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TPG reader Jason wrote in to ask me an interesting ethical question:
“Do you think it’s acceptable to seek reimbursement from your work for travel booked using points earned from non-business related sources (e.g., sign-up bonuses)? More specifically, do you think it’s acceptable to book a flight using points and then have the company reimburse you the fare quoted for those flights?”
I’m sure many business award travelers have faced this question at one time or another.
Regarding the “quoted price,” I think there’s a lot of grey area there, and I would stay away from submitting quoted airfare for reimbursement. First of all, I think most companies will want to see a receipt from an actual purchased flight. I don’t think showing an itinerary with a quote of what it could cost would suffice, especially since that quoted price could easily be trumped up (e.g., one could search for fully refundable fares or other terms that would increase the price).
Now, suppose you have the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World MasterCard or Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, and a company wants to fly you out for an interview, which requires a $600 fare. You pay for it, and then use Arrival or Venture miles to wipe the charges from your statement. In that case (where you’re actually paying the face value for your ticket), I think it’s 100% OK to get reimbursed. Those miles are yours, and the fact that you ultimately used them to cover the fare is immaterial. The company is paying for the cost of your flight (as it should), and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using points or miles.
There’s a lot of opportunity when you’re booking premium travel; however, I recommend being upfront about it. You might be able to come to an agreement that’s best for both you and your employer. For example, last-minute flights between New York and London might be $7,000 in Business Class, but you can get one for 100,000 miles. If the company gives you $3,000, then you get a good redemption value and the company saves over 50% on the cost of your flight.
I actually work with some smaller hedge funds and businesses to teach them how to use their huge stockpiles of points and miles for that kind of travel, and everyone wins.
I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with using points and miles for business travel and then being reimbursed, but always clear it with your company to be safe. When in doubt, go with your gut and stay aboveboard. It’s not worth losing out on a job offer — or even your job — if the company finds out that the airfare you quoted was paid for by different means.
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