Up in the air part 2

I have just got through what for me seemed like an unbelievably busy schedule. It started on March 5th when I flew out to Vancouver from Sydney. I arrived there over the weekend, and then on Monday I opened the fantastic CDC conference, I went straight from the gig to a business lunch, and then back for a business dinner. The following day I give an impromtu session at the conference, and another meeting in the evening. The following day I do a full-day workshop, and then another the day after and then two more the day after that, and then straight to the airport for flight to Sydney. I arrive Sunday, and Monday fly to Brisbane. Spend Tues-Fri running all day sessions (essentially talking for 8 hours non-stop – people seem to like it!!!). Arrive home about 9:30pm Friday night. Get a weekend at home. Yipee. The following week, Mon – Thurs in Syd talking all day. Friday private client, write a report, catch up in office. Sat and Sun talking all day teaching a Post Grad Certificate. Take taxi from University on Sunday to airport to Melbourne. Repeat 3 days of talking in Melbourne. Home on Maundy Thursday. Get break over Easter. Phew. Now this probably sounds nothing special to many of you, and I had a thoroughly great time, but there come’s a time when waiting longer for your luggage to come through the carousel than the flight (the Sunday night in Melbourne Grand Prix weekend) becomes teeth gratingly tedious.

Anyone fancy getting loads of frequent flyer points, free grog most afternoons in a members-only lounge, and staying in four or five star hotels? If you answered yes to any of these offers, the likelihood is that you have never had to travel regularly on business. Ever wondered why anyone would be crazy enough to go camping for their holidays amongst all those bitey things? It is because the wearied business traveller cannot face the prospect of yet another cramped and delayed flight, a cold room service meal, and another whopping credit card bill covering said flight, room with no windows, oh and the reasonably priced $30 English breakfast! Go and look around the campsites of our great country, they are chock full of the cream of Australian business desperate to break the cycle of steak in red wine jus, and Eggs Benedict. But the real holiday is for their overwrought and burnt out credit card.
The life of the business traveller is one long battle of wits and attrition with the soulless accounts clerk who delights in stalling, quibbling, and ultimately rejecting about 99.9% of travel expense claims. Meanwhile the benighted road warrior must explain themselves and their dirty little dietary habits (you needed a whole bottle of wine with your dinner?) not only to half the office, but also they must explain themselves to their partners and family.
Have you ever tried moaning to your partner down the phone from your business class hotel about the limitations of the room service menu and that you have been forced to eat a Filet mignon again? Normally such a conversation must be shouted over the background noise of home as your loved one battles with demands from your children for three different types of frozen rubbish to be served for dinner.
This is not the end of the domestic troubles because you have been obliged like most travellers to use your own credit card to fund your bacchanalian excesses in corporate hotel land. No sooner than you pop your bill into the express check-out box, your partner calls up in tears/rage/indignation/all of the preceding. You will find that they are at the check out of a store surrounded by a coterie of smirking on-lookers thoroughly enjoying the site of a credit card that has just refused them credit.
The Reserve Bank credit card figures for December 2007 indicated that of the $42.76 billion owing on credit cards, $30.07 billion attracts interest payments – in other words we haven’t fully paid off each month a collective $30 odd billion. Now I don’t know about you, but when my credit card reaches $30 billion, it tends to refuse to let me play anymore. The point is, approximately 70% of credit card users do not pay off their balance in full each month. Supposing that business travellers are represented in this group, then it means many who are travelling on business are adding their travel expenses onto an already burdened card. If our traveller is already living on credit, then the costs of travel may dry up their much needed cash flow. Their kids cannot eat while they choke on their fillet mignons.
Alan Shipman, writing in Finance Week 5th November 2007, says it can take “up to seven weeks for some employees to get their expenses claims met – often taking longer in larger companies, with more authorisation and approval stages to go through, and any manual processes sometimes adding days at a time”.
One solution to this problem is the corporate credit card, which removes the need for the employee to use their own cash, but it means the company sees in detail how you are using it. Also, you might be issued a card which looks like it’s corporate, but you are ultimately responsible for it. Here, you still have to claim for everything as though you are using your personal card and it is your responsibility to pay if off. Not only are you liable for any late fees or interest, there are stories of employees being pursued for card liabilities when companies fold.
In a time when there is a lot of rhetoric about employee engagement, wouldn’t it be great for employers to actually cover the costs of travel directly, rather than getting their employees to effectively advance their employer a loan of their own money which the hapless employee has to beg and grovel to get back? I don’t get me started on trying to claim tips, and other minor cash transactions! Think about that the next time you are envious of corporate travellers.