September 16 2009 by Chris McGinnis
When it comes to planning a business trip, one of the constant questions we all ask ourselves is, "Is this trip going to be worth the cost?" To determine the return on your investment, you first need a good estimate on how much it will cost.
And that's not always so easy. But Uncle Sam is here to help.
Every three years at about this time, the U.S. General Services Administration publishes the per diem rates it uses to reimburse government employees or contractors traveling to thousands of U.S. cities. In 2010, most of the country will fall under a standard maximum per diem of $116 ($70 for lodging, $46 for meals and incidentals). But there are 400 non-standard areas that have per diems which are higher.
Over the last three years, hotel rates have gone up and down. As a result, the average per diem for 2010 remains mostly unchanged. However, per diems have decreased significantly in some major cities such as New York, San Francisco and Chicago, where lodging rates have recently tumbled from record highs.
While non-governmental employees may not be able to get the same low rates, the GSA site still provides a good estimate of reasonable expenses. This should help you determine the "going rate" for expenses in three key areas: lodging, meals and incidentals. (Transportation costs such as airfare, gasoline, and taxis are not included.)
Check out the helpful tool here: http://www.gsa.gov/perdiem
I've got two trips in my sights for this month. The first one will be a two-night stay in downtown Chicago. To estimate the cost of that trip, GSA says that my lodging, meal and incidental costs in the Windy City should run no more than $282 per day. Add to that the cost of my airline ticket from San Francisco ($350) and round trip cab fare to/from the airport ($100). Estimated cost for this trip: $1014.
Later in the month, I'll drive my own car round trip from San Francisco to Truckee, Calif. (about 300 miles). At the standard mileage rate (55 cents) set by the IRS, the drive will cost about $165. The GSA says that I'll spend a maximum of $153 per day in there for lodging, meals and incidentals. So my total estimated trip cost will be $471.