Leftover business air miles: Can I use them?
Cathleen McCarthy is a journalist whose articles on travel, commerce and consumer topics have appeared in dozens of publications. She writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for CreditCards.com
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Dear Cashing In,
am the CFO of a company. One requirement of the CFO is that the credit card is taken out under my personal credit. In the past, the travel reward points were left to the prior CFO. I would like to use some of the reward points to take my spouse to attend a convention. Is this appropriate? What is the standard? -- Tina
So, you have a credit card issued by your employer that you use for company expenses, but under your personal credit. That's one way to make sure you're handling the company's finances responsibly. It would make sense that if you have to assume the credit risk, you should also collect the rewards for charges made and fulfilled.
It sounds like you have it on good authority that the prior CFO used the reward points for her/himself. In other words, points accrued by charging company expenses are considered an executive bonus at your company. If that's the case, why can't this be openly discussed with your employer or at least verified by documentation you should be able to access as CFO?
How reward points are handled can vary dramatically from one company to the next, depending partly on size. Generally, the larger the corporation, the more likely they are to have formal rules in place regarding use of company credit cards. Smaller firms are often more casual about allowing managers to take out credit cards in their own names, giving them responsibility to cover monthly payments and, thus, reap the rewards (literally).
What you're describing sounds like the latter, but if I were you I wouldn't assume any kind of "standard practice." As a new employee -- especially chief financial officer -- you don't want to leave yourself open to claims of misusing company assets, and if you don't know the answer to this particular question, you should.
It's unlikely anyone is going to have a problem with you using travel rewards accrued on a company credit card to take your spouse on a business trip, but the important question is not whether the travel you're spending your rewards on is business-related, it's whether those rewards are yours to use in the first place. If they are, why should you have to account for the way you spend them?
They're either a bonus -- a little extra incentive to keep you happy that your company doesn't have to pay for -- or they belong to the company. If they belong to you, you should be able to spend them however you see fit. If they technically belong to the company, they may expect you to use them for company-related travel and include them in your own expense reports.
Sometimes it's better to ask forgiveness than permission, but I think I'd err on the side of caution in this case.
See related: Who owns frequent flier miles from a corporate credit card?
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