Mixing Business with Pleasure with Travel

May 13, 2011

Although business is business and pleasure is pleasure, the world rarely adheres to absolutes. Thus, this time of year you may want to mix some vacation days with your business travel. With a little planning, you can get Uncle Sam to subsidize your downtime. Here are the strategies for doing just that.

Combine Business and Vacation Plans for Domestic Travel

If you go on a business trip within the U.S. and add on some vacation days, you know you can deduct some of your expenses. The only question is how much. First, let’s cover just the pure transportation expenses. By this, I mean the costs of getting to and from the scene of your business activity, which includes travel to and from your departure airport, the airfare itself, baggage fees and tips, cabs to and from the destination airport, and so forth. Costs for rail travel or to drive your personal car also fits into this category. The bottom line is your domestic transportation costs are 100% deductible, as long as the primary reason for the trip is business rather than pleasure. On the other hand, if vacation is the primary reason for your travel, none of your transportation expenses are deductible.

The IRS doesn’t specify how to determine if the primary reason for domestic travel is business. Obviously, the number of days spent on business versus pleasure is the key factor. We can look to the rules covering foreign travel for guidance on this issue. They say your travel days count as business days, as do weekends and holidays if they fall between days devoted to business, and it would be impractical to return home. “Standby days,” when your physical presence is required, also count as business days, even if you’re not called upon to work on those days. Any other day principally devoted to business activities during normal business hours is also counted as a business day, and so are days when you intended to work, but couldn’t due to reasons beyond your control (local transportation difficulties, power failure, etc.).

For domestic trips, you should be able to claim business was the primary reason for a sojourn whenever the business days exceed the personal days. Be sure to accumulate proof about this and keep the proof with your tax records. For example, if your trip is made to attend client meetings, log everything on your daily planner and copy the pages for your tax file. If you attend a convention or training seminar, keep the program and take some notes to show you attended the sessions.

Once at the destination, your out-of-pocket expenses for business days are fully deductible. Out-of-pocket expenses include lodging, hotel tips, meals (subject to the 50% disallowance rule), seminar and convention fees, and cab fare. Expenses for personal days are nondeductible (except in the “Saturday Night Stayover” situation explained later in this letter).

Maximizing the Tax Benefits of a Saturday Night Stayover

A great way to maximize deductions for the personal portions of a trip is with a Saturday night stayover that reduces the overall cost of the trip. If you can show staying the extra day or two costs less (or no more) than coming back home immediately after the business meeting is over, the IRS allows you to deduct your additional meal and lodging expenses (subject to the 50% disallowance rule for meals) for the extra day(s). Naturally, you still must have a dominant business purpose for making the trip in the first place. Be sure to document that your airfare savings equaled or exceeded the out-of-pocket costs of staying the extra day(s). Keep the proof with your tax records.

Example: You have a business meeting in New York on Monday morning. You and your spouse fly into town Saturday morning and spend the weekend sightseeing. Your round trip airfare is only $400 versus $1,200 if you came in Sunday night and left Monday. In this situation, Saturday is a personal day since you would normally fly in Sunday. No problem. As long as your meal and lodging expenses for Saturday are no more than $800, you can write-off your whole trip (subject to the 50% disallowance rule for meals). Of course, you generally can’t deduct the additional costs for your spouse (his or her airfare and meals and any extra charges for having two people instead of one in the hotel room), and you can’t deduct purely personal expenses like show tickets and baseball games. Still, this is a great deal taxwise.

Conventions on Cruise Ships

Deductions related to conventions directly related to your trade or business that are held aboard cruise ships are limited to $2,000 per individual per calendar year. In addition, the ship must be a U.S. registered vessel, and all of its ports-of-call must be in the U.S. or its possessions. Finally, the following information must be attached to your return in the year the deduction is claimed:

  • A signed statement showing the total days of the trip (excluding travel to and from the ship), the number of hours each day spent attending scheduled business activities, and the program of the convention’s scheduled business activities.
  • A statement signed by an officer of the sponsoring organization that includes a schedule of each day’s business activities and the number of hours you attended those activities.

Conclusion

There you have it. I hope this letter helps you plan some lovely trips that also deliver some nice tax breaks. However, I realize the rules explained here are rather complicated.

Previous post:

Next post: