Billing travel time charges | Consultant Journal

What do you charge for travel time? When you need to go out of town to see clients, you need to consider your fees for travel time. Billing travel time recently came up at Metafilter, where someone asked what consultants charge for travel time. 

You won’t find much information about billing travel time online. This ancient thread at TECHWRL on consultant rates for travel time is one of the very few online resources, save for an engineering discussion on consulting billing for travel days .

 Why the hush on consulting rates for travel? Most consultants like to keep their practices under wraps, so their competitors will be less able to underbid them. They also prefer not to let their clients and prospective clients catch on to their bills!

So how do you go about billing clients for your travel time? Consider these points:

  • What will the market bear? A senior engineering consultant may be in better position to negotiate than a junior freelance writer.
  • What your competition is doing? If everyone in your field charges 50% for travel time, you may not be able to break away without being punished by competitors (or sending clients to your lower-priced competitors).
  • What’s your relationship with the client like? If you’re trying to win a new client, you might be a little more flexible than usual. In comparison, you might be willing to cut a long-time client a deal.
  • Can you do work for the client while you’re traveling? If you can do other work for the client while you’re in transit, you can point this out, putting yourself in a better position to negotiate for full pay.
  • Can you do work for other clients? Accepting 50% or 75% for travel time might not be so bad if you can bill other clients for time you spend working on the plane, at the airport, or in restaurants.
  • What’s the minimum you’ll accept? Always go into negotiations knowing the very minimum you’re willing to accept. That way, you’ll know when to walk away – and when you’re getting more than you bargained for.

 How do you set consulting rates for travel time? Drop me a line.

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Andrea Coutu says:

I’m not sure I follow you. Can you provide a little more information?

Chris says:

So if you want to make 100k salary…. all these numbers dont add up to you taking 100k home… its wayyyy less. Also with taxes.. its even less. How does that work out??

admin says:

Thanks for helping out a fellow reader, Barney.

admin says:

I prefer to find ways to build it into the overall fee. However, I live in Vancouver and I would almost never drive more than 10 km to see a client, let alone 10 miles. I just prefer to work with people near me.

Amend says:

What about traveling ‘somewhat’ locally to visit a client? I have heard the rule of thumb to request travel time for any client visit greater than 50 mile radius from your office. How far should you drive for “free” before you charge your client?

Darin says:

I change clients for a specialized consultation, not by the hour. This obviously makes it difficult to figure travel costs. Local clients are charged a nominal travel fee, while those requiring several hours travel are expected to pay quite a bit more. If I have to travel by plane for three plus hours one way, stay in a hotel, etc., it is reasonable to charge the client the same travel rate as if I were driving for all time excluding the consultation itself? This sounds fair on the one hand, and excessive on the other.
Also, I am charging quite a bit for the consultation, which is conducted over a two day period, three or so hours per day. Thoughts, please?

Barney McClung says:

In reply to Ella and how to bill for traveling with her client (boss), my billing for travel starts when I get into the cab or my vehicle to start the trip (I also charge mileage so I note the odometer and time). I note start times and mileage and what I’m doing for each project. This way I can bill separate clients appropriately if I’m working on more than one project while traveling. I charge until I’m in the hotel room NOT doing any work (reading material related to the project and writing reports – even logging my time is considered work). I do not bill for meal time – unless I am with the client discussing their project. I have found I’m more productive if I take a book or newspaper to read when I’m eating than review work related materials. I usually include a flat per-diem charge for meals which is adjusted based on what city I’m in. If I’m at a party with the client, I charge them. BUT the most important thing is I make sure to discuss with the client BEFORE the trip how and at what rate I will be charging them. I follow Andrea’s strategy for setting consultancy rates and I “discount” my travel time rate to $75/hr to reflect that I may not be working at 100% while traveling, but I am still working. As for a client bringing you onto the payroll, if it doesn’t happen within the first 90 days, it probably isn’t going to. Do not let the dangling carrot make you lower your fees or not charge for a service trying to curry favor. Charging appropriate rates communicates that you are confident your services are valuable. And the client may decide that it would be cheaper to hire you full-time. You don’t want them to feel that they would get a better deal stringing you along. Good Luck!

Gerry Seymour says:

For international travel, I’d specify an upcharge % on the entire project cost. This would cover longer travel, the inability to interface with other clients during that time (tine zone mismatch, cost of calls, etc.), as well as the additional time usually lost to jet lag, not being able to reasonably fly home for a weekend, etc.

Mark says:

I bill 50% of my rate for travel time plus any additional costs.

For example, if I am driving to their location. I bill 50% plus the federal allowed limit per mile – something like 55 cents.

If i’m in a cab, I bill cab fare, plus 50%.
If i’m in a plane, I bill air fare, plus 50%.

I also bill for hotel rooms any other expenses related to business except for food and personal time.

However, if there’s work that I could be doing while in a cab or on an airplane, I bill the full hour for the hours I actually worked.

If I am with a client at an event, party, etc I bill 100%.

Yongho says:

The reply here is VERY helpful. How about travel internationally, on those long and exhausting flights? Will those hours be paid as an extra compensation or counted as working hours? Thanks.

Charles says:

The accepted method, even for federal employees, is the clock starts ticking when you are picked up by the cab until you end business for the day and you are back in your hotel room (TV, rest and sleeping are not included). On the return trip the clock ends when you are dropped off at your home.
All meetings, conferences and client entertaining are included in billable hours.

Casey Xiao-Morris says:

Hi Andrea

They are great articles. I wish I found your them sooner.

I live in Redondo Beach and my client is located in Santa Monica. It is about 2.5 hours drive round-trip. I was requested to go to meeting or make a conference call in their office .The meeting lasted 1.5 hours, however the travel time is too long to ignore. Some have suggested I bill the client half of my normal rate at $45 per hour. Because my rate is on the low side. I am planning to bill them the normal rate on the travel time. I would love to get your opinions on this.


Casey Xiao-Morris

Ella says:

Hi Andrea,

I am a consultant for now (my client said that he will make me an employee after a trial period, but didn’t specify how long). I recently had to go on a business trip with him for 3 days and not sure how to bill for it. The cab picked me up @ 6:30 AM on Monday to take me to airport and after we landed we went to see the client and then company dinner. After that to hotel (did a little work on computer as well). Then conference/another party and back to hotel. Last day conference until 6 then airport – my flight was at 9 PM and got delayed, so cab brought me home by midnight). I would really appreciate your suggestions. Thank you.