Taking The Surprises Out Of Speaker Expenses

Posted: July 29, 2014 in Be In The Know, Meeting Planner
When it comes to post-event speaker travel expenses, there are three absolutes – speakers do not like billing for expenses, speaker bureaus do not like collecting expense reports, and meeting planners do not like expense surprises. The Speaker Experts have seen many positive changes regarding travel expenses and billing over the past 30 years.  The “greed is good” culture of the 1980s is long gone – at that time, many celebrity speakers felt any travel expense could be billed and that the “customer” was contractually obligated to pay.  The most extreme example is a well-known TV personality who wrecked her car driving back to New York after a speech in Pennsylvania.  Thankfully, she walked away unhurt from the accident, but was upset to learn that we were unwilling to bill the customer $20,000 for the car.  And while this example is far from the norm, it gives you a glimpse into the culture of the time.
Thankfully, for a variety of reasons ranging from Professional Education, document transparency and information available on the Internet,  expenses and billing have become less of an issue. Having said that, there are certain steps the Speaker Experts suggest to minimize your expenses and prevent post-event surprises:
1. AIRFARE : This is typically the largest and most confusing portion of the expense bill. Using a speaker with an honorarium of $10,000, a standard contract might read as follows:

“$10,000 plus unrestricted First Class Expenses”

The Speaker Experts suggest you avoid opened-ended language and, instead, follow these three tips to have a safety net or pre-event level of expense understanding:

  • The Airfare Buy Out : The speaker is paid an agreed-upon amount to cover airfare.
    1. “$10,000 plus $1500 for airfare and ground transportation, plus hotel and meals.”

  • Airfare Cap (NTE) : The speaker is given a figure for airfare that he cannot exceed, but if the actual cost is less than the NTE, that amount is honored when billing.
    1. “$10,000 plus First Class Airfare and ground transportation, Not To Exceed $1500 plus hotel and meals.”

  • Dollar Sum Travel Allowance (DSTA) : You are billed a best-guess estimate of the airfare, and reimbursed or billed depending on the final cost.
    1. “$10,000 plus a DSTA of $2,000 for First-Class Airfare to and from the event, with local ground transportation. This is an estimate of costs – if the actual cost is higher, we will invoice the difference. Should the actual cost be lower, we will refund the difference. Sponsor is also responsible for hotel expenses, meals and ground transportation in the event city.”

If you opt not to utilize one of the airfare safety nets suggested above, the topic of Restricted vs. Unrestricted airfare will come into play. The Speaker Experts are big believers in saving money and finding value, but this is not an area where we would suggest cutting corners.

  • Unrestricted Fares
      These are more expensive, but offer the traveler greater flexibility and may be refunded or changed without penalty, even under “Acts of God”.
  • Restricted Fares
      Essentially “leisure class fares”, they are greatly reduced and offered by discount travel sites. However, they offer little or no flexibility when an itinerary needs to be changed. These are the fares The Speaker Experts use when trying to book a family vacation or save the company money when going on a business trip.
  • If your speaker’s flight is cancelled or delayed, you do not want that speaker traveling with a discount ticket. You will want the speaker to receive priority re-booking on the best possible flight. This is the luxury afforded with an unrestricted ticket. It will cost more, but it is worth every penny if it stands between your speaker making it to the event or sitting in an airport.

2. GROUND TRANSPORTATION : This area has become a hot bed of miscommunication. Sedan service often bills out a $90 per hour, or more, plus taxes and tolls. With a two hour minimum, and the meter running when the car leaves the garage until its return, the bill adds up quickly.

  • On-site ground transportation is rarely an issue. You’ve made the trip yourself many times, and know the final charge. Where the problem occurs is in the speaker’s city of origin; make sure you are clear on who will cover that charge, what it will be and know it is roundtrip. This can often be $500-600.

3. HOTEL AND MEALS : Gone are the days of large meals, booze, massages and parties charged to the client. This issue rarely arises, and if it does, your speaker bureau can provide a solution.

  • The Speaker Experts suggest that the speaker’s hotel and meals be billed to the customer’s master account. Asking the speaker to pay this expense and then submit receipts for reimbursement adds steps to the payment process, confusion and often embarrassment for the speaker. This does not mean a speaker can charge booze, expensive meals, massages and merchandise to the room. In the rare instance that this does happen, your speaker bureau can provide a financial remedy to the problem.

There is no silver bullet when it comes to speaker travel expenses. Some of the ideas listed above can help minimize the risk and prevent post-event surprises. The Speaker Experts are always available to answer expense questions and craft contractual language that will ensure that the post-event speaker performance is every bit as good as the on-stage speech!

  1. Tom Morris says:

    Excellent blog! The best presentation of this information I’ve come across, and having been a speaker for 25 years, I know how much people need this!


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