How to write a travel policy
You might not think that you really need a travel policy. After all, with most business travelers booking low-budget airlines these days, irresponsible spending might not be a problem at your company. But a great travel policy isn’t just about what travelers can purchase on their company card or how much they can spend on flights or accommodation.
A travel policy is so much more than that: it’s your way to corral business travel into something that doesn’t overtake all of the administrative team’s time. It's a way to empower domestic and international travel, connect employees to each other and to their clients, and get a handle on actual expenses for travel. It’s also your way to keep your travelers safe in a COVID and post-COVID world.
Let’s explore how to write a company travel policy that really makes a difference.
See how to reach 100% travel policy compliance
How to build a travel policy for employees (so they really follow it)
While your company will absolutely benefit from having a policy, it’s important to put your employees first. When you consider the needs of your employees, you increase the chances that your policy will be useful to them.
Here are two important ways to put this into action.
- Include information that employees need (like reimbursement and safety) – If employees need to refer to your policy, then they’re more likely to become familiar with it. Include your travel and expense policy so they know what they can get reimbursed for, and include the reimbursement procedure. Coordinate that with your finance department to guarantee alignment with all stakeholders. Also, include travel insurance and emergency procedures, especially in post-pandemic times.
- Clearly state the approved travel booking tool with built-in policies – You shouldn’t expect that employees will remember the allowed rate per night in 100 different cities for all their travel arrangements. Use your travel policy to remind employees what the approved travel booking tool is. This platform should include built-in policies with budgets by rate and route, as well as approval processes so if something is out of policy, a request gets sent to the right manager. Don't forget to include information regarding air travel, personal travel, and things like your company's business class policy.
If you’re looking for details on the best travel policy format, check out our policy template.
How to write a travel policy step by step
Now let’s take a look at the process for writing a policy that really works. You need to set goals and priorities for the update, involve important stakeholders, and review what is and isn’t working about your current policy.
Review your current policy or practices
Is your policy outdated or don’t have one?
Before customizing a template, it can be smart to review what is and isn’t working about your current policy or travel processes. Do this alongside stakeholders during your kick-off meeting.
Set goals and priorities
Determine the top two or three goals for updating your policy, such as meeting the needs of a growing team. Define the business purposes behind employee travel so that everyone is clear on how and why they might be expected to go.
Here are example goals for updating your corporate travel policy:
- Make booking business trips more efficient
- Reduce confusion for travelers
- Reduce manual work for the admin and human resources teams
- Improve travel policy compliance
- Reduce unnecessary costs
- Improve duty of care and traveler safety
- Improve financial tracking of travel spend
- Increase traveler satisfaction
The size and organization of your company will determine who needs to approve your new travel policy template. People are busy. Some stakeholders will be involved throughout the process. For other stakeholders, you should give them a list of things to approve or check, so that you aren’t asking for too much of their time.
Here’s who should either help write the company travel policy, or approve the final version:
- Travel manager – Brings insight into traveler behavior, goals for the policy, and all the details on travel vendors, negotiated rates for international and domestic travel, and so much more.
- Office manager – Brings insight into issues with the travel booking process and travel support, and helps set goals for improving the policy and procedures
- CEO – Brings business-related insight into goals for compliance and cost savings. Will also have ideas for streamlining expense reporting procedures
- COO – Helps set goals for streamlining processes and saving time, as well as improving duty of care and compliance
- Frequent travelers – Knows what works and what doesn’t with the current travel policy, and can also act as the voice for fellow travelers
- HR – Understands employee demands and expectations, and also has a different set of goals for travel (hiring, as opposed to sales or marketing)
Work together to create a policy that meets everyone’s needs. Choose from the team members listed above. To minimize disruption to everyone’s regular responsibilities, hold a kick-off meeting to establish goals, then work independently to complete the template customizations. You can reach out to individual stakeholders for help on certain sections when needed. Afterward, hold a final meeting with all stakeholders to review the policy before rolling it out.
Choose a travel management style and level of strictness
Before you start writing your policy, you’ll also want to decide on your travel management style and level of strictness. Knowing these will make other decisions easier.
- Travel management style – Will travelers book for themselves using your business travel booking tool? Or will an administrator/manager still handle booking? How much freedom and autonomy do you want to offer your travelers? Will they be able to mix official travel with trips for personal reasons?
- Level of strictness – If you do allow travelers to book for themselves, how strict do you want your built-in policy to be in the booking tool? Do you want it to allow out-of-policy travel and simply send a notification to the manager? Or do you want it to require approval? Or do you want travelers to be able to select the trip details they want and then request approval for all trips?
If stakeholders still disagree on the travel management style, it’s really challenging to properly write a policy or configure the approval process inside of your business travel booking tool.
Decide what to include in your policy
Next, you need to decide what to include in your policy. Below, we’ve got an overview of the basics. For more details, please see the next section of this guide.
- An introduction with an overview of why the policy is important for employees to review and what they will find inside
- Your approved travel booking procedure and your approved business travel booking tool, including timeframes for booking and approvals.
- Allowable expense categories, with details on what’s reimbursable in each category. Make sure you clearly cover things like meal expenses, and whether that is included in the policy or not.
- Non-reimbursable purchases (so travelers know what they must pay for themselves if they want something that isn’t covered). Things like paying for dry cleaning (and other personal use services) usually aren't covered by your company travel policy!
- Your policy regarding airfare and ground transportation (car rentals, rail travel etc.)
- How to submit expense reports, expense claims, and reimbursement requests
- How to contact travel support, travel insurance, and duty of care vendors, as well as your emergency procedures
While a travel expense policy for small businesses might include just a few popular cities and routes that the company travels, a corporation might need to include maximums for every major city and route in the world.
Draft your policy and get approval from stakeholders
The next step is to write up your policy and make sure that it includes all of the above. Get approval from all of your stakeholders, not just the higher-ups. Remember to get feedback from one or more frequent travelers to make sure the document is as clear and concise as possible.
Set up an automated travel policy that works during the booking process
After you’ve updated your travel policy document, you should create an automated version to guide travel bookings around the clock. An automated travel policy bars or allows trips to be completed at the time of booking, based on your parameters, such as global cost maximum per flight, or cost maximum per certain routes. Learn more about automating travel approval.
In our next article, we’re giving you a fill-in-the-blanks policy to make this process as fast as possible.