update from the reader who couldn’t afford his job’s required travel

Remember the reader who couldn’t afford his company’s required travel? The company required him to bill the bills up front on a credit card in his own name and be reimbursed later, but he’d declared bankruptcy a few years ago and couldn’t get a credit card. Here’s his update.

I would love to say that my company stood up and put me as an authored user on their own account, but that did not happen. I would love to say I won the lottery and money is not an issue, but alas money is still an issue. I got two credit cards, one from my credit union and a cap one. Between those and money I have in my savings, I get by for trips. I had to set up a separate checking account, as it confused my wife which funds we could spend and which were travel monies. I had the company put $50 per pay period in that account so that I could slowly build up a decent cushion. I have gotten a reputation for being the cheapskate on trips, always looking for the best deal on food, and a lot of that is because by the end of 10 days (they reduced the max days we are allowed out at one time), I am usually scraping the bottom of the barrel. This last trip I set my lowest amount spent on food and everyone was amazed that I could get it so low (about $100 for food for 5 days).

I pay each card in full when I get my expense check (usually it takes two weeks, as paperwork only goes or comes from main office on Fridays) and should have an automatic increase from Cap One in a month or two. In the meantime, I have found ways to stretch my monies legitimately, such as the current Holiday Inn deal where if we stayed two nights then we will be receiving visa gift cards. That is free money for travel account once I use it to charge food and am reimbursed by the company.

As for prices, I have found that I still have not needed to rent a car (we must use the company vehicle to be able to the the work), but I have had to purchase plane tickets with one-day notice, and without a credit card that would have been scary. Even with the card, it made things tight. And I have found that Holiday Inns require an additional hold on a debit card. I have gotten enough days from Holiday Inn that the last vacation was booked completely in Priority Club points with no room costs out of pocket.

I am getting used to the idea of having a credit card (still do not like it and cannot stand to see a balance on the thing) and actually find the apps for paying make it very easy to keep up with and end up paying payments typically within 24 hours of submission. It is a great feeling seeing that balance with a $0 behind it. One thing that I did learn is to not overpay the card because they do not give you any more than your limit, so even if you paid $30 too much, they will only let you charge your limit till the actual bill posts which is about 3 days. That was a painful lesson, and I ate a lot of pizza that week.

The company said a few months ago that they were changing away from AMEX and I was all excited because I may have a shot with Visa or Mastercard, but that was the last they have said on that and when we ask our supervisor, he says that HR has not said anything else to him.

Thanks again for the help!

{ 30 comments… read them below }

  1. Tater B.*

    I am so glad to hear this update….and coming from a “cheapskate” like myself, those are really good strategies whether work-related or not!

    Another tip I have is to sign up for Groupon in the specific area/city to which you are traveling. Last year, I saved a TON of money when I went to Miami by doing this.

    Congrats for making it work!

  2. Laura*

    Overall, this makes me sad.

    I am so glad to hear you made this work, but your employer angers me. I think its wonderful that you learned how to be frugal on your trips, but one of the best part of business trips is not having to worry about every last dime, and that luxury was taken away from you.

    1. KayDay*

      I agree with Laura. Kudos to you for making it work, but this is a still a terrible travel policy. Your employer still really needs to get their $#!% together and find a way to pay for travel that doesn’t involve you fronting major money.

      And honestly, I just don’t understand how you “have gotten a reputation for being the cheapskate on trips” –what are your co-workers doing to be able to afford so much more? (I am assuming that they are making a similar salary to you.)

        1. KayDay*

          That must be the case. Although you don’t have to have had a past bankruptcy to be uneasy about taking on a large balance on your own credit card.

          1. Andrea*

            Yeah, no kidding. I’d be trying to save money wherever I could, too.

            This is still a BS policy, and I’m glad that the OP updated us. I wondered about how he was doing a few times.

        2. KellyK*

          Probably exactly this. If they a card with a zero balance, then as long as they stay within what the company will reimburse, it doesn’t end up costing them anything. If they have a card with cash back or other rewards, then it not only doesn’t cost them anything, but gets them reward points essentially for free.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        I agree. In my opinion, opening a company checking account specifically for travel and then handing out debit cards to the travelers would be so much easier. But based on their current policy, who knows what effed up accounting system they have in place.

        “And honestly, I just don’t understand how you “have gotten a reputation for being the cheapskate on trips” –what are your co-workers doing to be able to afford so much more? ”

        One would think the company would like OP “being the cheapskate” since that saves them money.

      2. Anonymous*

        My interpretation is that it’s not that the co-workers can afford more, but rather that they had higher credit limits and could ‘float’ the necessary money (and be reimbursed later).

      3. Orig Poster*

        They have a larger credit limit. Although some of them have come close when one trip had not had the expense back before the second trip came.

        Company only pays for actual expenses, not a per diem. So they are charging steak dinners every night while I am buying a steak at walmart and cooking it on the grill at the Candlewood. They are buying lunch at the quicky mart while I am eating the sandwich I bought the night before from the grocery store.

  3. Anonymous*

    You might want to get other reward programs from other hotel chains. Usually they are free to sign up on, and when you are in the program, you can participate in their buy two nights, get one free program (when they are running it of course, but you seem to travel a lot so you’ll eventually use them).

    To me, that’s not being a cheapskate. You are being wise. If they can’t understand, then that’s their problem.

    1. Orig Poster*

      I have thought about that. The current teams I work with are all our employees and it is an unwritten rule we stay at Holiday Inn because they all have so many points. But now I am about to be working with a team with employees of the company our company contracts for. They have CLC cards and so we cannot count on staying at a holiday inn.

  4. Verde*

    I wish more of the travelers where I work followed the same examples of frugality. We are a non-profit, and I cringe anytime someone does something that causes travel to be more expensive than it needs to be.

    And, again, the pre-paid Visa card as a company tool for paying for travel is invaluable – that’s what we use here and it gives us a little more control over things.

    1. KellyK*

      Do you have a limit for meal and hotel expenses? If people are eating steak and lobster while on travel, you may want to dial that limit back some.

      Reimbursing actual expenses instead of giving a set per diem rate may also be helpful, if you’re currently doing per diem. Any time I’ve traveled for work, I never hit the per diem limit, and usually don’t come close.

  5. Tater B.*

    Yikes–looks like I spoke too soon.

    I have an interview next week for a position which requires a lot of travel. The job description stipulates that they are looking for someone “creditworthy” for responsible reimbursement of travel expenses?

    Huh? To me, the two are not mutually exclusive. I have traveled for most of my jobs and reimbursement was not a big deal. I just kept track of my mileage/expenses and submitted them for reimbursement. I realize some people do take advantage of the system, but I am NOT trying to get rich on .45/mile. I am concerned because I do have some blips on my credit report though.

    Any advice on how to handle this in the interview? Should I go ahead and mention it (my raggedy credit rating and how I’ve been working to improve it) upfront?

    1. Anonymous*

      I assume, similar to the concerns that the OP mentioned, that this company simply wants you to have access to sufficient credit when you travel. If you have the available credit limits, I don’t see any point in mentioning your credit rating.

    2. Karthik*

      Might involve a lot of last minute international travel. If you’re in Hong Kong and need to change your flight back to Chicago a day in advance, you’re looking at no seats left in economy and having to pay a full walkup business class fare. That’s $5k you need free on your credit line, even if you do get reimbursed right away.

      I recently had a business trip abroad that ran ~$12k for one week. I got a check within a couple days of returning, but needed the open credit to actually buy the ticket.

      1. Sam*

        Wow! You were expected to pay $12k up front, from your own pocket? That’s insane. I don’t have bad credit by any means, but I am very careful with what I spend on credit. I have 2 credit cards, for emergency only, which between them give me $2,000 credit. I earn enough and could easily increase the limits, but I have never needed to and don’t want to – I’ve seen what buying on credit can do and I want to avoid that at all costs. I’d struggle to front even $3k, let alone $12k.

        Seriously, how can any business expect an employee to pay $12k upfront? Unless you’re earning a boatload, it just seems totally wrong to me.

        1. Anonymous*

          I’d expect that if this was a frequent occurrence, there would be a company credit card. I could see asking a well-paid employee to front $12k for travel on a big emergency, but I also would expect the employer to be understanding if the employee declined to do so.

          I think that it’s only reasonable to ask an employee to front up to one month’s salary on this kind of thing, so they aren’t taking too great of a personal risk. By that rule, the guy fronting $12k ought to be making about $150k in a year.

        2. Karthik*

          Well, my company is only able to expect me to be alright floating the $12k since they are VERY fast about reimbursements. I arrived back at work on a Monday and submitted my paperwork that afternoon. My admin processed it and had the amount deposited into my account on Thursday afternoon. So, I’m only taking a risk in the sense that I tie up $12k of credit for a few days (I can pay down the card as soon as the money hits my checking account, or wait until the bill comes).

          My previous employer would take 2-3 *weeks* to process a reimbursement. For that, I would be much less willing to float that amount of money (the highest with that company was about $1k for a last minute flight from Seattle to New York).

          1. Karthik*

            I should also add that some of our employees with not as good or newer credit (new grads) can get advances equal to the per diem + average fare for their trip. So they end up fronting things like cabs or airport shuttles, which usually don’t add up to more than 100-200.

            There is also the option of using a corporate CC, but that’s not very popular since you can get 2-5% back on purchases by using your own cards (and doing this is explicitly allowed in company policy).

          2. Tater B.*

            Thank you for your advice–I definitely understand it from that angle. Fortunately, there is no international travel so I doubt I’ll have to put that much on my credit card.

            But your job sounds fascinating! I’m sure you have a lot of great stories to tell!

            ….Any current openings in your company? LOL

    3. Anon2*

      I’d say it depends on if they’re going to run a credit check that may impact your chances, or they just want to know you’ll be able to float expenses until reimbursement. Whether it’s necessary or not, if they’re going to judge you by your credit report then I’d say it’s better to be upfront. You don’t have to go into major details, just don’t let it be a shocker for them and definitely speak to the fact that you’re working on improving it.

    4. Anon...*

      hi Tater, IRS allows .55 per mile. Had to check with my taxpreparer on that just a few months ago. Not a big difference, but hey, gas is over $4.00 a gal here in my part of NY and every little bit helps!

  6. Construction HR*

    Back when I had a good job, I traveled quite a bit on the company’s nickel. They gave us a “permanent travel advance” which equated to about 4 weeks travel expenses. They also had CCs for the major rental cars and a 24/7 travel agency to book/pay for airline tickets.

    With my current company, expenses submitted on Monday are direct deposited on Friday. Cool beans!

    1. JT*

      Companies that need this sort of thing should be willing to give large travel advances or provide a company credit card. That said, if an employee fronts money and the company is very good at providing reimbursement quickly – within a few days – that isn’t that bad, as long as they don’t hold it against employees w/o a high credit limit who need advances.

      In the OP’s case, something is still messed up – the company should be fronting the money or giving her a credit card.

  7. MC*

    Wow, I hope things continue to get easier for the OP. When I just started working, my credit card limit was really low and I hadn’t gotten my company CC yet. I had to travel in my second week of being on the job and didn’t have the CC.. so I basically ended up maxing out both of my credit cards, and had to call in to reluctantly up the credit on one of the cards. I can’t imagine not having a company card to charge to if I didn’t have the credit available though – I like using my own CC for the points/rewards, but sometimes the expenses can really add up with things like flights. Happy to see you made it work though! (And I certainly wouldn’t mind traveling with you – sometimes, having a generous meal allowance means co-workers all want to eat as much as possible, and I’m definitely I gain weight after coming back from a business trip because we want to eat our $50 worth/day, since we didn’t get to keep the money that we didn’t spend.)

  8. anon-2*

    I did work for a company that often hosed me out of expenses …. I kept a journal of all of them.

    Then, when I left, I did write them down as bad debts on my taxes.

    I was called by the IRS. They asked for names. I gave them some names. They never questioned me again , so….

  9. TychaBrahe*

    I just ran into the nastiest part of having to front your own travel expenses. I bought tickets to fly to a trip in Maryland. The meeting was cancelled. I had about $500 locked up in the tickets. Sure it was Southwest, and the money could be reused for other tickets for up to a year (for most airlines, I would have been out of luck, or paid a hefty fee to reschedule). I used some of it against personal travel, but it’s just now, four months later, that I’m booking more travel and will finally get reimbursed when this trip is over.

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