Government Begins Demanding Travel Expense Policies, Can You Guess What Those Policies Look Like?

The Washington Post carries a story on reimbursable expense policies of firms receiving govenrment bailouts.

Firms receiving government bailout funds are required to publicly post their ‘luxury’ expense policies — which include travel expenses — by Monday. The Post piece goes into the greatest detail on the 15-page policy adopted by Chrysler.

On the one hand, incredible specificity in expense policies can work against the interests of a company. There are times when it makes sense to pay for first class (say, coach is sold out on a non-stop, connecting flight kills an extra day of an employee’s time).

On the other hand, the cultures of these companies seem to have been that expenses were incurred for the benefit of employees (non-taxable extra compensation) rather than towards the profitability of the company.

And the policies being adopted are far from draconian.

Chrysler Financial employees traveling on business can no longer be reimbursed for lunch on trips that don’t require an overnight stay. If flying on business, they must travel coach if the flight is less than four hours. Tips to baggage handlers shouldn’t exceed $2 per bag. The $4 paid for the in-flight movie? Not reimbursable.

As Joe Sharkey observes, the point of the story should have been “Chrysler employees still allowed to fly first class on coast-to-coast flights.”

And what airlines charge $4 for an in-flight movie? (Some will sell you $2 throwaway headphones, of course.)

Chrysler Financial details what type of rental car employees should drive while on business trips (mid-size), how to calculate reimbursable gas mileage on trips combining business and personal purposes, and the circumstances under which it is permissible to use the phone in your hotel room. The 15-page policy comes with two appendixes, one listing “unallowable” expenses (country club fees, hotel frequent-guest programs, birthday cakes and cards, shoeshines) and limits on tips (up to 20 percent of total bill, excluding tax, for room service, up to $2 for buffet dining, $5 for doorman, no tip for concierge).

Spending pages thinking about when an employee may use a phone in their hotel room? Who still makes calls on that phone? Chrysler truly is a dinosaur.

An I’m shocked that Chrysler won’t pay membership fees to hotel loyalty programs. True, there are such programs still out there, few and far between.

Yet Chrysler will pay for 20% tips on room service. So they will (a) pay for room service, (b) including service charges and delivery fees, and (c) tell employees to add 20% to their room service bills (‘but only on the pre-tax amount!) on top of those service charges, and they’ll reimburse those employees for it. Seriously?

A 15-page bureaucratic document lays out the rules that become floors as much as ceilings, and are about what employees can get away with rather about how they’re empowered to invest company resources in pursuit of profits. Of course this is why they needed a bailout in the first place, and is precisely the sort of policy propogated by a government-owned enterprise.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. I’m someone who recently joined a huge company, where ER rules like this are normal. For people like me who maybe like to “game the system”, we find it very confining.

    But, really, 95% of these rules are reasonable. Things like movies cannot be reimbursed…

    For those of us–like me–who were used to free wheeling ERs in the past ($120 dinners, for example), these rules may seem rough. Part of tightening the belt , though, and I’m all for it—especially if, as a taxpayer, I’m paying for part of that!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *