How to Estimate Business Travel Expenses

by Fraser Sherman ; Updated July 27, 2017
Business man on cellular phone with luggage standing beside a high speed train.

Business travel to conferences, vendors and customers can boost sales and profits, but underestimating travel expenses can have the opposite effect. Accurately estimating business travel expenses helps managers see how much travel the company can afford. A spreadsheet and some thorough research may do the trick.

Use Software

As you consider all the options -- choice of hotel, choice of flight, amount to spend on food -- you have to juggle and compare figures and track the total. A spreadsheet can help. You can download an Excel travel-budgeting template from Microsoft, or draw up one that suits your personal needs better. You can also use a spreadsheet to compare alternative trips, or to weigh potential benefits. A trip to Paris, say, might be worth it if it boosts your exports to Europe.

Research Your Past

If your company has sent people on business trips in the past, go over the expense reports. This can give you information for more realistic estimates. Expense reports can show you where costs were less than expected and where they busted the budget. You may be able to spot patterns of overspending -- for example, staying in high-priced hotels instead of more economically priced reasonable alternatives. If you trim off some fat, the estimated costs go down.

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Transportation Costs

You may be able to squeeze more from your transportation budget than you think. If you have some upcoming trips on the agenda, call the airlines and ask about business discounts. Talk to travel agencies about whether they have partner airlines or hotels who'll offer you a reduced rate. Look at whether driving or taking the train can save substantially, or if flying into a different airport will be cheaper. Once you know the options, your estimates become more realistic.

Listing Everything

Traveling to the destination is only the first step. Your spreadsheet should include everything employees have to spend: a food allowance, hotel costs, dry-cleaning bills, ground transportation and entertaining customers. Look into options such as a cheaper hotel across the street from the convention, or two travelers sharing a room. Once you have the facts, plug them into your budget and see how much it can go up or down.

About the Author

A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.

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