Business Travel Tip: Getting Reimbursed for Ancillary Airline Fees

As more business travelers take to the skies this year, they’ll be met with an ever-growing menu of ancillary airline fees and the range of new charges can be dizzying, especially if you haven’t flown recently.

Ancillary fees are here to stay, especially in light of fuel price increases – they’re a more palatable way for airlines to generate revenue without raising business travel fares (a short-lived ticket price increase this month by Delta, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, US Airways & United Airlines was not well received by business travelers and quickly rolled back).

Here are some quick tips to make sure you don’t end up footing the bill for ancillary fees when traveling on business:

Know before you go. Corporate travel departments are still ironing out what’s considered a necessary travel expense. A general rule is that if you can’t get there without it, the company will cover it – but check your corporate travel policy carefully before you opt-in to the extra fees. Although in-flight Internet access, early boarding, and a seat with more legroom will definitely make your flight more enjoyable, they’re not essential for getting you to your meeting.

Get it in writing. Since the airline usually charges ancillary fees at a later date than the ticket purchase, travelers are responsible for submitting detailed expense reports to their corporate travel managers – not a simple task since many of the airline’s fees that show up on your credit card statement are labeled vaguely (i.e. “Miscellaneous”). Try to get a receipt for each fee so you can easily back up the charges on your corporate card.

Research the “real” cost of your airline ticket. Before you buy, make sure you understand all the ancillary fees that can be tacked onto your airfare – some of which may not be covered by your employer (like charging for the privilege of choosing your seat ahead of time). While frequent filer status may exempt you from some fees, there might be a few surprises on your credit card bill. Using frequent flier miles to upgrade your seat? Check to see if there are fuel surcharges on your ‘free’ upgrade.

There’s some good news on the horizon: IATA - the International Air Transport Association - developed a messaging system for airlines to communicate ancillary fees to travel agencies, which will make categorizing, billing, and traveler reimbursement much easier. However, the industry-wide adoption of IATA’s system will take a few years - in the meantime, business travelers and their corporate travel departments will have to develop a workable short-term solution.