Getting Down to Business: Taking the Spreadsheet Out of Travel Expenses


Illustration: Lalalimola

Road warriors today are more self-sufficient and resourceful than ever: They book their own travel, do their own expenses and make room for extracurricular activities around work trips. In the multipart series,Getting Down to Business,” we look at the shiny tools inside the modern business traveler’s kit. This segment highlights the apps that do away with spreadsheets.

There can be perks to business travel (looking at you, reward points). Filing expense reports, however, isn’t one of them. But it’s a chore that’s increasingly becoming less onerous thanks to software that lets you automate much of the process, such as Expensify and Certify.

Expensify’s AI-bot, dubbed Concierge, can read your receipts and classify them as an air travel expense, for instance, saving you the trouble of having to input the information yourself, explains T.J. Ferriss, the company’s head of Strategic Partnerships. The bot can also populate fields like currency, amount and merchant name.

But for busy business travelers who really want to save time, using services that integrate directly with these expensing platforms is the hassle-free way to get paid back quickly. Log in to Uber and link your business profile to your expense provider, and every time you take a ride, your receipt information is automatically transferred to the expensing platform. In other words, you don’t have to snap a picture of your sales slip or forward your e-mail receipt.

While Expensify and Certify don’t currently integrate with airline databases, the former has partnerships with cloud-based corporate booking tools like Egencia and TripActions. Seamless expensing seems to be winning over organizations. Expensify received six times more receipts using TripActions in 2018 than it did in 2017.

Ridesharing is also on the rise among the business travel set. Uber was the most expensed vendor on Certify’s platform in 2018, with 11 percent of all transactions, up from 8.7 percent in 2017 and 6.3 percent in 2016. Airbnb, which is pushing for more of the business travel pie with its Airbnb for Work platform, is in the top 100 of Expensify’s most-expensed brands (even though it does not currently integrate with the platform) and is expected to climb, Ferriss says. SAP Concur, another expense management, travel and invoice tool, saw a 42 percent increase in Airbnb for Work receipts after the online marketplace made its listings available via SAP Concur in July 2017.

As business travel shows no signs of abating, it seems increasingly likely that tools that put experience first are going to dictate where exactly those dollars get spent.

Illustration: Lalalimola

Dash and Dine
Follow the money and it becomes clear that business travelers are turning more and more to digital services to fulfill their work-trip needs. Food delivery services like Grubhub, Doordash and Instacart have seen triple-digit growth between 2017 and 2018, according to both Certify and Expensify, while mobile ordering app Grab, which connects airport restaurants, services and retailers with travelers, is also on the rise.

“While you’re on your way to the airport, you can just open up the app, order something at a restaurant or store and pick it up when you get there,” Expensify’s T.J. Ferriss explains. “It’s not only popular with business travelers, but also with flight crew who might have a quick turnaround and don’t have much time to grab a bite before they need to be back on the plane.”

“Getting Down to Business” was originally published in the 9.3 June/July issue of APEX Experience magazine.