More workers find ways to tack leisure time onto travel schedules

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Posted: Saturday, March 8, 2014 12:00 am

On a business trip to London last fall, Caroline Michaud took the last flight out of Heathrow Airport to Chicago on a Saturday night so she would have time to visit the National Portrait Gallery, take a run by Buckingham Palace and spin through St. James Park.

“I'm always seeing how you can stretch the trip,” she said. Even if it just means six extra hours in a city, she wants to do it. “You don't have to stay extra nights to get the real feel of a city,” she said.

Michaud, director of public relations with the Preferred Hotel Group, is one of an increasing number of business travelers who are looking to make the most of their trips by incorporating some time for themselves.

“This is a trend we've seen pick up for the business traveler over the last several years,” said Nick Vournakis, senior vice president at Carlson Wagonlit Travel, a travel management company.

It's known in the travel trade as “bleisure,” or “blending leisure and business as a way to make the throes of business travel a little bit more palatable, a little bit more acceptable,” Vournakis said.

Forty-seven percent of American business travelers added leisure days to at least one of their business trips in 2011, the last year for which data is available, according to Lorraine Sileo, vice president for research at PhoCusWright, a travel research company.

Among self-employed business travelers, the percentage jumps to 53 percent who added on leisure days. If corporations “don't have strict policies, travelers are more likely to tack leisure time onto business trips,” Sileo said. “They want to take in the destination of the places they are going for business.”

One big reason for the increase, she said, is the cost of airfares. If a plane seat costs $1,200, the business traveler wants to take full advantage of it rather than having to pay for a future flight themselves on a vacation. By combining business and leisure, they gain experiences and save money.

Business travelers — especially those who are starting their careers — are eager to see the world and to find ways to maximize their travel time.

“I do it when I'm traveling to cities I've never been to before,” Michaud, 28, said. She was planning a trip to Mexico City and was to fly in on a Saturday to explore another part of the city before moving to the business hotel for her meetings Monday and Tuesday.

“Why not see it on the weekend and during the week because it's two different vibes?” she said.

Adding on such a Saturday-night stay can sometimes reduce the cost of a plane ticket. But whatever the price impact of appending some personal time on a work trip, business travelers who enjoy doing so need to make sure they keep their business and personal expenses separate, even if it means paying for the leisure portion on a personal credit card, then switching to a corporate card when their business trip actually begins. “The key is the documentation,” said Michael Steiner, partner at Ovation Travel Group.

“There are two kinds of travel, and different forms of payment are used for each,” he said. In addition, if extra days are involved other than weekends and holidays, business travelers use vacation days to make the trip happen. Sometimes, travelers just add hours or a red-eye flight or two to the trip to maximize their time in a location.

In some cases, the business traveler can add a city to the trip — and save the company money. For example, a traveler heading from New Jersey to California on business could stop in Las Vegas for a night on the return leg. The airfare can be lower. Other times, a traveler will want to add days before or after a business trip, and Steiner will present two itineraries to show the cost of each. This way, a company can see the cost of different options. “We're providing all the details,” Steiner said.

Rebecca Sadek, 32, a holistic nutrition specialist who lives in Pelham, N.Y., added on days in San Juan, Puerto Rico, before a business trip to the Caribbean. It took her to St. Croix, St. Kitts, Grenada, Dominica and St. Thomas, for a trip she earned from Shaklee, a health and wellness company for which she is a distributor. She did the same thing on a trip to Paris, booking through Rome.

“It was cheaper,” she said, “so it was approved.”

Each company has its own policy for adding on personal time. “It's one of these gray areas,” said Greeley Koch, executive director at the Association of Corporate Travel Executives. “It really comes down to the culture of the company.” Some companies tend to discourage adding on vacation days. Others encourage it, if only to help employees overcome jet lag and be more effective while they work on the road.

Taking it a step further, some companies even use the business-trip extension as a recruiting tool. Corporations are “absolutely fighting for talent in high-growth industries,” said Vournakis of Carlson Wagonlit, and a flexible travel policy can be used as a way to “attract and retain employees.”

But the practice does carry risks for companies, which are increasingly responsible for the safety of their employees whether they are working or at leisure on a business trip. It's an area of law called duty of care.

“Many courts have been extending the employer's duty of care further and further,” said Adam Anolik, a lawyer who handles corporate travel.

Employers are advised, for example, to warn business travelers of “any known dangers in the immediate vicinity of their business traveler in case those dangers are encountered on leisure or tacked-on time,” he said. In addition, some countries have adopted stringent employer duty-of-care legislation or case law precedents that generally apply to their employees traveling in other countries, he said.

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