Have you ever been surprised when you get home from a work trip and realize how much it cost? There are a lot of hidden costs associated with travel, and I would like to share some tips to help you eliminate your after travel sticker shock.

These tips are for domestic air travel only; keep an eye out for my next blog on foreign travel!

Pre-Travel. Prior to travel, create a budget. Making a budget for your trip allows you to see exactly what your expenses will be. (Download our travel budget template.) Now I will go into details about various expenses (please note this is not an exhaustive list).

Tip: Check your organization’s travel policies prior to booking and traveling.

Flight. Gather your estimated flight cost from your desired carrier. I recommend adding $100 to the total cost to help cover flight changes prior to booking. If you use a booking service such as AAA, check to see if there is a booking fee and calculate this in (normally $10-$20).

Tip: If you find a lower flight that what AAA is offering, you can let them know and they may match the lower price.

Hotel. You can access prices through the hotel websites, but make sure tax is included in your calculations.

Tip: Always use your correct travel dates when price checking, hotel rates can vary by both day and week.

Food. I would suggest using government per diem rates to calculate food cost. The GSA Per Diem Rates page lets you enter the city you are traveling to and provides you with the cost per day. The per diem rate includes costs for meals, lodging, and incidentals, for this purpose just use the meal rate.

Tip: Some institutions only allow 75% of per diem for first and last day of travel—you may want to check on this.

Miscellaneous. The major categories have been addressed, so what else might be missing from the budget?

  • Checked Baggage. This varies by airline but can be $25 per bag/way (check with your airline for charges).
  • Ground Transportation. Will you be using a taxi, rental car, or ground transportation? Estimate all these costs and add them into your budget. You can search online to get estimated charges for all transportation.
  • Airport Parking. Are you parking your vehicle at the airport? Fees can range from $8-$20 per day, depending on location and duration.
  • Mileage/Gas. Are you driving to the airport or renting a car? Make sure to include a budget for mileage or gas. Check with your organization regarding mileage reimbursement rates.
  • Internet? If you are planning on using the internet at your hotel, there may be a fee associated. I have seen these vary from a flat fee to a per-day charge. Check with the hotel and calculate in any fees.

Tip: Do you have an external evaluator or an advisory committee? Make sure your organization’s travel policy is correctly reflected in their contract, this could be an issue when they are processing travel.

Once your budget is finalized, I would suggest adding a buffer of $100-$200 to the final budgeted amount. This helps cover any unforeseen incidentals. It’s always better to over budget then to under budget. Happy Traveling!

Example Travel Budget to Orlando, FL

Cost Buffer Total
Flight $350.00 $100.00 $450.00
Hotel $600.00 $600.00
Food $150.00 $150.00
Bags (include both ways) $50.00 $50.00
Ground Transportation $50.00 $50.00
Parking $35.00 $35.00
Mileage/Gas $28.00 $28.00
Internet $10.00 $10.00
Buffer $100.00 $100.00
Total Estimated Budget     $1,473.00

About the Authors

Emma Binder

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Marketing and Communication Specialist Senior, The Evaluation Center, Western Michigan University

Emma Binder was a Marketing and Communication Specialist Senior at The Evaluation Center at Western Michigan University and was the co-principal investigator for EvaluATE, the evaluation hub for the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program.

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