Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Charging Travel Fees for Destination Clients

When estimating travel costs for out of town or destination work, it's important to take into consideration all of the costs associated with doing business away from home:
  • Transportation- flight, taxis, car rental, gas, tolls, parking fees, insurance, emergency changes to transportation options, additional fees for handling of extra baggage or equipment
  • Lodging- hotel, wifi fees, hotel parking or valet fees, shuttle service to/from airport
  • Food- eating out, room service, groceries
  • Travel Insurance- in case of cancellation, to refund booked flights and deposits placed with travel agencies or resorts (often less expensive than a refundable ticket) and possibly travel health insurance in case you end up in the hospital due to a local infection or encounter with poisonous material (hopefully you'll have researched this stuff in advance)
  • Personal Travel Agent- who can help you deal with any last minute changes in travel plans without losing your head
  • Discretionary Funds- in case you need some piece of equipment at the last minute, like a power adapter for a different country to charge your batteries, or a power strip because there aren't enough outlets in the room, or even a pre-paid phone to communicate with clients overseas because yours isn't working, or to pay for international roaming charges on your current cell phone to stay in touch with clients
  • Working Time Lost During Travel- the most underestimated cost is the amount of working and communication time lost while in-transit.  Getting to and from a destination reduces your work week by at least 2 full days- putting you two days behind in your workload and preventing you from serving other clients during that time.
For these reasons, I don't recommend an itemized bill of travel costs, but rather a flat travel rate included in the contract up front.  By providing an all-inclusive flat travel rate up front rather than itemizing everything, a client is less likely to negotiate paying less or using their frequent flier miles to purchase any of your trip- which you need to retain full control over at all times in order to make any emergency changes to the itinerary.  Occasionally, I will allow a client to pay for my lodging, in the event that they get a better rate through their travel agent for a group booking, but will only take 30% off of my flat rate in order to make sure there is enough for the rest of the fees.

While you need to decide what distances and travel rate is reasonable for you based on your location and fees, I am happy to share what I do as an example of what works best for me as of this posting date in my East Coast location (note my fees and distances were different when I lived in the Midwest, and when prices were different for gas and airfare):
  • Travel within 50 miles - Included (because I can drive there and back in the same day)
  • Travel between 50-100 miles - $500 (2 hotel nights, driving expenses, eating out, and any emergency expenses for being too far away to get anything at the last minute if needed)
  • Travel over 100 miles, within the continental US - $1000 (2-3 hotel nights depending on the scarcity of flights into remote areas, flight & car rental/shuttle/taxi expenses, eating out, emergency, travel insurance, travel agent, etc.)
  • Overseas travel- Quote based on location (on top of all travel expenses mentioned above I always include 3 hotel nights minimum- one for the arrival day, one additional day for any emergency flight cancellations/reschedules and-or jet lag adjustment, one for the wedding night- and if I get lucky, a fourth night for myself to just enjoy the location.  It's also important to include costs for an additional shooter while working abroad in case you fall ill to some strange location based disease from accidentally brushing your teeth with bacteria laced water, or in case you need a local photographer who can help translate the local language.)
While many American photographers are often excited to travel abroad for international destinations, be advised that traveling for work is NOT the same as traveling for a vacation.  There are international working visa considerations for each country that need to be dealt with, potential immunization requirements for health reasons, as well as constantly being "on the clock," especially when staying in a resort with all of the guests from the wedding.  If you underestimate the costs of doing business internationally, you may travel a lot, but at the end of the year you could find yourself without enough in the bank to upgrade equipment or clean your camera out from all the sand, humidity, and wear and tear it's acquired from its travels.

Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer from Boston, MA. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography in 2004 as an independent small business. She loves helping others find creative and smart solutions to business problems. Follow her on Twitter to see her daily adventures and thoughts.