EDITORS NOTE: In 2024, I’ve introduced Guest Post Saturdays. If you’re interested in contributing, please reach out! Today’s guest post is from a new travel blogger but seasoned financial hacker, Graham, who offers a unique insight in many aspects of the hobby. His prior post on applying churning to changing jobs can be found here and should probably be required reading for any churner switching W-2 jobs.

Traveling for work doesn’t need to be a break-even operation. There are plenty of won’t-get-you-fired tricks to earn a little extra personal return when jet-setting your way to Lubbock Texas to get your barrels cleaned at Scrub-A-Dubb Barrel Company. Here are a few that I’ve found:

  • Meeting Credit Card Sign Up Bonus Spend: Many companies allow you to put corporate travel spend on a personal card, and then reimburse that expense. This is one of the ways I meet my minimum spend requirements for sign up bonuses. I consistently manage to get a few thousand dollars of spend per trip (mostly from hotel stays, occasionally from having the privilege of expensing team dinners).
  • Loyalty programs: Many companies will allow you to put your personal hotel, airline, and rental car loyalty program numbers on work reservations. If your company uses Concur, you can even add those programs to your profile and have them automatically added when you book travel. If your personal travel portal doesn’t support adding the program during booking, you can usually add it after the fact on the provider’s website.
  • Credit Cards Offers: If you can put corporate travel on a personal card, you can take advantage of offers from your bank for spending money at a given company. The more cards you have, the more offers might be available. Instead of looking through the offers on every one of my cards individually, I use offer.love to look up the hotel and rental car companies I’m considering using. After filtering by companies that meet my requirements and are within corporate policy, I pick the one with the highest offer. For example, right now Hertz has a $90 back on $350 offer at Amex and Westin has $98 back on $980 at US Bank.
  • Promotions Directly with Travel Companies: Companies periodically offer promotions directly on their website. For example, Marriott is currently offering 1k points and 1 elite night credit per night and United has a Mile Play promotion offering me 2,900 points for taking one flight. I always make sure to add these promotions to my account before booking corporate travel. 
  • Amex Corporate Advantage Program: If you have an Amex corporate card, you might be eligible for Amex’s corporate advantage program. This program lets you save on your personal card annual fees. You save $150 on the Platinum Card, $100 on Gold, $75 on Green, and $50 on Blue. The sign up bonuses when signing up through this program are terrible (eg. a Platinum card comes with an 80k point bonus through this program vs the 150k points you can easily get by opening the application page in incognito mode), however, you can link an existing card to the corporate advantage program after you’ve already opened your card. Just talk to a customer service representative using the chat support option, and they can add it in a few minutes. The fee discount won’t work on the first year’s annual fee if you do this, but it will apply in every subsequent year, making it perfect for cards you intend to keep in your wallet over the long term.
  • Combining Work and Personal Travel: Not all companies allow this, but my company’s travel policies explicitly allow combining personal and work travel. Say, for example, I am traveling from New York to California for work, and I want to go to Hawaii for vacation afterwards. Rather than booking a round trip work trip from New York to San Francisco, and then a round trip personal trip from New York to Honolulu, I’m allowed to book a New York to San Francisco to Honolulu work trip. My company’s policy requires our travel agents to price out the work-only option and the work + personal option, and I only pay the difference. This can often net out to hundreds of dollars of savings when doing personal travel in the vicinity of a work destination.
  • Corporate Discounts and Promotions for Personal Travel: Every company has access to various corporate perks for personal travel. For example, my company gives me access to United’s Break from Business discounted fares. We also have status match offers with United and Delta available internally, which are better than the public ones (eg. the public United status match is valid for 120 days, vs our internal one is valid through January 31st 2025). We currently also have access to a promotion to earn Explorist status with Hyatt. We also have a ton of discounts on rental cars, flights, and hotels through fond.co. It’s worth taking a poke around your company’s internal wikis / slack / mailing lists to see what kind of benefits you have for personal travel.

While corporate travel can be personally profitable, I should add a few notes of caution:

  • Know the Policy; Stay Within It: Odds are that your job pays orders of magnitude more than the tricks I’ve outlined in this post. These tricks are allowed at my company, but may not be allowed at yours. For example, some companies require all business expenses to be put on a corporate card, if you have one. Getting fired for violating your corporate travel policy to earn a couple hundred bucks would be a very bad return on investment. So make sure to read and understand your corporate travel policy, and never do anything you wouldn’t be comfortable explaining to your director / VP / CEO / misc. corporate overlord.
  • Beware the Cost of Messing Up Reimbursements: Many of the tricks above rely on putting corporate travel expenses on a personal card. If you mess up and forget to submit one expense (or it gets rejected; see point above), it might outweigh all the personal gains from your trip and put you in the red. Make sure you have a reliable system for tracking and submitting your expenses before putting work expenses on a personal card.

About the Author

I love understanding systems, and optimizing for the best outcomes within the rules as implemented (rather than as written, which is a distinction all churners should be keenly aware of). This love has led me to a career in cyber security, to churning, and also to a general obsession with optimizing all things finances. I’ve recently turned that last point into a blog where I write posts like this one (with many more in the pipeline). If you’re interested in that kind of content, there’s a subscribe box at the bottom of the blog.  And if you think I’ve missed something, gotten something wrong, or should write future posts on a particular topic, please drop me a line.

– Graham

Yes, cruise ships have morticians. Side benefits include free travel and reimbursable expenses.