TDY (Temporary Duty) assignments can be like the proverbial box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. Some years, my husband has had TDY assignments every couple of weeks, flown to many of them and rented a car. In more recent, leaner times, he’s only gone a few times a year and had to drive our old clunker.
Regardless of the nature of the assignment, though, TDY assignments all have one thing in common: we have (mostly) made money on them. Yes, after his rookie first trip, when we didn’t know any better,we have always made money on TDY assignments.
- Know your entitlements and the rules before you go. Are you entitled to a rental car? Do you know how much you are being paid per diem? Are you being given in-and-around mileage? Do you have to save receipts for everything? Do you know how to file for your reimbursement? These are questions that you should be asking beforehand and you should be familiar with the government travel regulations. The Joint Travel Regulation is the bible when it comes to all things travel-related. However, it weighs in at more than 1,600 pages. So if you need a more accessible place to find answers, try the Defense Travel Management Office’s website. Here you can find detailed information on such topics as the government travel charge card, lodging and how to file your travel vouchers. You can also look up per diem rates around the world.
- Be picky about where you stay. While it’s easy to stay at the lodging on the installation, this might not always be the best choice. When we were stationed in Virginia and my husband was frequently sent to the D.C. area, he found that there were several “suite” type hotels that not only had small kitchenettes, but also served hot breakfasts, dinner several times a week and hosted nightly “manager’s receptions” with drinks and appetizers, all for free. Those were all meals that he didn’t have to buy. But in more remote locations, the government lodging could be the only game in town. And if you’re not entitled to in-and-around mileage, you probably want to stay as close to your meeting or event as possible.
- Make a good point. My husband has joined the loyalty programs for every hotel and airline that he has used. If you choose to stay at the same hotel chain or fly the same airline consistently, you can rack up rewards pretty quickly. These rewards can translate into free hotel stays or other travel perks later on. While my husband does use his government credit card for things that he will have to produce a receipt and file for (such as rental cars, flights and lodging), for meals and everything else, he makes sure to use our travel rewards Visa card which pays us 1.5 points for every dollar spent. If you are traveling overseas, you will want to make sure your credit card isn’t charging you foreign transaction fees.
- Eat to live, don’t live to eat. That first, financially disastrous TDY went something like this: drive-thru breakfast every morning, lunch out at a burger place, dinner at a chain sports bar/restaurant with all the guys. Not only is that bad for the wallet, it’s bad for the waistline. These days, if my husband hasn’t found a hotel that serves a free breakfast, he brings protein bars and granola from home and eats that for breakfast. Lunch is usually Subway or some other sandwich place.
And if there’s not some sort of mandatory fun social event going on at dinner, he will either find a semi-healthy microwaveable meal to heat up and eat in his room, thereby saving on drinks and tips. He figures he is able to save at least half of what he is entitled to for meals and incidentals.
- Be prepared for the hurry up and wait. Make sure you’ve set aside funds to pay off the credit card bills you may rack up while you are TDY. Even though you are sure that you are entitled to reimbursement, be prepared to pay your credit card bills if you’ve used your personal card for meals and other incidental expenses or else you may incur hefty fines and interest fees. My hubby went on a TDY last September that happened to fall right at the end of the government’s fiscal year, which complicated the filing process considerably. Almost 5 months later, we are still waiting to be reimbursed. When in doubt, use the government travel card as most government credit cards will not charge a fee or interest for late payments due to non-reimbursement.
Even with all the cutbacks and reductions in entitlements, with a little bit of preparation and planning, you can turn your TDY assignment into a potentially money-making experience.