How to get business travel for free (and still write it off)

First, I need to establish that I’m giving travel advice in this article, not tax advice.  I’m not qualified or licensed to give tax advice, and I’m treading a thin line in this article.  Even so, I want to share with you an idea that I think you’ll be pretty excited about because it takes an incredible travel reward bonus opportunity and makes it even better.

Many people I know tend to mix business and pleasure travel. It’s a beautiful thing – something I, too, indulge in.  In fact, this same time last week I was on the beach in St. Petersburg, paddleboarding in the swales of the Gulf Coast outside the beautiful Don Cesar Hotel. It was a business trip – an opportunity to hone my investment management skills – but I brought Nicole along, so we took advantage of some of the off time to enjoy the setting.

St Pete beach paddleboard

Nicole paddleboarding at the Don Cesar on St Pete beach

Before I go too much further, I need to say that you must stay at the Don Cesar Hotel in St. Petersburg at some point in your lifetime. If it were just a historic hotel it would be great.  If it were just a beautiful beachside resort, it would be great.  If it were just a Loews property with excellent staff and the plushest of beds, it would be great. But it really is all three of these things and more.  Coming from a guy who never spends money on hotels, I’d tell you that this is a hotel that it’s worth it to spend money on – particularly when it’s reimbursed and deductible. 🙂

Anyways, on this trip I also brought along my Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® – what’s become my absolute favorite “bank points” card – a card that gives me cash reimbursement for travel expenses, and also one that accumulates at a rate of 2:1 and includes a 10% point kick-back when points are redeemed.  The net effect is 2.22% cash back for travel – hands down the best benefit out there when it comes to points that have maximum flexibility. There’s no complicated grid of hotel categories or airline ticket point scales, just easy points for cash redemption.

I brought it because I knew I’d be staying at the Don Cesar, a Loews Resort Hotel, and despite having an Awardwallet that’s brimming with points, I don’t have any free stays with the YouFirst program. Now, that actually works out for me, though, because where this is a work expense, I’d like to be able to write it off… and if I had hotel points that made it free, I wouldn’t have any record of having paid for it.

The way it worked out, though, is that my card was billed $400.  When I first got the card, the 40k bonus points I recieved for spending $3k in the first 3 months would have been enough to pay for all of our stay, but I had blown those long ago.  Even so, I’ve been able to spend a fair amount on the card over the last few months and accumulated about 20k points that allowed me to reimburse $200 of the $400 charge on my card.

As it stands, I still have a tax-deductible expense, and my savvy use of credit card travel rewards allows me to write it off and get it reimbursed.

Now on to the reason we even have this blog in the first place… you can do this, too! Particularly if you have a significant amount in monthly spending to put on this card, this is a way you can really maximize your free travel.

 Better than American Express Membership Rewards

Far too many business owners rack up tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of points in the American Express Membership Rewards program.  As a general rule, that program runs at a rate of 1 point per dollar spent… so right off the bat the Barclaycard Arrival takes the lead in offering 2 points per dollar, plus the 10%.

To look at an example, consider that if you spent $5k/month on an American Express which earns membership rewards, you’d rack up 60k/year.

If you spent the same amount on the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®, you’d earn 120k/year and upon redeeming them, earn 12k more.  That’s a total of $1,320 in free travel.  If you use it on business travel but still reimburse yourself, consider that your expenses will also still be tax deductible. It’s a win/win/win.

Can I put business expenses on my personal card?

I do want to urge a little caution here because it is possible to get a little out of hand with this.  There are many reasons to keep business expenses on business cards and personal expenses on personal cards – for one, it makes accounting much much simpler.  Even so, you’re responsible for your accounting and so long as you have records of what you spent and why, that’s what is important.

The other factor is that any debt you accumulate on a personal card stays with you if the business defaults.  This shouldn’t be an issue for worldwanderlusters, though, because none of us are actually accumulating ongoing debt.  We use credit cards only as purchasing instruments, not as credit.

That said, again, what’s important is that you keep good records of all of your purchases and appropriately categorize them.

What’s the best way to keep track of my expenses?

One more time we’ll plug Mint.com.  I really could not do what I do with travel credit card rewards if it weren’t for Mint.com.  I have the app on my phone and login on my desktop at least once a week.  I can categorize every dollar of spending and gauge my budget in ways that was never before possible.  This is a tool that I think everyone should use… and they don’t pay me to say that… though I wish they did.  I’d love to get paid for what I want to say anyway.

What’s the catch?

As I tell people every day.  I’ve been doing this for 4 years and I and my family have traveled all over the world and stayed in dozens of hotels, and done much of it for free.  I guess if there is a catch with this card is that while the first year’s annual fee is waived, it is not waived in the later years, so unless you cancel the card you will have to pay the $89 annual fee, though in speaking with a customer service rep, you may be able to change over to a non-annual fee account that only accumulates points at a rate of 1:1.  But aside from that, I couldn’t really tell you.

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