport. But those lines are limited early in the morning and late at night, so it wouldn’t fully resolve OP’s concerns. I used to have this fight with an employer who wanted me to take the BART to Oakland for early AM flights when neither BART nor AirBART (at the time the connecting bus line, which has since been replaced by rail) were operational early enough to be able to take them. People can be mind-bogglingly dumb.

        Reply
    4. js

      yes, agreed. there is no such thing as public transportation to and from IAD or BWI, and even if you could cobble somethign together from the cheapest shuttles possible, definitley nothing that will get you there by 4AM.

      I would jsut lay it all out in the email with the screenshot. like, “As you can see the cheapest option may be X, but if i took X
      * I would not be able to take public transportation because that doesn’t open until Y so it would still cost A money
      * I would have to check a bag, so it would cost B money
      * I would not be able to work the day I leave, costing the company C in terms of hours of my time during business hours
      * I would need to spend additional per-diem money on meals which would cost D
      * etc. as needed
      So it would cost an additional total of E to take this earlier flight, on top of the ticket cost X, compared to Y, the cost of my usual ticket.

      Reply
      1. Christy

        There definitely is public transit to IAD and BWI, it’s just in no way as convenient as metroing to DCA. BWI is on the MARC train, so if OP lives near Union Station it could even theoretically be comparable in time. IAD involves metroing to the end of the Silver line and then a bus, which sounds like a nightmare.

        Reply
      2. Elizabeth H.

        You CAN take public transportation from BWI into the city. I’ve done it a handful of times. I really don’t find it aversive at all, but it’s time consuming.

        Reply
      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        There’s absolutely public transit to both. And during heavy drive times, they’re often less of a headache than a taxi/Uber. But the issue is that there’s limited public transit options early in the morning and late at night (especially the 5 a.m. departure time) because Metro/MARC aren’t operational that early in the morning. And it can take significantly longer depending on where you’re commuting from and the time of day.

        Reply
    5. DC

      Not only does it not run 24hrs, but it’s incredibly unreliable, especially with Safetrack. For Buffy fans… think “Must be Tuesday” level-reliably unreliable. This could end up costing them a lot in having to change flights if you miss one, and really doesn’t cost much different than an Uberpool. This one you have some logic to back up the pushback on public transportation with.

      Reply
      1. Red 5

        What I end up telling people in other cities when they ask about metro is “It’s good, when it’s not on fire.” Usually there’s a laugh and “Oh, haha, I guess that happens sometimes.” “No, before Safetrack started the statistics were that there was a track fire or smoke detected nearly every single day. Sometimes twice.”

        I would never trust metro to get me to an airport on time. I ride out to the stop with the IAD shuttle sometimes and whenever there’s a delay, somebody with a suitcase is on the phone panicked about making it to their flight. And again, before Safetrack, that was basically every trip.

        Reply
        1. AMPG

          There was a small window from about 2000-2005 when Metro was safe and reliable. Things deteriorated pretty severely over the following ten years, to the point that it was largely unusable on the weekends (and only sort of usable during the workweek) by the time I left in 2015.

          Reply
          1. rr

            I lived in Maryland 2003-2006 and my main memory of taking the metro was that the red line was always on fire.

            Oh, and I just saw that the purple line was happening and I actually said out loud “wait, that hadn’t happened yet????”

            Reply
          2. But you don't have an accent

            I, too, left DC in 2015, and in the last 6 months I was personally on a metro car that caught fire. Twice.

            Reply
      1. Red 5

        IAD usually has one open, though I don’t know if it’s always the same one. And they just don’t care how many people are in the line for it, they don’t open another one until the appointed hour. I arrived at 4 a.m. once and waited in a line that snaked through basically the entire terminal and there was not a thing anybody was going to do about it until 6 a.m. when all the latecomers at the back of the line got to run over to the newly opened one next to us instead of waiting their turn.

        I’m apparently still bitter.

        Reply
        1. only acting normal

          I wish!
          Note for the unwary or those who wear rose-tinted holiday specs when away from home: cities in Europe also have no-go areas, frequently near the public transport hubs, and especially at night. Most of them don’t have 24hr public transport either (maybe a few of the bigger capitals but even somewhere like London it’s a very limited service).

          Reply
    6. sfigato.taylor

      i had a 6am flight and I had to take a cab because SF bay area public transportation couldn’t get me there in time.
      not to mention that in order to get to the airport by 4am for a 5am flight, you need to get up at, what, 3am? Which means that unless you are a very special person who can sleep on a plane and get by on minimal sleep, you’ll be a disaster. All to save a most $200 bucks.

      Reply
    7. Paige Turner

      Right?! And I live pretty close to two of the three DC airports are very far from the third- I would hands-down object to having to fly out of Airport 3 just because it was somewhat cheaper.

      Reply
      1. But you don't have an accent

        Correct. The plans are for the Silver line to eventually go to Dulles, but if I recall the first installment of that ended up costing some $47,000 per foot of track so….it could be a while.

        Reply
  3. Construction Safety

    What an asswipe.

    “Sure I’ll take the 5 am flight, be there 2hours early for check-in / TSA, plus an hour on the bus. I don’t mind getting up at 1 am for business travel. On the way back, I’ll take the 10 pm arriving at 11 pm (if I’m lucky), an hour thru deplane/baggage claim, an hour on the bus, home by midnight. Woo Hoo! Oh and BTW, I’m going to call you when I get on the bus in the am & get off the bus in the pm just so you know that I’m not squandering the company’s resources. “

    Reply
    1. Midge

      I mean, she probably should just go ahead and get a hotel room at the airport the night before so she can be ready for the 5am flight. On the company’s dime, of course. She’s going to save them sooo much money. ;)

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        This was what I was thinking! Or a mandatory, paid “late start” day after coming back because OP has only slept 3 hours over a 24-hour period :P I’m sure all of that dead time will save TONS of money.

        Reply
        1. Cinnamonroll

          how do you calculate numbers of hours worked if you are spending 30 hours a week on business travel (plus time st travel site)? And what about if you are taking a 5am flight, what about extra costs like needing an overnight babysitter, or a pet sitter/dog walker?

          Reply
      2. former DC resident

        Seriously, especially since if OP’s leaving from downtown, that transit ride out to IAD is going to be more like 2 hours, and there’s no late night service, so it’d be more like “I’ll leave my house at 10 pm the night before as that is the only way to get to the airport on public transit before 6 am.”

        Reply
    2. Liane

      And I was thinking after reading the above posts about (lack of) public transportation to DC airports to suggest to Account, “Since you are all about saving company cash, how about you do dry runs of all the possible ground/air/airport/time of day options ahead of time every time I need to travel on business. Then you come back and tell me the cheapest arrangement to make. And of course do all this without asking for reimbursement or slacking on your audit duties so you get a rock superstar rep.”

      Reply
    3. willow

      Yes to the phone calls.
      “Hi, it’s 9:45 pm, my plane is about to leave. I just wanted to give you a quick debriefing of how te meeting went. Is this a good time?”
      “Hi, it’s 2 am, just got home, wanted to let you know that it was a really good meeting, I’m super pumped!”
      “Hi, it’s 3 am, just wanted to let you know I got to the airport in plenty of time to make my 5 a flight, so you don’t have to worry about my part of the presentation.”

      Reply
  4. Government Worker #2

    It’d be a pain and time investment at first, but do a spreadsheet for the next few travel trips if I were you. For example, you could list the cheapest flight, the cost of traveling to the airport, the cost of lost hours working (by leaving work earlier than needed, or spending additional time at layovers), etc., and contrast with your preferred flight, but also showing the saved costs on transportation and work hours. If you can show overall savings in a spreadsheet they would have to back down.

    Reply
    1. Bostonian

      The loss of time is the worst. And the company/auditor can’t even try to say that layover/waiting at the airport time could be used to work, because I’ve been to some airports in which either the Wifi was awful, or there weren’t enough charging stations to use a laptop for more than a couple hours. (I’m looking at you, Philly airport.)

      Reply
      1. I'll say it

        I KNOW, phl is awful. it’s my home airport and it’s shameful. it’s all of the things you said, and more.

        Reply
      2. AndersonDarling

        Agreed. Super waste of time. I’d just make the accountant book the travel. If the accountant thinks it’s so easy, then they can book it and the OP can pester them with changes.

        Reply
        1. Karen D

          This is the option that gets you a two-stop flight from an airport three hours away, leaving and arriving at oh-dark-thirty … or even worse, arriving within 30 minutes of whatever it is you’re traveling to do.

          First rule of business travel: Book it yourself, or at the very least, have someone who is righteously afraid of making you angry book it. Otherwise, it’s guaranteed to be hell. Guar-an-teed.

          Reply
          1. But you don't have an accent

            So much this. My old company used to have an office in another country book our travel for us. And they would be PISSED if you requested a flight that left before 7:00 PM. They literally wanted you to work the full day, fly to the client site, and then they would book the return flight the night after the meeting, usually arriving around midnight. It was awful. I got into a heated email exchange once when they tried to book me to land at 2:00 AM for a client site that was 1.5 hours from the airport and they just couldn’t imagine me missing a minute of work to make the flight.

            Reply
      3. Jadelyn

        Or you’re working on very confidential things that you don’t want on your screen when you’re in a public place…or you would need physical documents to work with and don’t want to haul all that extra paper for no reason…or airports are just kind of a terrible place to try to focus and get stuff done with the constant announcements and crowds and all that. It’s nice if you can get work done during a layover or waiting for a flight to leave, but shouldn’t be something people count on or assume will happen.

        Reply
        1. JustaTech

          And the best way to hope to be able to get work done in an airport over a layover is in an airline lounge, which you need status on that airline to get. Which you’ll never make if you’re always having to fly different airlines.

          Reply
      4. k.k

        And keep an eye out for those layover times! The cheapest option on Kayak often includes some comically long layovers.

        Reply
        1. the_scientist

          or transfers that can only be accomplished with the help of a time-turner, which happened to me on my most recent transatlantic flight (bless the Aer Lingus CSRs at Logan who got me on that flight and saved my vacation!)

          I work in the public sector which is NOTORIOUSLY stingy about travel, and this seems absurd even to me.

          Reply
          1. Red 5

            Yes, this! I’ve gotten to where I have to go in and specify that if I’m going to have a layover it has to be at least an hour, if not 90 minutes, because otherwise something gets delayed and you can’t forget you board well before takeoff and basically you end up like me sprinting across three terminals in Boston only to find out they shut the door of your next flight less than a minute before you got there.

            Reply
            1. the_scientist

              I did not realize that most USA flights stop boarding 60 minutes before takeoff. Neither, apparently, did the (Canadian) discount company I bought my ticket from! I am seriously eternally grateful to the Aer Lingus CSRs who a) escorted me through American airport security, which is it’s own special level of hell and b) made sure I got on the plan, even if I had to wait four hours to get my luggage at the other end.

              Reply
              1. tigerlily

                I’m assuming this is a typo – I don’t think I’ve ever taken a flight in the US that even STARTED boarding at 60 minutes before takeoff.

                Reply
                1. chi type

                  the_scientist probably meant you have to check in/check bags at least an hour ahead of time.

            2. myswtghst

              At my last job, where I traveled all.the.time, I occasionally traveled with someone who, at the time, was my boss’s boss, and who wanted the shortest layover she could find. This led to at least 1 missed flight, and several instances of us running full tilt through the entirety of the Houston airport hauling all our carry-on bags (which were full of training materials our company was too cheap to ship ahead / let us check).

              It was a wonderful day when I started doing travel where I was either by myself or the most senior person in the group, and I could choose the flights with the 90+ minute layover and reasonable departure and arrival times.

              Reply
          2. blackcat

            Every Aer Lingus employee I have interacted with has been lovely. Granted, I’ve only flown them a handful of times, but they are up there with LAN as my two favorites.

            Reply
            1. MCL

              On a trip from Chicago to Edinburgh, my luggage never made the transfer and was stranded in Dublin. Although I was fairly annoyed that it took over two days to get my luggage, Aer Lingus did reimburse me after I broke and bought some fresh undies and a new shirt at ASDA. Now I bring an extra couple things with me on my carry-on, lesson learned.

              Reply
              1. Floundering Mander

                I always, always take a change of clothes, a comb, and a toothbrush in my carry-on, even if I’m flying home. It’s inevitable that if I don’t something will happen and I’ll be trapped in the airport feeling stinky and gross.

                Reply
          3. Ama

            I work at a nonprofit and they actually expressly tell us it is fine to fly mostly on one airline if we want (provided there are flights that will get us where we need to go at the right time) so we can build up our frequent flyer status.

            Reply
        2. Slow Gin Lizz

          Right? I used to find flights for OldBoss from Boston to DC a lot and the ones that would completely crack me up were the ones where there was a multiple-hours connection in some random airport like O’Hare (??? A connection??? Between BOS and DC???) AND the price was hundreds of dollars more than direct flights. I mean, really.

          Reply
        3. blackcat

          Or comically short!

          Yes, I will get off my plane at 1:25pm in terminal A in ATL and make it over to E for a flight that departs at 1:55! And not have the airline deal with me missing the second flight because it’s a “hacker fare” on two different airlines!

          Reply
          1. Kaden Lee

            Oh man layovers in ATL are the worst anyway. I look for minimum 60 minute layovers in any other airport but 2 hour layovers in ATL.

            Reply
            1. But you don't have an accent

              Yes! And I prefer to walk between terminals because it always smells like someone has peed on the train between them (and to the rental car facility).

              Reply
          2. AdamsOffOx

            And don’t forget the 20-30 minutes after the plane has docked when everyone just stands in the aisles unmoving because apparently nobody can manage to get the skyway hooked up in a reasonable time,

            Reply
            1. yasmara

              My mom got norovirus from the ATL train…she has a super strong immune system from teaching preschool for 20 years & she was almost hospitalized it was so bad.

              Reply
        4. The OG Anonsie

          Oh yeah. The literal cheapest are usually a small savings but have two layovers or require you to be in an airport overnight or something wacky. The next level up is usually only marginally more expensive but is a normal itinerary.

          Reply
        5. MsMaryMary

          Yup. I was trying to get from Souix Falls to Cleveland last fall, and one of Kayak’s options had me do an overnight layover at O’Hare. No thank you.

          Reply
          1. Jessica

            I’ve been looking for fares from MSP to San Diego to visit my sister, and one had a return flight with a layover in Fort Lauderdale! Seriously?! Hey, why not fly to Alaska while we’re at it?

            Reply
        6. nicolefromqueens

          Or the multi-airport layover. I once saw an 80 minute “layover” with a change of airport, from JFK to LGA. During rush. I’m still SMH.

          Reply
      5. Slow Gin Lizz

        I agree, loss of time is the worst. Maybe OP could include her hourly salary in the spreadsheet so they can see how much money they’re wasting by not letting her fly at the times that work best for her schedule.

        Reply
        1. Lora

          Yes. I go Amtrak (regular, not Acela) if I have to go to Philly for some reason. You can actually snooze in the business class seats, which often aren’t much more than regular seats, so if you leave the night before you can get an OK (not great but OK) sleep and get there in the morning, have breakfast, take your time getting your rental car, stop at Staples real quick before you head out to the work site. Also the regular Amtrak line in the Northeast has plenty of charging outlets. You get to keep your shoes on, you don’t get irradiated, and you can get there like 15 minutes before the train leaves and it’s all good. The only time anything remotely comparable to airline travel happened to me on Amtrak was when the train was 3 hours late sitting on the track on account of someone had jumped in front of a train ahead of us and it was taking the emergency crew a while to clean up all the bits. And once a DHS guy asked to look at my luggage for 2 minutes, and he looked creepily like a high school boyfriend. But it took literally two minutes for him to glance at my shampoo and laundry, and there was no irradiation or violations of personal space involved.

          Reply
      6. Drew

        Appreciate the warning; I’m flying into/out of Philly in a couple of months and now I know I’ll need to bring ALL my batteries and my mobile wifi. Not that I wasn’t going to, anyway.

        Reply
    2. k.k

      I think this is the only thing you can do at this point since you can’t go to your boss. When you send the Kayak screenshots include this break down. If you can clearly show in black and white that the “cheapest” flight actually isn’t, they won’t have much to fight back with.

      Reply
      1. Jaydee

        I would do this. Send the screenshot with a breakdown of the actual additional expenses of the “cheapest” flight and the most cost effective flight.

        Reply
    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I used to have to do this everytime I decided to drive (instead of fly) for the Feds. It was a little annoying, but after doing it 2x, they backed off and just let me do what I needed to do because I could make the financial case for it.

      Reply
  5. I GOTS TO KNOW!

    This is so petty I don’t even know where to begin. I would definitely address this again with your manager because hell no I would not get on public transportation at 2:30am for a 5am flight to save the company $50.

    Can you create a sheet that breaks down not only the actual costs but the added time and missed work that these requests entail? A 2 column compare and contrast: cost of ticket, cost of transportation to and from airport, travel time, office time lost (plus what is gained from time in office versus traveling earlier), etc. Breaking it down might help show how absurd the accounting rep is being.

    Reply
    1. Matilda Jefferies

      Yep. I would aggressively follow this policy to the absolute letter, including detailed accounting of exactly how much each items costs or saves.

      I would also add a line item for how much time it takes you to search Kayak etc for the $CHEAPEST POSSIBLE!!! flight. Figure out your hourly rate, if you don’t already know it, and point out that it costs them $X of your salary just to sit at your desk and search for flights, as opposed to $Y of your salary to book the one you already know about. So if the cheapest flight costs $50 less than the easiest flight, hopefully it costs at least $50 of your time to find that out. (And by “hopefully,” I mean “make sure it takes at least $50 of your time.” Be very, very, thorough!)

      Reply
      1. Annonymouse

        Not to mention:
        the lost work time
        The extra cab costs (public transport doesn’t get you to an airport at 5am)
        Or extra airport hotel cost
        Loss of preparation time for meeting/conference etc
        Loss of productivity the next day (can you take time off in lieu/ come in later since up at 1am the day before, home around the same time and needing to be at work at 9?)

        Reply
        1. Geoffrey B

          Under “lost work time”, don’t forget to include the extra time spent complying with these rules!

          SO GLAD I work for an org that just sets a reasonable per-diem to cover meals etc.

          Reply
      2. the gold digger

        Unfortunately, if you are salaried, the expectation is still, “So you will still get all your regular work done, even if it means you have to work more than 40 hours. And no, we won’t pay you any extra, because you’re exempt from all that!”

        Reply
    2. sam

      also, aren’t you actually supposed to be productive at the other end of this work trip? I know I personally am SUPER productive on zero sleep after having to travel to the airport in the middle of the night.

      Reply
    3. OoohLaLa

      I used to fly a lot for work and frankly – I would not have taken public transportation at 230am for a 5am flight, and I’d chalk it up to HEALTH AND SAFETY (which is a huge deal in my line of work). In fact, I’d typically park in short term parking (ie: like $40 for 24 hours) if my flight left before 9am and returned after 9pm for the same reason.

      Reply
  6. Chicklet

    This guy sucks. I agree with the advice you’ve been given. Also, if you get paid for travel time (some people do), be sure to account for that. You taking the bus doesn’t save money if they also have to pay you for an extra hour of travel time.

    Reply
  7. Falling Diphthong

    I’m guessing the accounting office is experiencing their version of the town cop told they need to issue 23 more traffic citations by the end of the month as a sign of productivity. Could be imposed from someone above (“I want measurable metrics!”), could be this accountant deciding to prove their value to the company by showing that they saved a few hundred dollars by forcing everyone in Teapot Spouts to take 5 am flights with multiple lay-overs.

    Reply
    1. Where's the Le-Toose?

      Our accounting department is like this! They used to handle all our travel and would insist that flying the lower cost airlines was always the cheapest option and didn’t consider actual travel time and the logistics of flying out of certain airports. They would always nickel and dime us. That ended up being changed.

      A group of us were flying from Northern California to Salt Lake City, about 45 minutes to an hour by air. One employee was able to book his airfare on one of the big three (our regular travel person was out sick) and got a direct but more expensive flight. He left the airport at 11 am and arrived in Salt Lake around noon.

      The other 9 of us had to fly the cheaper airline, also at 11 am, with a 65 minute layover in Las Vegas. Fine, we’d still be there by 2 pm. But then our flight to Vegas was cancelled. So we had to fly direct to Denver (and flying right over Salt Lake), had an 8 hour layover, flew back to Salt Lake, and by the time we got to the hotel, it was almost 1 am the next day. For a conference that started at 8 am.

      After that they changed our travel policy. We could book our own travel on the company card and could use any option as long as your boss signed off on it. We’re so much happier now!

      Reply
    2. Bryce

      That was my thought too. Someone told “I want you to reduce flight costs” and is willing to spend a lot more money to bring that one number down.

      Reply
  8. Jana

    That is ridiculous. I don’t travel for work, but my father does. He keeps his travel expenses as low as possible, but never once does he get on a 5AM flight unless he has an early meeting wherever he’s heading. My only advice is that when you’re up at 4AM at the airport, give this person a call and ask them some pointless question about travel expenses.

    Reply
    1. Matilda Jefferies

      This would be kind of fun, actually! Phone them and say “I want to get a coffee at the airport, and I just want to make sure I’ll be reimbursed before I go ahead and buy it.”

      Reply
  9. LJL

    I have to wonder, does the poster work for the government? i had some onerous reporting when I worked for the state.

    Reply
    1. DMK

      Unlikely. Every government agency I’ve worked for (and my spouse and any of my friends) requires you to use in-house travel services for booking. Maybe some agencies are different but, at least at the state and federal level, travel is usually under an agency-wide (or even government-wide) contract with negotiated rates, etc.

      Reply
      1. Red 5

        Yeah, I know people who do government travel booking for their work, and this description actually doesn’t sound restrictive enough for what they have to do.

        The company could get government contracts and government funding, which would lead to some financial oversight that could come into play though, I think.

        Reply
        1. Rat in the Sugar

          My company has to follow federal guidelines–and honestly, I was thinking our employees have it a lot easier than this! Our travel agency website is programmed to only show flights that meet policy, and using the website satisfies our requirement to search for the cheapest flights. We’ve never had the government fuss at us over POV mileage to the airport, taxis, rental cars (except that time some chucklehead thought it would be fine to get a Hummer to ride around in by himself), etc. Just saying “that was the time I needed to be there” has always been enough to justify flights. The only time I’ve had to adjust airfare costs has been for first class seating and non-refundable tickets that got cancelled (we had to demonstrate that refundable tickets would have cost waaay more just to get part of the cost back).

          I think maybe the accountant got spooked by his boss ordering the travel audit and is afraid he’s going to get in trouble himself for allowing these expenses? This honestly seems a little ridiculous. I concur with everyone saying OP should put together a spreadsheet showing that the cost difference is negligible–but the extra time taken is not.

          Reply
      2. hermit crab

        I travel on federal government contracts and manage projects where others travel on the same contracts. We do have some restrictions but there are not NEARLY as onerous as this. We just have to minimize costs within reason (and the definition of “within reason” is, well, reasonable — we consider costs to the whole project, so we balance people’s time vs. flight costs, etc.).

        Also, we always just get per diem for meals and incidental expenses. We probably save our clients (and ourselves) huge amounts of money by not spending all the time necessary to deal with receipts.

        Reply
    2. Rachel Green

      I wonder that, too. I work for a state agency, and the travel policy is a bit absurd about some things. And there really isn’t any leniency on the rules, either. I believe our policy also states that you have to choose the cheapest flight available, whether it’s convenient or not.

      Reply
    3. nonymous

      not at a federal agency. use of non negotiated rates (e.g. Kayak ) is specifically prohibited (as is purchase of non-refundable tickets)

      Reply
  10. Mabel

    I especially agree with the last part of Alison’s advice to do what makes the travel more comfortable for you and inform Bob that’s what you’re doing, with a brief explanation. I travel enough for work to be incensed on your behalf with these nitpicky new requirements. If I traveled as much as you do, this kind of nonsense would make me seriously consider wanting to work for another company.

    Reply
    1. AndersonDarling

      Me too. Departing from distant airports, taking pre 5am flights or post 10pm flights, taking the bus to the airport…I’d be looking for a new job. Traveling is difficult enough, but policies like this are hardships to employees.

      Reply
      1. Jessica

        Not just a hardship, but I’m willing to bet it’s a crappy way to push travel costs onto employees, by telling them, “We’ll only pay for these terrible options, and if you want a better experience, it’s coming out of your pocket.”

        Reply
  11. mcfly85

    This may not make much of a dent in the actual problem, OP, but I’d suggest that if your boss is unwilling to intervene and you’re left without other options, ask if you can take an additional day off before or after each trip to recover, without charging PTO. It’s crazy to expect you to work a full day after getting back late the night before or if you’re leaving in basically the middle of the night. Even though that won’t help with your workload, it might make the problem more obvious to your boss and/or get you something in compensation that’s in their power to give you.

    Reply
    1. Amber T

      This. “Considering I need to be at the airport by 330am tomorrow, which means I’ll need to leave by 2am, I’d like to leave by 3pm today.” “My flight doesn’t land until midnight, which means I won’t get hone until after 130, so I’d like to come in late.” One – if this had to happen for whatever reason (I’m thinking once in a blue moon scenario), I don’t think a good manager would mind. Two – this drives home the ridiculousness of your travel, to the point where it actually will be a problem for your manager

      Reply
      1. Little Miss Cranky Pants

        I wouldn’t ask for phucking permission to do this, I’d just do it. Travel and get home anytime after midnight warrants coming in late/not at all the next day as far as I’m concerned.

        Screw this cheap low-level jerkwad. Let *him* travel the way he’s suggesting and see how productive he can be.

        Phuck him.

        Reply
        1. the gold digger

          ExBoss told me, when I commented about being exhausted after a week in Dubai, which involved the whiplash of a 20-hour return flight and a ten-hour time zone change, that that was part of the job of international work and when he returns home Sunday night from China, of course he will be at work bright and early the next morning.

          #StillBitterAboutFlyingToDubaiTheFridayAfterThanksgivingAndNotGettingCompTime

          Reply
    2. zora

      yeah, I would probably do this. I have to say though, OP’s boss sucks.
      My boss would totally go to the mat for us if this kind of thing happened at our org. A lot of our staff travel a lot for work, and she thinks it’s really important to not make travel overly onerous for the staff, because it’s important for people to be rested and at their best when doing important work! A good boss would not brush this off so quickly, and even if there were crazy politics involved would be making some kind of an effort to help their employee find a solution.

      Reply
  12. MaureenS

    I’m sorry your finance department are being jerks. My company travel policy is ‘reasonably economical’ & will pay a small premium for direct flights vs cheaper flights with layovers. They will even allow an extra ‘jetlag’ day when traveling long distance across the ocean.

    Probably not helpful, but can you submit a bill for your extra time to:
    a) take public transport vs cab
    b) getting up at 3am for a 5am flight (+ overtime!)
    c) spending all day in city X instead of the morning at work
    d) if you are ‘on the job’ from 5am to 10pm because of a corporate travel policy, does that violate any labour laws in your state? In mine it might interfere with laws around daily rest.
    e) airline extras (checked baggage, meals not included)
    f) does the website show the total price, including taxes & fees? Those can add up.
    Add that to the ‘cheapest’ ticket & submit the true cost to the accountant.

    Reply
    1. Normally A Lurker

      Oh, while you’re on fees – if the cheapest is Spirit or Frontier – then it’s not cheapest at all with all the hidden fees from those two airlines.

      Reply
      1. But you don't have an accent

        My bosses let us “ignore” Spirit and Fronteir because…well, they like us? Our travel booking platform has built in calculations that say you can’t go over a certain dollar amount over the cheapest option. But if the cheapest option is Spirit, all you have to do is put “Spirit” in the comment and they’ll approve it!

        Reply
    2. Bea

      I cannot imagine anyone who is traveling for their job that much is non-exempt and can bill for their time let alone OT, that’s the part of being on salary that sucks and usually within your job description specifically.

      This kind of behavior will just get you pegged as a pain in the ass and they’ll keep gunning for you.

      Reply
    3. J.B.

      The jetlag day may not be a question of allowing, I believe it came up as being required by OSHA for international travel.

      Reply
          1. Gee Gee

            Last name of Roberts, but the reasoning is like a Hallmark movie.

            He married a woman and adopted her daughter, and for various reasons he decided to take their name instead of the other way around. This was quite unusual at the time. Some of the jerky “good old boys” at the company gave him a sexist ribbing about it, so in solidarity to his new daughter, he doubled down and announced that everyone should call him Bob. Years later, it had stuck.

            Reply
  13. CatCat

    How are you supposed to be able to take public transit and flights that leave before 5 AM? DC Metro doesn’t even run before 5 AM.

    I have made the public transit slog from DC to Dulles and back on personal travel. It takes FOREVER and sucks when you have bags. I’d be looking for a new job if I had to travel for work and they expected me to do that regularly.

    I hope you get a satisfactory resolution, OP, and that you update us!

    Reply
    1. Jerry Vandesic

      The simple response is that you don’t take mass transit for safety reasons. Instead, start booking limos.

      Reply
      1. Iamanengineer

        Where I live it’s cheaper to get a limo to/from the airport than a cab. However, uber is cheaper than both of those options.

        Reply
        1. Another Rosamond

          In the DC area, Lyft has gotten even cheaper, and they are 100% better organized about airport pickups and dropoffs. Even if you use Pool or Line, Uber/Lyft is assuredly the best way to go for airport travel

          Reply
  14. Responsible party

    A long-ago boss once wouldn’t let me park at the terminal for a day-long meeting halfway across the country; the flight left around 6:00 am and I didn’t want to have to allow for the hour or so to get to the terminal from the remote lot. I said “so you’ll approve the $150 for the hotel and the $25 for two days parking in the remote lot, rather than just pay $25 for terminal parking for less than 24 hours?”

    His answer was an unembarrassed “yes.” I still don’t get it.

    Reply
    1. Construction Safety

      Maybe I worked for the same guy.
      ORL to GTR required a 4 hour trip & $500. ORL to BHM plus a rental car was 2.5 hrs & $300. Boss: “I don’t pay for rental cars.”

      Reply
    2. JulieBulie

      Your boss had probably spent a couple of hours in an audit with “Bob” and didn’t have the power/energy to fight with him.

      It is nuts, yes. But I’ve worked with a lot of people who were unwilling to challenge crazy policies. It’s a little depressing, but in some places it’s probably more exhausting than it’s worth.

      Reply
  15. Beancounter Eric

    Speaking as someone who has been paid to review travel expenses and enforce company travel policy, accounting rep may be getting orders from above to closely review travel expenses – they may be addressing past abuse of travel reimbursement through increased scrutiny, and OP has the misfortune to have been tagged early in this process.

    Is accounting rep being a bit over the top….perhaps….but I refer back to the proposition they may be under orders to tighten enforcement of travel reimbursement policy.

    Reply
    1. Consultant

      Still people have right to criticise absurd rules.

      As a person who travels a lot for work I can also tell you such things are simply extremely demotivating. I had to get up at 4 am every week for almost a year to fly to the office (I was there about 8:30 am) and work there. My company didn’t want to pay for the hotel Sunday/ Monday…

      You can imagine how productive I was. After a few weeks I started to feel totally dizzy on the travel days. Then I felt dizzy also the day after. It now takes me 2 days to recover from flights. It’s only on the third day that I feel a bit better.

      Reply
      1. Consultant

        I will add that I’m currently looking for a new job and the company travel policy (does the travel time count as work time? What standard can employees travel?) is one of the factors I consider when interviewing.

        Reply
      2. Beancounter Eric

        I don’t disagree that the policy is a bit much….my point is before people beat up the accounting rep too much (and OP’s remarks below are moving me toward suggesting accounting rep deserves a very good Gibbs dope-slap), they may be acting under orders from higher…and disregarding lawful policy because someone finds it absurd is a great way to find oneself looking for a new job.

        Reply
        1. Consultant

          “I’m being a jerk but they expect me to be” is not a convincing argument.

          But I don’t think I will convince you so I will refrain from trying to discuss with you.

          Reply
    2. That Would Be a Good Band Name

      The first thing that came to my mind is that others are somehow traveling cheaper. I think the policy is over the top, but I wonder if it wouldn’t be a good idea to see what others in the company are doing and see if there is a way to reduce the expense without it being the huge inconvenience this is going to be.

      Reply
  16. AMT

    This is the definition of “penny wise, pound foolish.” Save ten or twenty bucks on flights and cabs, make your employees exhausted and unproductive, increase turnover, spend money hiring and training new people, get a reputation for being a crap place to work.

    Reply
  17. Polypants

    Also, point out that you will have at least two more meals to reimburse (breakfast and supper) since you are leaving so early and returning so late. Plus, the later your return flight is, the more chance you have of being stranded and no backup flights being available. Then they will also have to pay for an extra night in a hotel plus even more meals.

    Reply
      1. Cheese Sticks and Pretzels

        +1, in this case I personally would make sure I reached my max per diem for meals every single day even if I had the buy food for someone else.

        Reply
      2. la bella vita

        A few years ago, I had to travel every week for a few months. The client was about a 3 hour flight away (so I was waking up around 4:30-5am to get to the airport), I hated the project, and I was sent there alone (and I was sick of that job regardless – I was already interviewing when I got assigned to that project). Luckily, I had a $50 maximum for dinner because I was in a high-cost city and you had better believe I used every cent of it. If I only spent $25 or so, because all the company could see was the total charged (not the breakdown), the server got a $25 tip.

        Reply
  18. Umvue

    Alison, does your work on AAM ever make you despair about workplaces and employee/employer relations?
    I can tell you that some of these letters make me feel very lucky.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Ha. I was already a weird blend of cynicism and optimism about people in general, and I figure people stay their same basic selves with the same weirdnesses (and wonderfulnesses) when they go to work.

      Reply
    2. Lauren

      That’s what I was wondering. Because I can’t believe how much people suck. And I’ve experience a lot of the suckage myself.

      Reply
  19. 2 Cents

    How much is the company going to be saving if taking public transportation or doing other travel somersaults (take a flight with connections! Travel to the farther airport option for an important meeting!) if the OP’s company ends up needing to pay for a second ticket (because OP missed the first flight due to “track delays”) or losing an important client because the company’s reps always come in exhausted from a 20-hour travel day.

    Reply
  20. Ian

    Hello – I didn’t see in the letter what the repercussions would be if she didn’t follow the accountant’s advice. Presumably, her supervisor approves her travel reconciliation before it goes to accounting. Depending on what the stated consequences are, I’d probably just continue doing what I was doing. If it came to a head, then chances are the accountant would eventually be seen as being unreasonable. If I know I’m following policy and being reasonable, then I personally wouldn’t worry to much.

    Reply
    1. Zip Silver

      Yeah I was thinking along these lines. In my company, accounting has very little power over operations, unless the person in operations is truly stealing.

      Reply
    2. CM

      I was thinking the same thing — if the accountant has no power over the OP, then the OP should continue making reasonable choices, even though the criticism and scrutiny will continue. It’s unfortunate that this has been brought up to the manager twice, though, since now it might seem like insubordination to ignore the restrictions.

      Reply
  21. Rusty Shackelford

    I hear you on not wanting to bug the CFO with this, but it’s so out of sync with our travel practices — and will make work travel so much more onerous for me — that I don’t know how else to resolve this

    I don’t know that I’d ask them to make it less onerous on me. I’d emphasize the cost savings that simply aren’t there. I like the ideas above about creating a spreadsheet showing the additional money and hours that will be spent to travel the “cheaper” way.

    Reply
  22. OP

    Hi everybody! Wow – lots of good comments and questions. Let me answer a few:
    -I’ve since learned a little more backstory on these travel audits. Apparently one department of our large member-based advocacy nonprofit got pretty spendy on their expenses (luxury hotels, big alcohol tabs, etc.), so the board-level Audit Committee instituted a special internal audit team (reporting both to the committee and to the CFO) to focus on travel expenses through random audits. “Bob” is on that team. His boss is the team leader and thus reports to the CFO.
    -My boss is sympathetic to my complaints, but after I raised it with her a second time she shut it down and said I just have to deal with it; it’s a high-profile enough issue internally and her relationship with the CFO is strained enough that she will not ask for an exception or to revisit the matter.
    -The accounting department did clarify that I can indeed expense a cab or Uber en route to my 5am flight out of Dulles since the Metro isn’t running.
    -I’m exempt, so not being paid for any of this extra travel time.
    -Since my “random” audit continues on an ongoing basis, I’m now getting questioned monthly about food expenses. Actual comment at the last checkin with “Bob,” regarding a ~$12 tab at Chipotle: “Ordering extra guacamole is wasteful of member dues.”

    Reply
      1. Nolan

        Yeah, I would have gone straight from that meeting to updating my resume after that one. Enforcing frugality is one thing, but this is so grossly over the top, that I’d no longer be able to look at the org in a good light.

        Reply
    1. Matilda Jefferies

      Actual comment at the last checkin with “Bob,” regarding a ~$12 tab at Chipotle: “Ordering extra guacamole is wasteful of member dues.”

      Good grief. I hope this job is wonderful in other ways, enough to put up with the nickel and diming over guacamole!

      Reply
      1. OP

        It is! I love my job in every other respect; apart from my new 5am travel departures a couple times a month the hours are very consistent and sane. I have great benefits and I’m a sole breadwinner with young kids, so it’s important to keep the job for those reasons. Not that I’d never leave, it’s just not so much of an inconvenience that I feel I must. If I traveled every week or more that would probably be a different answer.

        Reply
        1. Umvue

          This is way off topic and nosy, so feel free to ignore and please pardon me if I offend, but what do you do with the kids when you need to travel? It seems it’s an expectation of the business world that working parents should have a place to put their kids when they have to be away overnight, but if I didn’t have a co-parent there’s no way I’d be able to do it, and very late/very early flights must make it even harder. (Even with a co-parent at home it’s quite the algebra problem to make sure that we can cover all the times when daycare/school is not an option.) I’m curious if there are generally available resources I’ve missed, or if people in this situation just lean on other family, or what.

          Reply
          1. Alienor

            I was a completely single parent for most of my daughter’s childhood, and tbh the only way I made it work was by telling my employer up front that I couldn’t do overnight travel. I would go on day trips within 50 miles or so, and on the couple of occasions when I absolutely couldn’t avoid being away overnight, she stayed with my mother (ok for emergencies, but not viable as a regular solution because Grandma lived a 75-mile round trip away, so staying there meant missing school). Luckily the company was pretty understanding, but if it had become a real issue, I would have had to look for another job that didn’t require travel. I do have a couple of colleagues who are single parents and travel, but all of them are in situations where they’re divorced and the non-custodial parent is close by, so when they’re away, the kids just get extra visitation with Dad. It’s really a challenge.

            Reply
    2. Umvue

      Oh my! I’m a member of several advocacy nonprofits, and I certainly don’t begrudge their employees extra guacamole…

      Wouldn’t it be more effective, in your org’s case, to institute something like a location-adjusted per diem cap on expenses, prohibit expensing alcohol, and be done with it?

      Reply
      1. Agent Diane

        +1.

        The company does has a requirement to be mindful about how money is spent, and have been burnt by an idiot with no regard for that. Regional spending caps are far more sensible than auditing the guacamole. Those of you being mindful will be fine; flagrant spenders get the grief.

        Just make sure the caps are reviewed regularly. Our cap on London hotels is almost impossible to stay under these days as costs with our travel provider have risen and the cap hasn’t.

        Reply
    3. Christy

      Oh wow. If I were you I’d be job hunting.

      Any chance they can switch you to per diem instead of expenses? That’s what I have with the government and it seems much better than this.

      Reply
    4. Beancounter Eric

      How much is extra guacamole? (I don’t eat the stuff)

      I appreciate the desire to maintain strong controls of travel expenses, but your Accounting Department can dial things back just a bit.

      Reply
        1. Slow Gin Lizz

          I thought it was extra for any guac at all but I haven’t been to Chipotle in awhile. Maybe mention that you have an allergy to burritos without guac.

          Reply
            1. cat

              I’m not a vegetarian, but I get a veggie bowl there because I’m not crazy about their meat options, and when they get to the guac, they always say, “Guac is extra, okay?” and I always say “Not on a veggie bowl!” I love that they have that “Guac is extra” speech down. /OT

              Reply
      1. Infinity Anon

        I would be tempted to pull out my wallet and say “Here is the dollar for guacamole.”

        This is not the right way to keep travel expenses in check. Instead of looking at exactly what people order for lunch, give a cap on how much they can get reimbursed per meal. If bar tabs are an issue, say no alcohol will be reimbursed or put a limit on that as well or some combination (like allowing $X per person when entertaining a client). Have a list of approved hotel chains and require special permission to use another hotel. It’s really not that hard to impose limits without interrogating every single dollar spent. Also, combing through all your expenses seems more time consuming that just having accounting book everything for you.

        Reply
        1. Troutwaxer

          This is what the OP should be pushing. It sounds like one jerk has ruined everything for everyone, so institute some rules which make sense rather than having the Other Jerk question everyone’s expenses.

          And sorry to say, but the OP should be looking for another job. This is bullshit.

          Reply
        2. Ama

          Yeah this reminds me of my old director who would throw a temper tantrum over how much we were spending on pens (it would be about $30 every quarter — there were 60 people using our pen supply so it was $2 per person per year), but the time we needed a rug for a new conference room, he shot down the $200 option I priced and insisted on buying a $2000 Persian rug.

          Reply
    5. Lurker

      It’s unfortunate that people who are not abusing the system are being lumped in with those who clearly were. Perhaps if they’re worried about wasting member dues, they could implement that employees use GSA guidelines for MI&E.

      Reply
      1. AndersonDarling

        Yep. They know who the culprits are, but instead of slapping them on the wrist and auditing their expenses, they will randomly harass other employees. It’s not fair to lump $2 guacamole together with $2,000 luxury hotels.

        Reply
      2. EmilyG

        Punishing everyone when only one person or a small group or the problem is such a weak-sauce management strategy. This is a great example of why. Some passive-aggressive managment person doesn’t want to deal with the real problem so they’ve detailed Bob (who seems regular-aggressive) to take it out on everyone. OP doesn’t seem bothered enough to walk because of it, but you can tell from the comments here that some of us would.

        Reply
      3. CPA

        Normally during a fraud or other investigative audit, you do indeed audit every past culprit. However, you must also randomly sample the remaining population to become confident that the problem isn’t pervasive across those others who haven’t been caught yet. Random sampling is used to avoid wasting time and money by doing a full audit of EVERY employee. The random sample will be sized via a statistical method to ensure sufficient coverage. It just sucks to be one of those chosen… though I’ve never heard of any company that wasn’t on the verge of bankruptcy freaking out over guacamole.

        Reply
        1. Barney Stinson

          My big beef with this is that these ‘policies’ are only in play for those who failed a random audit. Which means that they’re just punishing people, not trying to fix a larger problem. Make everybody send in their freaking kayak screenshots; forbid guacamole for everyone, and no wire hangers!

          Oh. Did I say that out loud?

          Reply
    6. Not So NewReader

      I can understand you don’t want to leave, OP.
      But I would at least be saying, “Okay. That’s ONE.” And let the countdown begin.

      Reply
    7. sam

      OMG. That’s just…

      Obviously, instead of nickel and diming you over extra guac on an obviously inexpensive meal, they should establish limits on meal allowances and if you go over, it’s on you (i.e., $15-20 for lunch, $25-30 for dinner, no alcohol, etc.).

      That being said, given that this is the result of an actual incident, you’re probably stuck with the consequences of it for a while.

      My brother got stuck on an assignment for his prior NGO where all he was told was that the prior supervisor had left suddenly. When he got there, he discovered the real story – that a bunch of money had “disappeared”. As a consequence, the entire division’s budget had been reduced while they went through an internal audit, and my brother had been brought in to help restructure the office. (AKA, lay off 1/3 of the staff that was supporting teachers in Aleppo, Syria). It’s always the folks who remain in the wake of bad actors who suffer the consequences.

      Reply
    8. Falling Diphthong

      *head-desk at guacamole*

      Your best defense is probably going to be excruciatingly detailed spreadsheets. Including the implied cost to the company of not doing other things (at whatever your hourly rate works out to, even if you’re exempt) because you had to research burrito options and ensure you purchased the absolute most cost effective one, see attached spreadsheets B, G, and Q.

      Reply
    9. Kyrielle

      I…I would find a new job, OP. This is ridiculous. I wouldn’t argue it – that doesn’t seem like it’s going to get anywhere – I’d just find a job elsewhere. And I’d have to swallow my urge to say that I was helping save member dues being spent on my salary, as I left.

      Reply
    10. The IT Manager

      The biggest thing I’d push back on is the hours. I know you’re exempt, but there’s no way I’m taking 8am flights (leaving my house at 6 am) much less 5am flights.

      Reply
      1. Jerry Vandesic

        I agree. If I need to be at a remote meeting first thing on Tuesday, I fly out at noon on Monday. Travel is during work time.

        Reply
      2. Falling Diphthong

        I gather the appeal of 5 am flights (such as it is), beyond timing, is that they are devoid of infants, toddlers, and small children. And that at 4:30 am the only people going through security are seasoned business travelers who have getting their shoes off and stuff on the belt down to a science, and so everything moves several times faster than it does with the mix of mid morning travelers.

        Reply
        1. blackcat

          Also lack of traffic. For a flight at 8am or earlier (so arriving at the airport at 7am or before), it takes <20 minutes for me to get to the airport. It's <15 before 6am. It takes an hour+ in rush hour traffic.

          Reply
        2. LurkNoMore

          You have the best chance of your flight not being delayed if you take the first flight out. Also the plane is as clean as it’s going to get at that point…

          Reply
        3. Drew

          You would think, but I’ve been on too many early-morning flights with wee tots and people who don’t understand why they can’t have a liter bottle of water in their backpacks to believe it.

          Reply
    11. Sara

      Bob is a little too eager with his job. It doesn’t seem like you have a ton of leeway, and that’s super unfortunate. Maybe Bob will settle down once it becomes less of a hot button issue. Just tell him guacamole is the price he pays for 5am flights.

      Reply
    12. JulieBulie

      So… take a cab to a supermarket, buy an avocado, and expense the cab and the avocado?

      I wonder if the CFO has actually seen the details of what Bob’s been doing. I mean, luxury hotels is one thing. If that is what Bob is supposed to be cracking down on, I totally get that. But there is something wrong with his professional judgment if he thinks that guacamole is comparable!

      Reply
      1. NW Mossy

        I really hope that this is just Bob flexing the “millennials can’t afford stuff because they blow their cash on avocado toast” meme ironically, but I fear I’m wrong.

        Reply
    13. MashaKasha

      Bob sounds quite wonderful. Extra guacamole, I just can’t.

      I also like it how you are stuck with following these ridiculous policies because somebody else stayed at luxury hotels and ran up large alcohol tabs.

      Reply
    14. This Daydreamer

      So you have to take flights at four in the morning from BWI and miss half a day’s worth of meetings, all while turning down the guacamole at Chipotle because some other department spent their business trips partying all night in the Presidential Suite and recovering from their nights at the hotel spa? Yeah, that sounds fair and reasonable. /s

      Reply
    15. LCL

      You millenials and your guac, no wonder you can’t afford to buy a house/s
      It might help to ask Bob how many labor hours are being spent on this level of scrutiny. I get why there should be random audits of all levels of worker, but your company isn’t applying common sense to the results of your audit.

      Reply
    16. That Would Be a Good Band Name

      I wish I’d see this before I commented above. Now I want to send you a barrel of guac…to dump on Bob’s head. I kid, I’d never waste good guac that way!

      Reply
    17. Dr. Doll

      I am doing my version of falling out of my chair laughing at you being dinged for being wasteful of member dues for extravagant guacamole consumption. The *f*?

      I’m kind of mad at your boss. And the CFO. One department is negligently allowed to do inappropriate things for too long and suddenly you are being needled for guacamole.

      You sound like you have a great sense of humor and you’re very patient with crap, so if you ever get tired of advocacy, you can come work in higher ed. I’d love to have you.

      Reply
      1. Student

        You should also run the actual specifics by your boss. They’re dictating what you can and can’t eat while on travel. They should be giving you a set of budget constraints and not caring what you eat within that reimbursement limit. They’re not going to stop with guac.

        Personally, I’m not very nice. I’d start going through the most crazy food I can to try to see what specific food items this guy would ban me from, one by one, while staying within the same total price range. Ice cream. Cake. Cupcakes. Durian fruit. Cookies. Exotic chocolates. Specialty fish. Random foods I’d never heard of and can’t pronounce. Maybe set fun political traps for him with ethnic foods – will he ban more Mexican specialty food than Chinese specialty food, and can I exploit that to make this guy look terrible?

        Reply
    18. Jess

      That cab or uber to Dulles would probably cancel out most of any added cost for a flight out of DCA. Last time I flew out of Dulles a few months ago it was $48 for an uber x from DC (from Union Station) and $78 (before tip) for a cab on the return trip—both ways no traffic (early Sunday morning trips). Even then, it still took an hour to get there.

      Also, even as a currently broke grad student, I value the time and hassle saved of flying from DCA for domestic flights as 100% worth the [minimal] additional cost. Dulles is only ever worth it for international flights to avoid the need for a connecting flight from DCA. Your employer’s policy is just insane!

      Reply
      1. em

        I used to live near DCA and the one and (thankfully) only time I had to fly out of IAD for work the cab was $97 – each way.

        Reply
    19. Liane

      Sounds like the common scenario of “One person in the office does The Thing repeatedly and nobody else ever does The Thing, but management gets onto everyone about The Thing rather than deal with Problem Person.” Only it was expanded to “Making all departments jump through extra hoops rather than hold Problem Department’s head/s accountable for running it properly, including making sure they and their reports stop doing The Thing immediately.”

      Reply
      1. MashaKasha

        Because I’m paranoid, I wonder if this can also be “make all departments cut their expenses to a bare minimum, because Problem Department’s head/s is/are too important/connected/related to someone for us to hold them accountable”. If everyone stops ordering extra guac, perhaps it will help balance things out next time Problem Department spends the night in a penthouse suite and gets a slap on the wrist.

        Reply
    20. Ann O. Nymous

      I hope you threw an avocado at Bob after that last comment.

      I second what people have said elsewhere in the comments — I think if they’re making you spend these long days at the airport, you should be more liberal with your hours before & after the flights (like, if you have a 5am flight, the day before announce that you’re leaving at 3pm, or if you get in at 10pm, tell your boss you’ll be in at 11am because you got in so late).

      I also think if you don’t work for Bob you should be very frank with him and tell him when he’s being ridiculous (I really hope you told him, in a professional manner, to f%*k off after the guacamole comment).

      But I think if this situation continues, and it continues to be this demoralizing, it might be worth raising again in the future. I think it’s fair to tell your boss/the audit team that as a professional employee it really hampers your work enthusiasm to be chastised about guac.

      Reply
    21. nonymous

      well, now you know to order chips AND guac instead of just extra guac. Plus a soda.

      Look, I get that the pressure to audit is coming from the CFO, but there’s a big difference between audit and “find issues to nitpick on every expense report”.

      I would also plan on leaving work at noon the day before such trips and coming in at noon the day after. If there is any push back, just raise one eyebrow and something along the lines of “Surely it isn’t an expectation of this job to work on 3 hours of sleep?”

      Reply
    22. KTM

      WOW. That is so awful. Out of curiosity – do you have a good feel for how much weight you have at the company? I wonder if they would actually fire/punish you for continuing your avocado extravagances or if Bob is just trying to shame you into being a penny pincher. I’d be tempted to continue on with typical expenses and then let Bob’s comments roll off me…

      Reply
    23. Rookie Manager

      This reminds me of a situation in OldJob Charity. My remote team were all together for a quarterly meeting. We were allowed up to £21 for dinner including 1 alcoholic drink. At the hotel restaurant 5 people got a 3 course pre-theatre for £12 and a glass of wine each. 1 person, employee who was also in beneficiary group, got a £20 steak and paid for a drink + starter himself.

      The next day the team was given a lecture on spending charity money on alcohol (within policy) as it would upset our beneficiary group. Steak-buyer sat looking smug while we all got a row. The fact we spent *less* than him of charity money was irrelevant. The policy was eventually changed. After that I stopped worrying about trying to get to the restaurant in time for the pre-theatre.

      Same job wouldn’t let me stay in the cheaper hotel on the same street as head office, in centre of town, because it was *percieved* to be an expensive chain. Instead I had to stay a taxi ride away at a “budget” chain that cost more and was out of town so there was only the hotel restaurant and a McD’s/petrol station within a safe walk.

      Reply
    24. chi type

      Are there consequences attached to these inane notes? Can you just roll your eyes and keep ordering the guac?

      Reply
    25. Middle Name Jane

      Wow. Next thing you know, Bob will be questioning why you ordered coffee/tea/soda instead of plain tap water.

      Reply
    26. Mike C.

      Your boss sucks. It’s clear that there’s a difference between running up huge alcohol tabs and traveling at a decent hour. This zero tolerance stuff never works and your boss sucks for not being adult enough to deal with it properly.

      Also, Bob would be finding avocado in very creative, hard to clean places.

      Reply
    27. CMDRBNA

      Jesus weeping on a cracker (with extra guac)! Our CFO (the same one who somehow missed like 150K going missing from the org…hmmmmm) would send nastygrams if she felt like you were ordering the “wrong” food (I got a smoothie at an ice cream place for lunch once and she sent me an email telling us she wouldn’t reimburse for ice cream and why was I eating ice cream for lunch?). I finally emailed her back and told I struggled with an eating disorder and her comments were triggering me.

      Reply
      1. CMDRBNA

        And I do often wonder about the embezzlement thing…150K goes missing under her nose, and she keeps her job? She does dress really nicely though, hmmm.

        Reply
      2. KellyK

        I finally emailed her back and told I struggled with an eating disorder and her comments were triggering me.

        Good. I hope she was appropriately mortified.

        Reply
        1. CMDRBNA

          It wasn’t an exaggeration! I get VERY twitchy if I feel like people are food-shaming me – and her email was less in the “we don’t reimburse for snacks” vein and more in the “we’re not reimbursing it because you were eating ice cream” vein. She’s one of those people who makes snarky comments about other people’s eating habits/not going or going to the gym habits (I think she’s got her own issues in that area that she’s projecting onto other people) but she’s definitely emailed other coworkers to ask if they REALLY ate all the food they asked for reimbursement for and similar gross comments.

          Anyway, so glad that she’s on top of stopping everyone from eating ice cream or buying gum, while 150K walked away somehow.

          Reply
          1. KellyK

            No, I didn’t think it was. I kind of figured from the fact that she was critiquing what you ate that she was one of those amateur dieticians who can’t seem to mind their own business. I hope it at least got her off your back.

            Reply
    28. KellyK

      That’s ridiculous. However, since your boss is sympathetic and you’re exempt, maybe she’ll let you take off whatever time is needed to make the ridiculous travel work, without using PTO. Pitch it to her as, “I understand that we need to go along with this because of the high priority, and I know you can’t push back on it. I’m willing to make it work, but here’s what I need to make that doable.” If you need to leave the house at 3 AM, a half day beforehand to catch a nap and pack seems eminently reasonable. Likewise, another half day, or a whole day off, after getting in at 1 AM after travel.

      I really think that’s the way to go, since it’s such a non-starter for her to push back with Bob or the CFO.

      Reply
    29. Sue Wilson

      Every time he calls you in, you need to ask for the policy guidelines (ostensibly so that you don’t violate them, but mostly to make him justify his directions).

      Reply
    30. KellyK

      I just had to comment on the “extra guacamole” nonsense. It’s ridiculous. It would drive me absolutely nuts if I’d followed all the rules about when I can expense a meal and how much I can spend, and someone then nitpicked a freaking condiment.

      I would really politely email Bob and say that you need to know, in advance, what restrictions you’re expected to follow regarding meal expenses. I would also ask someone else to review it for snark, because I’m pretty sure a big dose of “WTF?” would slip into my tone. Be nice about it, but you can’t follow rules that no one has actually spelled out for you.

      If he’s not willing to do that, then I would be sorely tempted to do what others have suggested and contact him with your exact order prior to buying every single business meal. Unfortunately, I think that’s going to be seen as snarky and passive-aggressive and blow up in your face.

      I do think that every time he hits you with something unexpected, it’s reasonable to point him back to a prior email or some other written guidance. “Bob, I noticed that you flagged the $0.75 for cheese on a Whopper as excessive. I’m a little confused, because when I asked you for guidelines for meal reimbursement, and you said [block-quote of email]. I don’t see anything on that list that would make a Whopper with cheese an issue. If requirements have changed, can you please provide an updated list prior to [your next travel date] I’m happy to comply with whatever requirements we have to ensure that we’re making good use of our members’ money, but of course I can’t follow requirements I’m not informed of.”

      If he’s going to move the goalposts, you can at least point out that he’s moving the goalposts.

      (Also, since it’s lunch time here, my apologies to anybody who really needs a Whopper after reading that.)

      Reply
    31. KS

      So what’s happening to the people who actually did egregious things, and why are you being singled out? Your boss sounds sucky, btw. Does anyone involved in this have a lick of sense besides you? o.O

      Reply
  23. Pally

    I have coworkers who have quite a collection of similar penny-wise-pound-foolish travel stories. The best of them came during a phase where certain staff were (falsely) considered overtime-exempt and were not permitted to book their own travel. Add in a cost-obsessed manager and it resulted in things like ‘travel with an extra 12 hours of layovers so we can save $20 on the fare’. And heaven forbid you tried to expense some ‘luxury’ like a magazine or a pack of gum while waiting for your connection!

    This went on for months and I still don’t understand how we didn’t lose every one in the department. Eventually management changed and certain lawsuits ‘clarified’ the overtime policy and sanity returned.

    I suspect issues like this have their roots in the fact that the accountants may not focus on totals but instead on a series of different columns for things like ‘airfare’, ‘hotel’, and ‘traveller overtime’ and sometimes they get told by their superiors that reducing the numbers in one column takes absolute priority regardless of the consequenes to the others.

    Reply
  24. Stayc

    HAHAHA public transportation to BWI from DC before 5am flights? Yeah, not going to happen. It just doesn’t exist.

    This makes me grateful that my company doesn’t bull this “penny wise pound foolish” stuff. I live right near BWI, though my office and most of my co-workers are near Dulles. If they told me I had to find the cheapest flight no matter which airport or time of day, I’d tell them to go kick rocks. I’d probably straight up tell my boss that either they escalate to the CFO to remove these ridiculous requirements or I don’t do any more travel. Want to fire me? Go ahead, I’d have a new job by next week (but obviously I know not everyone is in that situation).

    Reply
  25. CMDRBNA

    This is insane. I’m in the same boat, same airport and all, I never flew out of any other airport except when we had an international flight that didn’t leave out of DCA. Traffic is so iffy, and getting to Dulles takes SO long and is so expensive, that it makes no sense to save thirty bucks on a plane ticket and spend $100 in transportation or parking just to get to Dulles.

    It also doesn’t make sense because you can often get the cheapest fares by using points, miles, or an airline credit card – so of course you would be flying out of the same airport and with the same airline!

    I’d second some commenters suggestions to call this guy at 4 am with random questions, but I’m petty like that. It may indeed be that they only care about the cheapest option regardless of the other factors, but if that’s the case, that’s a pretty crappy way to treat employees who are already traveling for the company.

    Reply
    1. JulieBulie

      Here’s a petty one: I worked in Orlando and had to go to Tampa one day. I submitted an expense report for mileage and lunch, which was a Happy Meal from McDonald’s.

      My boss approved the mileage, but denied my < $4.00 lunch. I wasn't going to make a big stink about it, but the accountant who reviewed my expense report called and asked me about it. She said, "that's ridiculous! I'm paying it."

      So YEAH! There is so such a thing as a FREE LUNCH! (And accountants who are reasonable! At least in 1996.)

      I left that place a few months later. Not because of the Happy Meal, but because of the rest of the iceberg underneath it.

      Reply
    2. JanetM

      Not travel, but similar nit-picking.

      When I started here, every month the business office printed out all the long-distance phone charges (so reams of paper every month). They were distributed to the staff, and each of us had to mark every call as business (and what for) or personal, so that we could be charged for the personal calls.

      But the university is tax-exempt, so we couldn’t just tape $0.17 or whatever to the printout and turn it in. No; we returned the printouts, and the business office would then prepare invoices (adding on tax) for personal calls, which were printed and returned to staff.

      *Then* we could pay the $0.19 or whatever.

      Which would have to be accounted for as a cash deposit (involving more paperwork) and for which a receipt would have to be printed and returned to the staff member.

      Someone eventually worked out that we were spending upwards of $20 in time, paper, and toner for every phone call that was collected (and the vast majority of the calls were less than $0.50), but we still kept on doing it for another five or six years.

      Reply
      1. Doreen

        I thought it was only government agencies where I worked that did this sort of thing. Although they didn’t do the invoice step, it wasn’t only long distance phones calls. At one agency it was every phone call from your office phone and at another it was every cell phone call – even if it didn’t go over the plan allowance. And the payments/bills had to be mailed to a different office after I reviewed the bill. I have no idea how much the total cost was for them to get my $0.12 three times a year – but it was at least $10/month just for me to review the bill.

        Reply
  26. Foreign Octopus

    Oh my.

    This makes me think that the accounts person might be relatively new to the job. This sounds like something I might have done in the first few months when I was looking closely at the rules and not the intent. Still, one hopes that common sense will out in the end.

    What will happen if OP goes to the CFO anyway?

    Maybe not now but if the situation escalates and her manager still won’t approach the CFO?

    Reply
    1. OP

      If I went over my boss’s head to the CFO, I would be in trouble. They have a strained relationship going back years and my boss needs every once of goodwill she can gin up for more important stuff (like, say, approving budget for new hires). Not an option.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        Wait.
        So this CFO is using his workerbees to go after your boss’ workerbees.

        OP, I am sorry. I have to wonder how much of this is about the CFO’s animosity toward your boss than it is about what you are doing.
        Think. What a way to make your boss miserable, right? Attack people working for her so that they go complaining to her OR even eventually quit the job.
        Yes, I understand there was a bigger problem originally. But, OP, your behavior does not come anywhere close to what that other person was doing. I think the CFO stumbled onto a way to get back at your boss as part of an on-going spat.

        Reply
        1. Umvue

          I wondered that, too, but then decided it was too paranoid… there are plenty of Bobs out there who do not require this kind of incentive, unfortunately. (I’m related to one of them.)

          Reply
          1. nonymous

            I’m wondering if the Bob in question is being directed to find errors in all the expense reports. As is if OP gets a golden stamp of approval, it will somehow make Bob look bad b/c clearly OP must be doing something wrong. Who knows? Even if the luxury spender are confined to one small group, it may be that whomever is spearheading this audit process hasn’t realized that simple fact??

            Reply
      2. Solidus Pilcrow

        Ugh, I’m sorry you’re on the receiving end of this, OP. Before your updates, I was going to suggest that you propose a “manager waiver” where you can keep your reasonable travel arrangements as long as your manager signed off. But that sound like it would just call more fire down on your manager than she can afford.

        I wasn’t clear on the guacamole scandal, did Bob deny the expense, or was he just griping about it?

        Reply
        1. OP

          He approved it with an “I’m very serious about this going forward. You should consider ‘extras’ at restaurants not eligible for expense.”

          Reply
          1. Parcae

            That is so nuts. I would be tempted to ask Bob for an itemized list of things I’m allowed to eat. Are fries OK? A side salad? Hot peppers on my Jimmy Johns sandwich? Can I get a large fountain drink, or must I stick to small?

            Reply
            1. TootsNYC

              send him an email every time you go to order. “Hey, Bob, here’s a picture of the menu–can I get vegetables with my mac and cheese? Or is that an extra? I don’t want to end up ‘in trouble’ again. Let me know soonest–the waitress will be back in about 5 minutes.”

              Reply
              1. So Very Anonymous

                “Hey Bob, yeah, I know, it’s 4am, but I’m at the airport and I reaaaaaally want a refill on my coffee but I wasn’t sure if a refill counts as extra. What do you think? OK, thanks!” (calls back) “Hey Bob, totally forgot: sugar’s not an extra, is it? What about Splenda?”

                Reply
          2. Ann O. Nymous

            What the hell? So if you go to Subway and get chips and a drink, is he gonna deny reimbursement of the chips and/or drink? Is he gonna ask why you got extra provolone on the sandwich? If you go to Taylor Gourmet, is he gonna gripe at you for getting the large sandwich instead of the regular-sized sandwich? If there’s a choice between a $10 caesar salad at a restaurant and a $12 Thai chicken salad, is Bob gonna pull up the menu and ask why you didn’t get the caesar? What if you leave too generous of a tip on one of those 3am cab rides to BWI? WHERE DOES IT END, OP?!?!

            Reply
          3. Solidus Pilcrow

            Ye gads. Gotta wonder how much their nickle and dime scrutiny is costing (i.e., the auditor’s salaries). Probably more than the guac!

            Reply
          4. Science!

            Do you have the option to take per diem for food instead of keeping and expensing receipts? I usually do per diem when I’m allowed it because it’s less of a headache, but maybe once Bob realizes that they are paying more per diem than your extra guac he’ll lighten up.

            Reply
          5. Naruto

            That almost leaves you no choice but to start ordering meals with no “extras,” which may in fact be more expensive.

            Reply
          6. Cristina in England

            This is so nuts. “Bob, I am happy to comply with a dollar limit on meals but I do not believe it is company policy for Accounting to dictate what I eat.”

            Reply
            1. London Calling

              Part of my work is checking expenses and people like Bob give the rest of us a bad name. We aren’t all this nit-picky, trust me, (not saying we can’t be, there are procedures to follow), and we do like to stay on good terms with colleagues who are going out there and getting the business. That stuff with the guacamole….I just couldn’t tell someone something like that.

              Reply
              1. sstabeler

                this is why a reasonable per-meal limit- or a per diem- works far better. (if there is a good reason to, include a prohibition on expensing alcohol, but please don’t do that without a good reason.)- that way, there’s no reason to nitpick what they order. ( however, if they are arguing for an exception to the limit, then that can be an exception, since then, it’s more of a disincentive to ask for an exception)

                Reply
      3. nonymous

        I had a similar thing happen once – I got two appetizers instead of a single meal item ($12 total) and the accounts person tried to deny it because it looked like “I was feeding another person”. I whipped out the menu and pointed out that it was cheaper then any of the entrees.

        Given the politics of the situation, just stick to restaurants that have full meal options. They’d probably be fine if you got an entree at Red Lobster that comes with the salad and side.

        Reply
  27. My 2 Cents

    My advice would be to go back to the accountant and tell him that you’ve looked into his suggestions and they are actually going to cost the company more and don’t fit in the spirit of the policy, so you will continue to do things your way. At that point HE has to decide if he wants to escalate the issue to someone else, and if he does then he has to explain this to them and at that point I’m willing to bet that he’ll be put in his place. Even if not, you’ll be given a chance to explain your side of it all to someone in power, and you aren’t going behind your manager’s back since you aren’t the one that escalated it.

    Reply
  28. Amy

    This is where I love being in sales. “This is a $150,000 presentation. And you want me to save $50 by having me get up at 4AM?” Long pause… followed by one raised eyebrow. “No, that does not work for me.”

    Reply
    1. Office Love

      THIS! I would love to be questioned on why I didn’t fly at the crack of dawn to save $35. “This is for a contract worth 2.5 million dollars in annual premium for the next 2 years, it’ll cover that extra $35 a few times over.” Pound sand, Bobby.

      Reply
  29. Purple Jello

    in addition to the other suggestions, I’d consider checking the government per diem rates and see whether you’re anywhere near them

    Reply
    1. Bolt

      Thing is that he is probably just the messenger of the policy… there is more people higher up that told him “Jane’s travel expenses are $25 higher than they should be, skin her alive”

      If OP can talk to the next person up, it’d be wise to go armed with spreadsheets showing the different costs. Accountants love comparative spreadsheets…

      If all else fails, I’d almost be willing to ask if I could pay for any increased fare that results from taking the afternoon flight if the morning was cheaper. Not leaving at an ungodly hour is worth it.

      Reply
      1. 2 Cents

        Or maybe the accountant guy gets a real or imagined reward if he curtails expenses found in his audits. Even if it’s $50/person by making his coworkers take redeye flights.

        Reply
  30. Jess

    It may also be worth seeing if you can find some travel policies from comparable companies to show to your manager. I work for a large company (~25k employees) with lots of business travel, and we have a “lowest logical fare” policy that allows us to cite things like higher overall cost (which includes things like taxi costs, luggage costs, etc., as well as the hourly cost of our time for a less direct route) as justification for selecting a higher airfare or a closer airport. The system also enables us to submit “unreasonable hours” as a justification for a more expensive itinerary. If you can provide some industry-standard documentation to your boss, Bob’s boss, or both, that might help you make your case and get them to take you seriously.

    Reply
  31. Travel Pro

    That accountant would do well to learn some basics about business travel and the benefits of elite airline status—not only to an employee but to their own bottom line. What any smart company (smart about money-saving, if needed) knows is that having employees who have that status can save them A LOT of money in the end, even if a ticket cost is slightly more (if its a difference of $450 on a flight between Philadelphia and Denver, maybe not so much though). When this OP travels American, with status, any time s/he needs to leave earlier or later—if a meeting runs late, if the cab hits rush hour traffic, etc.—they can standby for ANY other flight that day, earlier or later. This means the company would not incur re-ticketing/ticket-changing charges that doing so for a non-status employee (which can sometimes be $200+.).

    Reply
    1. sam

      The other thing they should look into is negotiating some sort of corporate preferred rate with airlines and hotels – they may not be big enough to merit this, but we do that at my company with a few airlines and hotels, and we get some pretty significant discounts and whatnot for flying Delta and staying at particular hotels (the flip side is that we have to guarantee a certain number of “organization” flights and hotel nights/per year. Given that we have between 6 and 7,000 employees, that’s not too difficult). We also have a big office in Atlanta, so we’d pretty much be flying on Delta all the time anyway. If you’ve got people traveling all the time, this is pretty standard for your procurement department.

      Reply
    2. MechanicalPencil

      That’s what the SO does quite frequently. Means he gets home sometimes at a reasonable hour instead of after midnight because the meeting wrapped up early and they got to the airport just in time to grab a flight. It’s a beautiful thing, status.

      Reply
  32. Former DC resident

    He does know that his advice is contradictory, right? If you pick a 5 AM flight, you can’t use public transit because it doesn’t run that early, or if it does, it’s not safe to do so (standing out on the sidewalk at 3 AM… giant nope). I lived in DC for years and flew at least once a month, and if you use the early flight, you take a cab, and if you use the late flight, you can use public transit. But it costs about the same in the end either way.

    Reply
  33. JKP

    If the business needs you to be there in the morning and take an afternoon flight, and the accountant won’t budge on the new travel rules for you, then can you make it blow back on him by not being able to be in the office when you are critically needed because the accountant required you to fly out at 5am?

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      OP, seriously look at this. This accountant and CFO are basically running your boss’ department. They are bordering on usurping her authority by dictating your availability in the office.
      Watch out here, OP, do not allow yourself to be used as a pawn.

      Reply
    2. Specialk9

      Ha. Yeah.

      Though the OP’s statement that the manager told her to suck it up, and they need the job as sole earner with kids, makes me think there is no good resolution.

      Reply
  34. MashaKasha

    I have 0% work travel and I find this policy infuriating.

    We have people flying in from satellite offices, with the expectation that they’ll be able to get to work, or attend a meeting, the moment they arrive. How would they be able to do any work if they’ve taken a 5AM flight with six layovers, and had left home at, what, 11PM the night before? (since the Metro closes at midnight I think?) to take the public transportation to an airport out in the boonies to make their 5AM flight? They might be able to stagger into the office and keep their eyes mostly open during the day. But that’s not the point of their visit!

    Reply
  35. Language Lover

    Oh my, did your company hire the guy who used to work where I work? (Seriously, he was nickel and dime focused to the point that he wasn’t practical. Or even knowledgeable in many cases. No, electronic isn’t cheaper than print so no, we can’t get rid of all print.)

    Why does your manager say that it would have to go all the way to the CFO? Couldn’t she talk to the accounting rep about his recommendations about your travel? Regarding the aforementioned accounting rep from my job, he could be a real pill when working with people who were of equal status or “below” him but having a manager of a department come speak with him could often change his tune.

    And I’d also question your manager, if you feel comfortable, about this being a “chit.” It’s not calling in a favor to speak with the CFO to clarify travel policy or ask him what they’re trying to accomplish with some of the recommended practices. Perhaps she could get together with the managers of others who have “failed” their travel audit. I think having to take a snapshot of all available flights when you’re booking is so ridiculous. Would he really prefer you choose the cheapest flight which might end up involving layovers of 12 hours or more? If they want to control your travel that much, they should hire a travel agent.

    I wonder if the accountant is being given a mandate to find a way to reduce the travel budget and this is how he sees fit to go about it when in reality the company should be looking to see if all the travel they request/require is necessary?

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      Yeah, if OP’s boss cannot say, “I need my employee in the office until noon and she can take an afternoon flight”, then something is hugely wrong here. Auditor is basically telling OP how to do her job and Boss is allowing it.

      Reply
  36. Ms. Magoo

    What is interesting to me is that there is no travel agency handling all bookings. I previously worked for a large non-profit and we were required to use our travel agency to book all travel. We were very cost conscious but the auditing was much easier and any fees for unavoidable changes were often waived due to the volume through the agency. Generally, it streamlined everything and kept issues like this at bay.

    Reply
    1. LawBee

      Interesting. I’ve never worked for a place that booked business travel through an agency. We’ve always done our own (especially in jobs where our schedules may change day-of).

      Reply
        1. KR

          We use Egencia! And to be clear we can book whatever we want with Egencia but it shows us which hotels and car rentals are preferred and have been used by other employees before but we can book whatever we want it’s just usually at a discounted rate. It’s nice for me because I’m under 26 and it doesn’t hassle me with fees or restrictions when I’m renting a car.

          Reply
    2. Travel Pro

      I personally dislike working with travel agencies (I’m a consultant, so sometimes clients want to have their office book for me and I always refuse.) In almost 100% of the cases, I can find cheaper or better flights, or at least the equivalent, in my own preferred airline and program, at the time I want to fly. I got so tired with giving my preferences to travel agents, then being ignored AT A COST OF $-$$$ to the client. I’d send them my desired itinerary, like “Depart 7AM Tuesday and return Friday 7PM on American.” They’d book me at 6AM Tues returning at 9PM Fri on United and it would cost them an extra $50. Meanwhile, in 5 minutes I can find exactly what I requested for less $ with a quick online search. I cringe when I see colleagues let this happen, who aren’t savvy about the benefits of having airline program elite status—fewer free flight opportunities thee days, but no-line first class check in even for coach seats, free upgrades, skipping the looooong security line for a quick one, free same-day standby changes, free airport lounge use, etc. All because they let their company or clients book them on random airlines so they have 100K+ miles every year on 6 different airlines they can’t do anything with. AND it costs their comany or clients MORE money and wastes MORE time.

      Reply
      1. nonymous

        We have a designated travel person who is supposed to look at our preferences before booking. Either I get a bunch of emails because the times I listed aren’t an exact match for what she found, or she picks an alternate that is super-annoying to accommodate (not on purpose – it just feels that way).

        I’ve found the best thing is if the org has Concur or other online ticketing system that lets staff book on their own but pre-filters for the rules/contracts that the org has in place.

        Reply
        1. Recruit-o-rama

          We use concur in conjunction with an agency. I can book through concur, but I email my agent and ask her to book for me because it’s easier. I do love concur for the expense report, very easy to use

          Reply
      2. Recruit-o-rama

        That sounds like more of a problem with your travel agent than with agencies in general. We book through an agency at work and my agent books my travel with all my preferences and frequent user accounts and gives me a menu of flight options to choose from. Plus, if there are delays or whatever, they are proactive sending notifications and rebooking options before I even know there’s a problem at the airport. Not only is my agent super responsive, she’s a creative problem solver who has made business travel booking so much easier and stress free than when I did it myself.

        Reply
        1. Travel Pro

          Those sound like good reasons, if you have an agent who can work with your needs. Looks like you’ve got an ideal situation. I’m based in New York and have international and U.S. projects. I’ve NEVER encountered an agency used by clients that works that well.

          I will say though, that once one achieves elite airline status, the airline itself will provide concierge-type services for free to take care of those things. Especially the agents at the airline’s airport lounge.

          I’ve yet to encounter myself, alas, with domestic or international travel. Best case scenario finds me still having to look online, finding per my own exact preferences (again, at the same or lower cost 75% of the time, at least) and then tell the agent to book THAT, not what they found. That seems so wasteful, for the company to be paying an agent to book something I got on a website in 5 minutes—as happens sooo often.

          Reply
    3. azurelunatic

      My last big workplace had some travel portal where preferred stuff was flagged and there was a manager approval process for stuff out of the ordinary. It was still a substantial hassle, and I (as department administrator) did a solid chunk of the booking for the group, since I already knew the system, knew the basics of the travel policy better than most, and my labor was cheaper than the specialists.

      Reply
    1. Callalioly

      May also be the newbie bean counter sent out for slaughter… always more pleasant to send the juniors to skin the staff alive.

      Reply
  37. Polymer Phil

    Malicious compliance is a good idea here. Take that slightly cheaper flight with a layover or two, and let it burn up an entire workday on each end of the trip. If they’re going to make your travel miserable with petty nickle and diming, you can retaliate by turning a 2-day trip into a 4 days out of the office, and being “too busy” to check your phone and email the whole time!

    Reply
    1. Courtney

      I don’t think this would be effective because it sounds like the overarching problem here is between OP’s boss and the CFP. So sticking it to her boss over policies the CFO’s team are enacting isn’t going to help – the CFO and his team almost seem to want her boss’s team to fail.

      Reply
  38. gladfe

    For awhile when I was a grad student, we were supposed to submit a screenshot of all the Kayak options for the day of travel, along with a statement explaining why each flight cheaper than the one we booked was impractical. Would that be a compromise that Bob might accept, or has the craziness escalated too far for compromise? (The guacamole comment makes me think maybe the latter.)

    Reply
    1. blackcat

      I had to do this the time that I, silly grad student me, decided to extend a trip to mid-sized City A by half a day and visit a friend in major City B (roughly 100 miles away, but accessible via transit). Rather than an indirect, more expensive flight back from the City A airport, I got a direct redeye back from City B for like 1/2 the cost. Saturday night dinner because I was seeing friends, but I did expense train fair (which was far less than the difference in airfare, like $30 or so vs $200+).

      There were SO MANY QUESTIONS about the flight from city B. I had to do so much leg work to prove that it was cheaper than flying out of City A. Because this all happened *after* the fact, I had to show that it was cheaper on every other Saturday night in order for them to believe me that it was cheaper on that particular Saturday night.

      At the same time, no one batted an eye at the flight *to* city A which was stupidly expensive because I had to teach the morning before I left.

      I do not understand travel policy enforcement.

      Reply
      1. blackcat

        The incident was made more ridiculous by the fact that my advisor, who traveled to the same conference as me on the same dates, looked at my expense form when he signed it and exclaimed, “How did you only spend X roundtrip?!” I explained the redeye out of city B and he said, “Thanks for saving so much grant money by taking a redeye. You know you don’t have to do that, right?”

        Reply
        1. nonymous

          My program admin wanted me to reimburse for 1/2 the flight when I wanted to do constructed travel as a grad student. This was after they initially wanted to book me on a flight that would have cost $300 more (which coincided with the conference dates). This was the same admin who wanted me to stay with family and hour away instead of at the conference hotel (and wouldn’t reimburse for commuting back and forth).

          Reply
          1. TootsNYC

            When my mom worked for the State of Iowa, they ENCOURAGED people to extend their travel over a Saturday, because it saved them money. So when she had to go to Washigton for a Monday meeting, she flew to NYC, stayed with me, took a train to DC, and flew home from there–and it was still cheaper than flying her in and out for a day-long conference.

            Reply
  39. jillybean

    I work at a state university with high turnover and ridiculous policies pop up all the time. They all eventually die when they affect someone high up in the chain, or some boss *does* have a chit to cash in. Do you know anyone else on audit probation who can kick up a fuss?

    Reply
  40. Not So NewReader

    OP, my heart goes out to you, really. I suspect there is more to the story than what you know. You are very loyal to your boss, I would be more impressed if I saw that loyalty returned.

    Watch your step. And keep an eye peeled for more and more straight-jacketing rules. I would start looking for an escape plan, bare bones, figure out what your options look like.

    I will say this, though. My friend went through a government audit that sounds a lot like this. I can’t expand too much but the auditor ordered my friend to do things that could be construed as falsifying records. Of course, my friend called her higher ups and let them duke it out. I honestly believe that some auditors should have experience in doing the job they are auditing because they lack of understanding of the work involved is PROFOUND. My friend had to work on the most basic of levels to get the auditor to understand what was going on. I am discouraged because taxpayers are shelling out millions for this “help”.

    I think that costing it out to show the auditor how much more things cost his way is the route to go. Yes, labor intensive. And, right, not your job, really. But it is also an investment because it’s a way of saying, “don’t frig with me”.

    Reply
    1. Troutwaxer

      I agree on the getting out. If there’s a conflict between the CFO and your boss, and you’re a pawn in that fight you could get clobbered regardless of how well you do your expenses. Look up the resources on this site for changing jobs, make a plan, and execute it. (If nothing else, when you turn in your notice, you can give your manager some ammunition against the CFO.)

      Reply
      1. Beckie

        Completely agree — the tension between your boss and the CFO will only be resolved by one of them leaving the organization, and if it’s a small non-profit, it’s probably going to be your boss who leaves. And whether your boss leaves of their own accord gracefully, quits in a huff, or is fired in a huff, your standing in the organization would likely be much less secure.

        Reply
  41. Vaca

    In my experience, this is actually really easy: you just tell the accountant person “I’m not going to do that.” And then you walk into your boss’s office and tell them the same thing. That puts the problem on the accounting group to solve. Right now it’s your problem. Keep submitting your expenses the way you always have and when you get the ridiculous requests repeat and cc your boss. “That is unreasonable and I am not going to do that. “

    Reply
    1. Infinity Anon

      This runs the risk of not being reimbursed. We have reports denied all the time for stupid reasons and have to redo it multiple times until it finally goes through. It is not reimbursed until everything is exactly how they want it with almost no exceptions.

      Reply
      1. Vaca

        Then you stop traveling. “I won’t comply with these. Please cut my check by tomorrow or I will cancel my upcoming trips. Thanks!”

        Reply
        1. Courtney

          Then she could lose her job, and she is the sole breadwinner with three children. If I were OP I would be looking for a new job, but it doesn’t sound like she can afford to risk her current one this way.

          Reply
          1. RVA Cat

            I have to wonder if Bob the accountant is in the mindset that “I, single-guy with no attachments, have no problem whatsoever traveling at any time of the night, so in my Logical Neutrality that should be true of everybody!” The OP may want to see who’s being flagged by the audit. If it’s mostly women/parents, this may not just be an accountant problem.

            Reply
        2. LawBee

          Then you’re out of a job. I think the OP has some power to pushback on this, but not if it’s coming from the CFO level. OP probably likes being paid.

          Reply
              1. Vaca

                Yes, I read it. There are two ways of dropping the issue. One is to follow the accountant. The other is to drop the problem in the accountants lap.

                Reply
    2. Polymer Phil

      This tactic is risky, but might work. I’ve found that there are often no real consequences for disobeying someone who isn’t your boss, but thinks he is. I suggest doing an experiment by defying him on something trivial, like ordering guacamole again, and seeing whether or not anything happens besides him throwing a hissy fit. He might be all bark and no bite.

      Reply
  42. Katie the Fed

    BWI should not be considered a DC airport. I live between Dulles and DCA, and I’d rather chew off my own arm than make my way to BWI. Nope. Not happening. This is insanity what they’re suggesting.

    Reply
    1. Umvue

      Well, to be fair, if you live in, like, College Park, BWI is totally a DC-area airport and sucks less than Dulles. (I would hate to see the District Bobs of the future decide that their employees can’t use it even in situations when it really does make sense to!!) But I agree with your broader point, I think — it’s really unreasonable to expect someone to use the cheapest airport in a large metro area without considering all ancillary costs in time and money.

      Reply
    2. Another DCA regular

      I’d rather chew off my own arm than make my way to Dulles–and I live *in* DC, not even between DC and BWI :-)

      Reply
    3. Ann O. Nymous

      Eh, I work near Union Station and getting to BWI after work to catch a flight is really not that bad (except for the time I almost missed an international flight due to a track issue at Union Station, but that’s even MORE likely to happen to me taking the metro out to DCA, in my opinion). I would never want to drive out there on a weekend, though.

      Reply
    4. Detective Amy Santiago

      When I lived in Silver Spring, I always preferred to fly out of BWI or suggested it for people coming to visit.

      Reply
    5. saf

      Whereas I live in Petworth and would SO rather go to BWI than Dulles! For a small city, it’s a big metro area. (National still is the best though.)

      Reply
  43. bopper

    Our company has the concept of “Lowest Logical Airfare”…a 10:00am flight for a 9:00am meeting is not logical. 2 stop flight is not logical. If we don’t use what the computer comes up with, we just have to explain why.

    The Auditor is probably worried about people using flights that rack up their air miles even if it is not the cheapest.

    Reply
  44. Jady

    I think there’s a couple of additional options to be considered, depending on OP’s standing and job flexibility.

    #1: “Due to the impact this will have on my work and my personal commitments, I am no longer able to travel/must cut down significantly on travel.”

    If that’s not possible or you enjoy the traveling events:

    #2: “Since I’m required to meet these extra traveling conditions, I’m going to needs some extra accommodation. Since I won’t be arriving back home until 1am or later, I will be taking the next day off outside of my PTO, as I’m sure you understand I won’t be very productive on 36+ hours without sleep.” or whatever other requests would make the situation more reasonable for you.

    Reply
    1. Eleanora

      This! I can’t see how a job could require someone to fly at 5am and expect them to be any good to anyone. If the OP’s manager isn’t willing to do her job on this one and address the expensing insanity, she will have to agree to significant time off in lieu. It’s time for the OP’s manager to pick her poison.

      Reply
    2. always in email jail

      At the very least, you should request to “flex” your travel hours. AKA if you’re leaving your house at 3am to make an early flight, leave work 5 hours early the day before to make up for the hours. If you’re getting home at midnight, getting to take 7 hours off the next day, etc.

      Reply
  45. (Different) Rebecca

    Flights that leave at 5am out of Dulles or Baltimore require cabs or Ubers–there is NO public transport at that time of day. Likewise if your after 10pm flight was delayed. To use a colorful phrase, eff a load of that noise.

    Reply
  46. Kate

    Seems the auditor only knows numbers, but know nothing about how travels work! The cheapest is not always the most cost-effective.
    1) For a 5 am flight, even if you have no luggage, you need to be at the airport at around 3:30, so I guess you’d need to leave home between 2-3 am? Not even worth making the bed. How can you be expected to represent the company to the best of your abilities when you’d had little to no sleep in the last 30 hours?
    2) Even if there’s public transport at such an ungodly hour, it runs much less frequently. Maybe you need to leave at 1 am to get to the airport by 3:30, because the next bus would arrive too late? Especially if you’re expected to use other airports. Plus what if you have a big luggage? And it’s not safe, worse situation if you’re a woman.
    3) You’re even saving money on flights and meals for the company! Plus, it’s part of doing business. If your work requires travel and that you represent the company, then the company has an obligation to give you all the tools to make a successful trip. E.g. enough sleep, enough stipend, and the shortest route possible.

    Sorry. I just get so worked up because of unreasonable people who have their own idea how travel works and wants to convince people it works that way, even though they’re dead wrong. And these people override decisions made by people who actually know how travels work because they travel or make travel arrangements frequently.
    Take it from me: I’m doing tons of travel arrangements for coworkers. That’s my job.
    Push back. The auditor’s demands are unreasonable. You can’t be expected to work at full capacity with these unreasonable “suggestions” that gives you undue hardship while trying to work. He has no business in managing your schedule, either (if you have work in the morning, why should you catch an 5 am flight?!).
    Ahem. Good luck, don’t give up!!!

    Reply
  47. LawBee

    I have never been so thankful that my bosses travel more than I do. I am so so sorry, OP. This is how I would handle it. (Literally, although I know it won’t work for everyone.)

    Do the search. Take a screenprint. PRINT IT OUT. Write on it exactly how taking the “cheapest” flight will disrupt travel, and tie it directly to your productivity on the trip and how it will actually cost more. Scan it in, and that’s what you send. In the email, state specifically that you’re concerned about the additional cost this will actually cause for the company, both financially, time wasted, and loss of productivity. Also state in the email that you do not feel safe traveling that early/late. Ask for their specific approval to incur this additional cost, and for the cost of a taxi to get you to the airport for your personal safety.

    Don’t book that flight. By then the prices would have changed. Wash rinse repeat – and in the meantime, book what you’re going to do anyway, and ask what’s more important, having you clear-headed and safe, or booking a “cheap” flight that actually costs more?

    Basically this infuriates me on behalf of all business travelers. ARGH. This is why accountants have bad reps.

    Reply
  48. Mike C.

    A couple of thoughts:

    0. To echo everyone else, this rep is a complete jack*ss.

    1. Being forced to take the really late flights leaves you at a huge risk of missing connections. What is the cost to your business if you’re stuck at an airport instead of where you really need to be?

    2. To jump off of 0, this rep feels like the living incarnation of a clickbait “save money easy” internet article that’s filled with trivially basic hints or things that may be cheap but take forever to make or do. Practicality can save money as well!

    3. Anyone else get the feeling that this rep is acting on their own or somehow inconsistently applying the policies in an ad hoc manner? I certainly do.

    Reply
    1. JulieBulie

      Yeah – I’m curious if the CFO knows exactly what Bob is doing. Bob was supposed to be cracking down on people who were staying in luxury hotels – not harassing people for liking guacamole.

      If the CFO does know exactly what Bob is doing, that lends credence to the previously mentioned theory that the CFO is deliberately messing with OP’s boss.

      Reply
      1. esra (also a Canadian)

        From OP’s comments, it sounds like the CFO does know this is a dig at OP’s boss. Which just, unprofessional. I hate that sloppy, high school nonsense.

        Reply
        1. Jessica

          For all we know, this is an effort to create a paper trail that “Boss’s reports waste money” and using things like “Buys extra guac” to back it up. Thus justifying getting rid of Boss and potentially Boss’s reports.

          Reply
  49. peachie in DC

    I live in DC and this makes me so mad. I would lose it if my employer suggest I save 5 bucks on a flight by schlepping to Dulles. Dulles takes about an hour to drive to sans traffic, and parking is at least $50/day. And that’s if you have a car! Plenty of people who live in DC don’t. (I guess there’s the express bus from the silver line now, but that’s laughably inconvenient. As an example, I’m pretty centrally-located, and doing the Public Transit Option would take a bus, a train, another train, another bus, and 2 hours assuming everything was running as planned [this is a horrible assumption to make wrt: WMATA].)

    Reply
    1. (Different) Rebecca

      I have NEVER flown out of Dulles because what the eff even is public transport doing if you can’t get to the freakin’ airport without multiple changes?? For shame, WMATA. For shame.

      Reply
    2. Kasia

      I live in Baltimore and will only fly out of Dulles for long-haul international, but economy parking at IAD is $10/day, much less than $50.

      Reply
      1. peachie in DC

        My bad, I meant $50/week! I ended up offsite last time for a 2 week trip and paid a bit over $100, though I did book late. Still, more than I want!

        Reply
  50. Julia

    I live in downtown DC and last time I took an Uber to BWI, it took an hour and cost $80 one way. DCA is 20 minutes and something like $3 by Metro. Sometimes when I’m shopping for flights I get tempted by BWI prices ($200 cheaper, how can I resist!), but it has never ever been worth it.

    Reply
  51. nonprofit director

    In addition to many of the great points mentioned above, this seems to be very much a case of an office-bound person having no clue what his or her co-workers actually do. And what a burden business travel actually is.

    Reply
  52. Ann Furthermore

    This is completely asinine, and I hate stuff like this. You try to be a good employee, and not incur any unreasonable travel expenses, and then some idiot beancounter nitpicks you into oblivion. And I say this as someone who spent a good number of years as a beancounter.

    I’m going to a trade show in San Francisco in October. Hotels are unbelievably expensive, and because we’re registering kind of at the last minute, we’ve passed the deadline to get any kind of group discount on rooms. There are 3 of us going. Someone floated the suggestion for us to rent an Airbnb. At the time, it was renting a 3 bedroom/3 bathroom place, which I was fine with. And I thought it was a good idea, because it will never not be asinine to pay $600 a night for a hotel room, and that sounded like an option that would let us save some money without any of us sacrificing our privacy. I got the link to the rental the other day, and now it’s a 3 bedroom, ONE BATHROOM place. I’m completely horrified. ONE BATHROOM.

    Reply
    1. Anastasia Beaverhausen

      Oh dear, this has triggered a flashback for me. I was once offered an opportunity to make some money while helping out a close friend who had landed a vendor license for the Atlanta Summer Olympic Games back in the 90s. It was sold to me as a chartered bus trip with shared apartment accommodations at a smart address on Peach Tree Street in Atlanta (pictures were provided). It ended up being 60 or so idiots like myself crammed into three 16-passenger vans traveling to the city, and when we arrived in the middle of the night, the accommodations consisted of an abandoned office complex with pads on the floor and one bathroom for all of us in the middle of nowhere. I managed to track down close friend and he had literally transformed into a stranger. I was on the phone and in a taxi at daybreak and on a flight home within hours. In a word, Greed.

      Reply
  53. Artemesia

    We had nitpicky accountants and it always infuriated me, but it was never as bad as this. I would book what I wanted to book and then provide a spread sheet showing that the ‘cheaper choice’ was not feasible financially or for the work. e.g. worked in office in the morning. If you get hassled again then push back hard on your boss.

    Reply
  54. anon Academic Librarian

    After doing it a few times, I do not book any flight that makes me get up before 5 am unless it is the only one.
    I take the most direct flight.
    I do not take the “red eye”
    I have stopped weekend “stay overs” for cheaper flights. Unless I have an early morning Monday meeting.
    I book flights that guarantee me my reserved aisle seat. That is how much it costs to fly.
    I take a cab or car service to and from the airport.
    This is not in keeping with our policies but if I don’t hold to these points, I am a wreck and no good to anyone.
    I do have to sit with accounting every time I submit my travel expenses.
    I do not submit without an appointment because it just gets flagged and delayed.
    Fortunately we do go by gov. per diem and that is never an issue.

    Reply
  55. OxfordComma

    This is so insane it actually makes me feel better about our policies here. As I stated in a comment above, I get a limited amount of money for travel for professional development even though it’s essential to my job. I cut costs whenever possible and still the rigamarole I go through to get the miserable allotted amount of money is onerous. Last trip, I was told AFTER the trip to provide boarding passes which since I had printed out and handed in, I did not have.

    But being told not to order extra guac on a meal? NUTS.

    OP, since your boss won’t go to the CFO on this, I think you bury Insane Accountant in documentation. Maybe for meals say, is there per diem I could go by?

    Reply
  56. PersephoneUnderground

    Weird that using the same airline and airport triggered suspicion- it seems more logical that you’ve figured out which airline works best (including having lowest logical cost when you figure in all fees and other expenses) for your recurring travel, so you use them. X airline always has the most efficient flights to X destination out of convenient airport- that’s pretty common. Add in loyalty perks that save money, and of course it’s silly to recalculate each time as if you haven’t already solved the problem given. How is that suspicious? I’d approach his direct boss, as Alison suggested, who you did say wasn’t the CFO.

    Reply
    1. Detached Elemental

      In my line of work, we are supposed to take the cheapest fare. That can vary between airlines. We are not supposed to favour one airline over another, even if you’re a member of that airline’s lounge or loyalty program. So I can understand why using the same airline all the time might raise some initial red flags, but I don’t agree with the rest of Bob’s response.

      Reply
  57. Anon for Sure

    Honestly, in this situation I would start adding on hotel nights at a hotel that is 3-5 minutes from the airport, and/or expecting time in lieu of the extra hours.

    I suspect that your boss will be more interested in cashing in that favor with the CFO, if costs go up and you are absent more due to a ridiculous travel policy. The accountant is clearly someone who doesn’t travel for work on any sort of regular basis. Too often staff who don’t travel seem to think that those who are traveling for business reasons are getting free days off.

    Reply
    1. sstabeler

      to be fair, it’s a case of ” I need to use favours to get anything done- if I use a favour for this, it means that I risk X not getting done”- it’s not that OP’s manager doesn’t care, it’s that it’s not worth using up the favour- particularly since the entire reason for the audit is because a different team has abused the travel policy, so if Bob wanted to push, Bob could claim that OP’s manager was trying to allow OP to claim unreasonable expenses. In the climate they are in at the moment, Bob would win.

      IOW, using a favour only makes sense when it would actually help AND it is important enough to justify iit. OP’s manager might well be thinking using up the favour wouldn’t actually help.

      Reply
  58. Phouka

    I kind of hate your boss, and Bob is definitely on that list.

    I had a confrontation with our accounting group over reimbursement for parking once –I was parking in a remote lot that cost five bucks a day, rolled up and slid into a box. Nope, couldn’t handle that, must have a receipt. Even after explaining that I couldn’t get a receipt, it was not that sort of lot, I just finally said fuck it, and parked in the lovely, covered ramp attached to the building for $30/day.

    When they called my boss, freaked out about the 6-fold increase in cost each week, he absolutely stood up for me about the ridiculous rule and encouraged me to continue parking in the ramp for a few weeks to “make a point”.

    That your boss simply refuses to deal with this utter nincompoop is really astounding. It wastes your time, their money, and any good will you might have for working there. Wow.

    And guacamole? Really? I can’t even….

    Reply
    1. em

      Yup. On one of my first work trips, I got off the plane at the destination to find that a clean, safe subway system would take me to within 2 blocks of my hotel and back for about 2 dollars each way – yay, saving my employer money, right? Wrong. When I got back, I got a series of nasty emails about how my orders had authorized travel by taxi and public transport had not been authorized and and that I was darned lucky they were going to make an exception and that they would be within their rights to not reimburse me for anything AND recoup the airfare from me just because I had deviated from authorized expenses. Sure was darned lucky that they would give me my 4 dollars back since I decided to save them $60-ish. Never ever went out of my way to save money on a work trip ever again.

      Reply
      1. phouka

        One of the other consultants I work with, once spent seven hours sitting in the Atlanta airport because the flight with one stop there before arriving in Richmond, instead of the direct flight, was $50 cheaper. He protested that he had done the right thing, because our policy was “cheapest flight”.

        Meanwhile, I paid my extra 50 bucks, arrived without any stops – – and worked for six hours that day instead of sitting in the airport twiddling my thumbs and earring airport meals.

        He wasn’t doing it as a protest, either. He really did think he had to adhere to the rules regardless of the impact. I traveled almost 100% for several years, and believe me this sort of crap – – we’re not going to reimburse you for extra guacamole, say – – and our accounting department would be a smoking crater after we were done with them. Every company needs bean counters. But the bean counters can’t drive the business rules.

        There is no way I am going to fly out at 5 AM for an afternoon meeting. Nor my going to take a 10 PM flight because it’s cheaper than the one at 5 o’clock. The idea that I have to travel with the absolute bare minimum and never order any extras at Subway is ludicrous. Seems like a really good way to drive people away from the job

        Reply
  59. designbot

    I would figure out what things are non-negotiable–a morning meeting, full rest to ensure function throughout the day–and work back from there. Okay a 5am flight is cheaper but you won’t be rested enough to do meeting til 6pm, so you’ll need to fly in the night before. Oh what, that’s an extra night of accomodation? Hm, maybe it doesn’t actually work out so well. Ok you want me to take public transit across the city to save you $100, but I’ll need to be paid for my time, so really that costs you $120 on each end. You want me to take a flight back that runs 10pm-2am, well then public transit isn’t running when I get in and I won’t get home til 3am, so I’ll see you the next day after lunch. Let them figure out for themselves that the way you’re doing it is the way that makes sense.

    Reply
  60. Naruto

    OP, I’m sorry your boss won’t go to bat for you on this. They should, regardless of their strained relationship with the CFO.

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      Makes me wonder what the nature of the strain is that she will not go to bat for OP. I have had strained relationships and still gone to bat for my people, when the situation called for it.

      OP I hope you let us know how it is going for you.

      Reply
  61. This Is A New Screen Name

    There are airlines like Spirit that appear cheaper on Kayak, but with seat assignment fees, baggage fees, ominous change fees etc etc etc can make your trip far more expensive in spite of passing the screenshot test. Furthermore this airline will not sign your ticket over to a competitor if they have a cancelled flight. You might wind up waiting 203 days for the next flight.

    But on the other hand, the bean counters will see a 20 dollar savings.

    Reply
  62. Guitar Lady

    Start job searching, OP. If your boss is in a semi-feud with the CFO, your entire department could be in his crosshairs for the chopping block.

    Reply
    1. KAG

      Yes, this. When I read the OPs guac comment, I began to wonder if the goal is to make him less effective an employee when on these trips, thus bringing down his department’s results, thus providing a case for elimination/downsizing.

      Rather brilliant approach, I’d say, for the surreptitious subterfuge on the CFOs part (and truly evil); I wonder what caus the feud? I would say that the oP should be prepared for an imminent “restructuring”.

      Reply
  63. willow

    12-24 times a year is way too frequent to let this pass, so it’s worth it to fight this pettiness. You might be able to effect a change in the system that will make other travelers bear less of the onerous load, too.

    Could you do the requested screen shots of not only the flights, but the cab/Uber/car rental options, luggage fee options, hotel options, and any other direct travel expenses, then do an item-by-item comparison of all costs? That way you would be able to show exactly how much you are saving the company, or that the costs are a total wash but you are less hassled. Be sure to add in the extra hours you would be getting paid to travel so early (5 am) and stay so late (10 pm). I know you SAID this to the auditor, but sometimes the numbers people need to SEE the numbers on paper to be able to interpret the data and to believe what you are telling them. Make the argument in their language and that might break down some of the resistance.

    Because, seriously, who wants to leave the house at 2 am to get to the airport by 3 am for a 5 am flight? And then leave at 10 pm, get to your home airport at midnight, and walk out to your car at a deserted parking lot, or take a cab or Uber that late? Make sure you make this practical argument along with the money numbers.

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      The 2 am trip to the airport: OP, if anything happens to you is the company prepared to take proper responsibility for that?

      Reply
  64. Former Retail Manager

    Sorry…no time to read all the comments….really only think there are a few options here, and I’d look into all of them to the extent that you can:

    1. This accounting rep is new and trying to prove their worth, are on thin ice and thinks this is the way to get themselves back on solid ground, or are just bad at their job. All worth considering.
    2. Your company is not on as solid financial footing as you might think and a crackdown on travel expenses, especially ones that seem so minute, would indicate to me that there are potentially bigger problems. Any signs of that elsewhere?
    3. What is the size of your company and is the audit really “random?” Is this a tactic that is part of a bigger scheme to perhaps get rid of you? I realize that there is nothing in your letter to indicate this, but you just never know. If your performance is great, manager is happy with you, and things are going well, this is likely way off base and I don’t mean to make anyone paranoid. In both past and current positions, I’ve observed the “random review/inspection/audit,etc.” used as a tool to get the ball rolling or go fishing to try and find problems that may not really exist when a company is looking to get rid of someone. That may just be my own past bias coming out.

    Regardless, it’s time to break out the spreadsheet! For every trip, I’d detail the cost using your current travel arrangements and more than 1 “cheaper” alternative that this accounting rep is suggesting. I’d include every last nickel and dime expense, spent or saved in every scenario, to be backed up by screenshots for every figure. No doubt this will take you some time that you probably don’t want to spend, but the look on the accounting reps face when you prove him wrong will be priceless. And there’s not much recourse for the cold, hard, data-supported facts. Best of luck!

    Reply
  65. Barney Stinson

    Oh, the day my company tells me to take the bus instead of Uber or a cab is the day I’m out.

    On another note: only doing this with people who have failed an audit means that the accountant is using public transportation and ridiculous limitations as a punishment. Think about it: if it’s so ruddy important to do all those things to save money, change the bleeping policy so that EVERYONE has to take a bus. Or take flights at 5 a.m.

    Reply
  66. Jillociraptor

    This sounds really unfair and strategically pointless. However, the fact that OP’s manager demurred on something that seems like a pretty obvious thing to address, it makes me wonder if there might be something else going on here. I don’t think OP mentioned their field, but if their work is grant or government funded, every once in a while a funder will start to get particular about something odd and some new documentation will suddenly be required. Or a higher up staff member (in this case perhaps the CFO) sometimes gets a specific bee in their bonnet and it gets overenthusiastically enforced by the rank and file staff.

    In my area, for example, travel in general has just started getting a much more rigorous treatment by our financial teams because of public scandals with bad decision-making at the leadership level. To each individual staff member, it feels more onerous to do things they’ve always done (though nothing as bonkers as this is happening — it’s more getting asked if the trip is really necessary and if the cost/benefit balances out), but at the level of our divisional budget, the aggregate optics have radically improved. Not justifying putting the onus on the employee at all, just noting that the root cause is really not a financial analyst getting persnickety; there are these external pressures that are creating an overreaction.

    I wonder what would happen if OP asked the accountant directly about this: “It sounds like some policies and practices have been changing. Can you tell me more about why that is so that I better understand? To be honest, this has been pretty onerous for me, but I realize I might not have the full story.”

    To be clear, it’s totally not acceptable for the OP to take an extremely inefficient flight because it saves money on the books. That’s very short-sighted and bad business practice. However, if they OP understands why this change is happening, it might allow them to suggest other small course changes that meet the need without being a huge PITA to staff.

    Reply
  67. Janice

    This reminds me of a situation at a former company. A portion of the business relocated from NJ to FL, but the FL people had to make regular trips back to NJ for a week or so at a time. One of them, (who made regular trips) instead of using the expense account for a hotel, eligible meals and car rental, stayed at her parent’s house (they were still local, obviously), ate her meals there and used one of their cars. After doing that a couple of times she asked her manager (who totally had the authority to approve it) if she could take them out to dinner and expense it as a thank you, probably less than the cost of one night’s hotel stay. The answer was no. The next trip, and all the ones after that, she stayed in a hotel, rented a car and expensed meals.

    Reply
    1. CMDRBNA

      Hah! Seriously, this is a hill-you-want-to-die-on situation. Surely there is SOME room for common sense with this stuff?

      Reply
  68. Drama Llama

    Ugh, there’s always one person.

    My husband caught the early morning flight to his company’s overseas branch, then went straight to the office and worked until 10pm. By the time he left all the nearby restaurants were closed and the only thing he could find to eat was a muffin store. He spent about $10 AUD on a couple of muffins and a drink.

    He then submitted a receipt for reimbursement and the company accountant refused to pay because he used his personal CC and the currency was different. Apparently for overseas purchases he should have paid in cash only. He hit the roof because, money aside, this is a really crappy way to treat staff. If an employee takes the inconvenience of going on a business trip and ends up eating two muffins for dinner because he worked overtime, the least the company can do is not make him fight over a $10 receipt. His manager complained to this accountant’s manager. Eventually the accountant reimbursed him but was petty enough to insist on paying the exact dollar value on the receipt (i.e, $10 NZD) even though the charge was in AUD (so hubby actually spent something like $12-13 NZD).

    Hubby has since refused to go on further business trips.

    Reply
  69. ArtK

    I’ve seen a few cases where someone trying to nickle-and-dime an expense ended up costing more in personnel time than the expense was worth. Think multiple rounds with a VP over a $30 Burger King bill. In another situation, this kind of thing was cited as a reason for an employee leaving — there were other reasons, but they just couldn’t deal with the constant expense problems. The phrase “Penny-wise, pound foolish” comes to mind.

    Reply
  70. Troutwaxer

    I’ve been thinking about this a little more, and one of the things that sticks out at me is that the accountant is not very good. The one thing necessary make his/her calculations correct is the hourly value of the employee. Once that gets added in any ability for the accountant to claim something is “wrong” when the employee leaves the office at 1:00 pm instead of leaving home at 2:00 am will simply go away. This can be used to completely discredit the accountant if necessary, or to wave the accountant’s efforts away as being unworthy of the OP’s time, as in, “He doesn’t apply my hourly value to the organization to his calculations, then insists I’ve done something wrong when I did exactly the right thing, so I stopped paying attention to him, because the whole thing is a matter of “garbage in, garbage out.” The guy’s such a loser I can’t take him seriously.”

    This could probably be phrased in a more diplomatic fashion – I tend to be a little brutal in my phrasing.

    The REALLY worrisome thing for the organization is that the accountant is making similar mistakes on other accounting issues, which is probably one more reason to get out.

    Reply
  71. insert pun here

    I travel way less than the OP and I would absolutely leave my job over this. I am willing to be frugal, I don’t have to stay at a high end hotel, I often use public transit even when it’s not required. I don’t mind early morning flights, even. (Late night flights are a no-go, however.) This is bonkers.

    Because of the nature of my job, I’m able to plan the majority of my travel months in advance, meaning I usually make hotel reservations pretty early. Once, in a previous job, the accounting folks gave me a hard time about a hotel that charged the first night’s deposit pretty early. We need documentation for this, they said, so I provided the reservation with the policy about charging one night in advance highlighted. Not good enough: they needed a zero-balance bill (or whatever.) I don’t have that, I explained, as I have not yet taken this trip, and the hotel is charging a deposit, which is standard practice at pretty much every hotel ever. Several rounds of this and they finally figured it out, or perhaps someone above me stepped in, I don’t know.

    Reply
  72. Joie De Vivre

    OP, I doubt you see this, but I would argue against taking public transportation late at night/really early in the morning for safety reasons.

    Years ago a presenter at a conference I attended took public transportation after the evening meet & greet. He got mugged & ended up in the hospital.

    Reply
    1. (Different) Rebecca

      DC’s metro system is undergoing a massive overhaul which has led to them reducing hours drastically. There’s no way they can follow the new guidelines by taking public transport, so at least there’s that.

      Reply
  73. Anonaconda

    I can’t believe he begrudged you guac, when Chipotle is already such a cheap meal option! That’s literally $2. Honestly, if the company is penny-pinching this much, I would be seriously concerned about the state of its finances and start looking for another job.

    Reply
  74. Quite anon

    One year, my office sent a bunch of people to our major conference and we got stuck at a cheaper hotel miles away from the convention site rather than the more expensive hotel next door to it. Our boss told us, “You start work when you walk downstairs and request a shuttle, not when you arrive on-site,” and the result was that the distant (and crappy) hotel ended up costing us way more in wages than it would have to stay where we preferred to stay.

    My boss got called on the carpet by our CFO, but the company president stepped in and told her to back off, that he was exactly right and she needed to get a lot better at considering total expenses, not just trying to cheap out on the big ones. (Spoiler: she hasn’t, but we’ve gotten a lot better at going around her.)

    Reply
  75. Ramona Flowers

    This policy is just ridiculous. We have the take the cheapest viable option, but from the nearest station or airport – nobody nitpicks the starting point.

    Reply
  76. Kayaked

    “…he instructed me to send accounting screenshots of all flights on Kayak available ANYTIME ON THE SAME DAY to ensure I am choosing the cheapest option regardless of time of day.”

    I’m a little late to the game and other commenters have already covered most of the reasons this is ridiculous, but I also wanted to point out that often the rates shown on Kayak aren’t actually what you’ll end up paying when you click through to book (once booking fees etc are included). It’s actually often cheaper to book direct (at least where I am), so it’s very possible you’ll be showing accounting “deals” that don’t even really exist! It sounds like your current travel strategy is cost-effective as is, I’d find a way to push back if possible.

    Reply
    1. MacAilbert

      YES. I called Delta to book a cheap fare I found on Google Flights, and the first thing they told me was that that don’t really control or have the ability to honor what you see on third parties like that. Turned out she was able to get me tickets to and from where I was trying to go 20 dollars cheaper than Google Flights thought, but with different departure times and layover locations. It’s for vacation travel and I’m flying from Oakland to Paris on $560, so I’m not tripping about the 8 hour layovers each way, but for business travel, that could be a massive problem.

      Reply
  77. Miles

    I realise this is based in the U.S. , but in the UK (and Australia, come to think of it) if you are travelling for work, then you are considered to be working. So I’d be calculating the amount of overtime to claim for the 5am starts and late finishes.

    Reply
  78. Voice from the wilderness

    If I were in this situation, I would want to get this bean counter off my back, and switch the burden of proof onto their shoulders.

    So, for my next trip, I would do the screen shots. I would then do a cost benefit analysis of doing things their way, and continuing to do it OP’s way.

    Since OP’s way will be better, I would email the accountant and say, “pursuant to our meeting, I took the following steps to evaluate potential cost savings”

    Then list the steps

    “I’m pleased to inform you that my pattern of operation brings the maximum combination of cost and work effectiveness to the company. This analysis cost $X in lost productivity, but was a worthwhile one time investment, in order to show that I’ve been handling my travel planning both efficiently and in accordance with company policy. I’d be happy to any questions you might have for any points that might need clarification”.

    CC your boss, then go back to doing what you were doing.

    Don’t do screen shots for every flight. That’s crazy. Just make sure that your email shows a spirit of cooperation, and doing what’s best for the company.

    If they push back, you’ll write a mail about not understanding what the problem is. After all, you are doing what they asked.

    They may take it to the CFO, which will force your boss to do something.

    The idea is not to do silly things, like calling the accountant at crazy hours, but by, “out bean-counting the bean counter” so that they’ll leave you alone.

    Good luck.

    Reply
    1. Troutwaxer

      Definitely don’t call the accountant at crazy hours, but if you ask him to get up at 2:00 am and give you a ride, and he makes some excuse, he can scarcely blame you for making the same excuse about not getting up early… If his work will suffer from extreme lack of sleep, so will yours.

      Reply
  79. Wintermute

    As to the timing I would fall back on an old AAM classic– acting as if they’re going to be reasonable people OF COURSE and just asking how to make it work.

    “Obviously I can’t fly at 3am on a day I have to work, especially because I’m working the next day, what’s the best way to make sure I can get enough sleep to do my job?”

    Reply
  80. only acting normal

    Our office has similar nonsensical travel policies. Things like: you have to refill the tank of the hire car because the hire company charge £0.50 per litre when they refill it. Except there are no petrol stations near our offices (where we pick up/drop off cars) – it’s at least a 15min detour from any common journey to go get petrol so you can leave the tank full. At our charge rates, with anymore than one very junior person in the car, that detour on-the-clock is WAY more expensive than what the hire company charge for maybe half a typical tank.

    Luckily time spent travelling also counts towards our hours worked, and any time between 9pm and 6am attracts a small supplement overtime payment. Plus, if your journey from door to door tops a certain duration you qualify for a higher class of travel (e.g. something like >10 hours gets you premium economy >15 hours gets you business class). It’s enough to discourage ridiculous penny pinching on small fare reductions for travelling at stupid-o’clock via a longer route.

    Reply
    1. sstabeler

      I’m assuming that’s £0.50 per litre on top of the cost of the petrol- since otherwise, they’d be charging you only about 50% of the cost of the fuel.

      Reply
  81. Bea W

    DCA is by far the most public transit friendly option in the area if you are on the Metro. Anyone who is advising you to consider IAD or BWI and then saying you can use public transit doesn’t have any clue about the logistics and has no business speaking about them. Yes, you can take the train to BWI, but that’s a damn long ride. You can also get a bus to IAD from West Falls Church or a fairly inexpensive cab/Uber/Lyft ride from the current end of the Silver Line, but really is it worth it for the trouble? Probably not unless you already live in an area that makes IAD an easier option.

    The other advice about booking early 5 AM flights and flight after 10 PM – I can’t even.

    Reply
  82. Kraziekat

    My recommendation: create a default travel spreadsheet, with at least two collums on both sides.

    Keep and track Track: Travel to airport as lost productivity hours
    Travel from airport to work site as lost productivity hours
    Travel from worksite to airport as lost productivity hours
    Travel from airport to home as lost productivity hours
    Travel on airplane (including changeovers) as lost productivity hours
    If the return flight has you at the home airport at or after midnight, the whole next day as half-productivity hours (you’re at work despite loss of sleep and poor food, you may not be at your best, but you’re trying to be there)
    Cost of travel
    If flight is at five a.m., explain that public transport doesn’t get you to the airport until after the flight take off, meaning change fees.
    Any and all fees the airport and airline lays on you.
    Possible change fees due to missed connection (direct flights like the OP prefers wouldn’t incurr that, so only on the cheapo flight)
    Meal expense for breakfast (cause if I have to be up before 4 for work, by GOD someone will pay for food and coffee)
    Loss of customer relations due to you being travel lagged
    Lost productivity hours for the flight search.

    And each trip, make a new copy, plug in the individual numbers, turn in with the screenshot. Not just to the accountant, but your boss, and save a copy for yourself.

    (Anyone else got a suggestion for the OP to track?

    Reply
  83. Schnapps

    This is silly.

    I do volunteer work for one division of a large, international organization – most of my travel is domestic within Canada. But they send me places and say “We need you here at this time. Please contact the corporate travel agency we use for the flights you want and your hotel bookings.”

    So I look at available flights, usually from the airlines directly, email them with the flight numbers and dates I want and they book me. If I’m having problems finding connections to small towns, they help me out with the best times from the location that works with my schedule.

    Now, being Canada, we’re kind of limited on domestic flights, but as I understand flights in the US, there are a lot more airlines who supply service. How much time are you spending on this, researching flights, taking screenshots, composing emails to bean counters, etc? Make sure you do it on company time and include the amount of time it took multiplied by whatever your hourly rate would be.

    Reply
  84. Nell Gwynne

    I wonder what will happen when the prices go up and when the screen shot was taken. Once I had the prices go up *as I was booking* after I’d already been pre-approved for the original price. Thankfully, my organization is reasonable and didn’t give me any grief about it when I went ahead and booked anyway.

    Reply
  85. Chickaletta

    I’m the type of person who would totally make a spreadsheet with column A (OP’s scenario) and column B (beancounter’s scenario), and total them up at the bottom to show that they’re either equal or off by only a few dollars. I’d include things like over time if OP is being paid for long travel days, the extra cost of food (a 5am flight warrents breakfast whereas a 9am flight does not), the surplus fee for taking an Uber at 11pm, etc etc. In other words, I would beat beancounter at his own game. He likes to count pennies? Hey, me too! Let’s go!

    Reply
  86. Indie

    Good news: I think Bob is going to be a goldmine of amusing tales for dinner party conversation. If you were my friend you’d definitely get extra guacamole for life whenever you came over, just so I could hear the latest.
    Bad news: Your company doesn’t manage well; they may (have been) great with a self starter like you, but they are conflict averse with spendthrifts and ridiculous jobsworths such as Bob. When bad managers have been too lax too long they course correct too sharply as you’ve seen. It will get worse.

    I would:
    A) Check every little expense detail in advance with Bob to both cover your back, exhaust his enthusiasm for fine combing and to tease out more comedy gold. “If the extra sugar packets are free is that ok? I don’t want to be too decadent.” “If when I am on the ground I have to choose between two price options at 6am while sleep deprived shall I go ahead and make the call? Or should I call you for guidance?” (I’m joking but you will probably get more ridiculous stuff back than this)
    B) Look around at job ads. I don’t think things are so bad you have to go now, or even soon but I would scope out the competition just in case. Your manager’s response to this was concerning.

    Reply

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