Andy White was on a sales call one winter in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. It was snowing so hard that his car was rendered useless and he needed a way to get to his client.
His solution: Rent a snowmobile and expense the cost to his company. "It's all about keeping your clients happy. It's all about taking care of your customer," said White, a key accounts sales manager at Bunzl Distribution, supplier of food, cleaning and safety products based in St. Louis.
While expensing a snowmobile is a rare occurrence in the business world, a recent survey published by Certify LLC shows how predictable travel and entertainment expenses can actually be. The survey lists the top five expensed restaurants, cities, airlines, hotels and rental-car agencies among the clients of Certify, a Portland, Maine-based company that specializes in cloud-based expense management software.
According to the survey, Starbucks outpaced McDonald's by nearly 8,000 expense reports this year to earn the top spot among restaurants.
Robert Neveu, CEO of Certify, attributes Starbucks' popularity not only to its beverage and food options, but also to its loungelike atmosphere and access to Wi-Fi. "It's a great place to do business," he said.
Among U.S. cities, Chicago generated the most expense reports among Certify's customers, according to the survey. Neveu said Chicago being the top-expensed city is most likely because of its geographic location and status as a travel hub in the United States. Although, Neveu said, Chicago's recent efforts to establish itself as a technology hotbed may also have contributed to businesses generating a large amount of travel and entertainment expenditures in the Midwestern city.
Delta was the most frequently expensed airline, Hilton the most expensed hotel chain and National the most-used car rental agency, according to the survey.
The highest two-month average for total expense reports, $943, occurred during February and March, while the lowest, $864, occurred during August and September. "The late summer spending dip is consistent with Certify data from years past, as this is a popular time for employee vacations," according to a Certify news release.
Neveu said what's most significant about the survey's results is that they may be an indication of recovery for the nation's economy.
Expenses by the Numbers
Starbucks: 20,084 transactions averaging $7.54
McDonald's: 12,419 transactions averaging $6.73
Subway: 8,627 transactions averaging $11.88
Panera Bread: 5,156 transactions averaging $19.12
Burger King: 4,091 transactions averaging $8.45
Most Expensed Airlines
Delta: 20,164 transactions averaging $474.25
United: 11,581 transactions averaging $492.42
Southwest: 10,713 transactions averaging $282.38
American: 8,856 transactions averaging $457.43
US Airways: 7,284 transactions averaging $348.96
Most Expensed Hotels
Hilton: 18,254 transactions averaging $270.55
Marriott: 12,979 transactions averaging $302.42
Holiday Inn: 9,366 transactions averaging $227.51
Choice Hotels: 4,716 transactions averaging $154.87
Starwood Hotels: 1,824 transactions averaging $331.62
Most Expensed Rental-Car Services
National: 8,667 transactions averaging $182.71
Hertz: 7,868 transactions averaging $219.92
Enterprise: 7,858 transactions averaging $204.68
Avis: 3,824 transactions averaging $199.49
Budget: 1,674 transactions averaging $174.42
Most Expensed Cities
Chicago: 18,305 transactions
Houston: 17,108 transactions
Atlanta: 16,610 transactions
Dallas: 13,607 transactions
New York: 12,906 transactions
Source: Certify LLC
"Employee spending on travel and entertainment rose just over 1 percent in the past year," Certify's research shows.
Neveu says that like the gradual return of annual company holiday parties, an increase in travel and entertainment expenses shows businesses are more confident in the economy and their financial prospects.
"Increases in travel budgets means companies are more willing to go out and spend more money on potential customers," he said.
However, not everyone agrees with Certify's assertion that an increase in travel and entertainment expenses indicates a recovering national economy.
That businesses are increasing their expense budgets indicates a recovering economy is "a supposition," said John Lyday, vice president of human resources at Bunzl. "We always try to be frugal," he added.
Max Mihelich is Workforce's editorial intern. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.