Kuwait then home on Sunday I did roam, then Beirut for two nights this week. Next week Oman on Sunday for a night, then two nights at home, then Kuwait for two days, then Cape Town from Sunday to Thursday.
Work travel has started up. Goodbye regular circuit training sessions and a bit of routine, hello mostly enjoyable work trips and efforts to stay fit leaping around my hotel room or the gym cupboards of the hotels I’m starting to find myself obliged to stay in.
What’s infuriating me at the moment is the new way we have to book and pay for travel.
In the past we emailed our travel agent who then got us the right flights, based on company policy and timings. He’d also make hotel reservations, most of the time at least.
Flights would be paid for by the travel agent and invoiced to our accounts department. I would pay for my hotel and other expenses on my credit card, claim the money back and pay my credit card myself. At one point travel would be approved via an online request tool, but in more recent times things go much easier, with an emailed approval from my manager to the travel agent.
The process now is somewhat different.
The most infuriating part is that I have to use my corporate credit card for everything. I’m forced to use it as this is company policy. In theory it makes life easier as the bill is linked to our expenses system. That’s nice, but it’s outweighed by the fact that I am being made responsible financially for the card, am obliged to use it wherever I can and get no benefit from it in the way of points, reward schemes, etc. In addition, the cost of flights goes on the card.
This means I have a much larger credit card bill every month, which I am responsible for and for which I get no benefit whatsoever. To top it off, I am invoiced in dollars, have to do the conversion to dirhams myself and pay the bill at a petrol station as direct debits aren’t possible.
I used to use my Citibank credit card for my previous work related expenses. This gave me an easily manageable way to pay for things and got me lots of nice Skywards miles – 1 Skywards mile for every dollar spent. If I was a bit late claiming expenses, it didn’t matter as I could manage a month or two’s bills. With the new system, I am forced to claim my expenses immediately as the amounts going through are now much larger, as flights are going on my card.
Claiming expenses promptly is obviously something every company wants their employees to do. The fact is that I am not always able to do so during times where I am travelling a lot. It is simply not possible to get onto our company network through the VPN in many of the countries I visit. I’ve been in a partner’s office all day today in Beirut, where the network speed made most online tools totally unusable. This region is not like the US, with ubiquitous wifi and 3G dongles giving you a highspeed connection that lets you get admin done whilst sitting in the airport.
This means that where I am not able to claim expenses on time, I still have to pay them myself to avoid interest fees on my credit card and paying my credit card can sometimes be totally impossible to do due to the logistics involved. I’m not sure they even provide us with online bills – hopefully they do, so I can at least get Mrs Saul to go and pay the thing on my behalf if I am travelling.
Booking travel is also a rigmarole. The easy online tool is annoying but usable with a fast connection. With a slow connection it is infuriating. Multiple page refreshes, idiotic routings, stupid ‘helpful’ suggestions. ‘I don’t recognise which airport you want as you mistyped Dubai. Here’s a list of provincial airports in Tennesee we think you might need’. Why do I have to fill out my address, gender and date of birth in for every trip – why is this not added automatically? The system knows it’s me and has no issues making sure it’s my credit card being charged, but I still have to fill in these same details every single time.
It used to take, as the absolute maximum if a complex trip was involved, about ten minutes of emailing and maybe the odd call to book my travel. It now takes at least twenty minutes of faffing around with things, provided I am on a good connection, followed by having to foot the bill myself with none of the modern conveniences of having a credit card.
Just before writing this twenty minutes of nonsense trying to book a flight to Kuwait spectacularly failed, forcing me to start from scratch.
I have better things to do with my time.
No doubt this system is super efficient and saves the company millions though. Hurrah. I can’t help but think that the old way can’t have been more expensive in real terms when compared to this approach. Maybe it’s all part of a secret incentive scheme to make people like me work as hard as possible in the vain hope that we’ll get promoted to a level where we’ll have an admin who can go through the pain of these online ‘processes’ for us.