Skift Take

It isn't that McDonald's has the best food around, but business travelers frequent the restaurant and put it on their expense reports because they know what they are getting, and if there is Wi-Fi, then it is all the better.

U.S. business travelers love their Starbucks and fast-food restaurants — or at least their consistency and ubiquitous Wi-Fi.

Although 81% of restaurant expenses came from miscellaneous eateries, including non-fast food restaurants, the fast food restaurants commanded the largest share of expenses on an individual basis.

That is one of the takeaways from travel and expense software vendor Certify in its recap second quarter travel and expense trends among its clients.

Starbucks was the most-expensed restaurant in the second quarter of 2014, with travelers spending an average of $9.99, accounting for 4.76 percent of total spending put on their expense reports.

McDonald’s and Subway continued to hold the second and third spots among restaurants, accounting for 2.68% and 1.67% percent of total spending, with average spend of $8.17 and $16.99, respectively.

Most Expensed Restaurants

Vendor % of Total Expenses Avg. Cost
Starbucks 4.76% $9.99
McDonald’s 2.68% $8.17
Subway 1.67% $16.99
Panera Bread 1.61% $39.83
HMS Host 1.16% $16.18
Dunkin Donuts 1.16% $11.02
Chick-fil-A 0.79% $22.46
Wendy’s 0.71% $9.08
Burger King 0.65% $8.91
Applebee’s 0.57% $34.28
Chili’s 0.57% $33.86
Chipolte 0.51% $20.23
Jimmy John’s 0.50% $41.08
Cracker Barrel 0.42% $23.48
Taco Bell 0.39% $8.92
*Miscellaneous 81.80% NA

While fewer than half of hotel expenses were in the miscellaneous category, including non-chains, Marriott remained the most expensed hotel at 8.66% of clients’ total spending in the second quarter at an average cost of $240.74. While last year Marriott accounted for 9.41% of total expenses, business travelers spent more this year at the hotel, with the average second quarter of 2013 spend at Marriott coming in at $231.84. Hampton Inn stayed the second most expensed hotel year-over-year, at $205.44.

Certify, a cloud-based travel and expense management software provider, has tracked this data since last year and found that many year-over-year results stayed consistent.

Chick-Fil-A, one of the most expensed restaurants, is the top-rated restaurant with an average satisfaction rating from business travelers at of 4.2, out of a possible 5.

A year ago, Jimmy John’s held the top spot with a 4.4 satisfaction rating, but in the second quarter of 2014 it fell to the top seventh spot with a 4.0 rating. Chipotle continued to hold the number two spot year-over-year.

“The vast majority of business travel tends to be individual travelers,” said Bob Neveu, Certify’s CEO. “As an individual, dining at a quick-service restaurant establishment allows the traveler to quickly enjoy a meal at an established restaurant brand and receive a meal of a known quality. This convenience far outweighs individuals who eat at local restaurants.”

Neveu added that reliable Wi-Fi access at these restaurants is also a big draw for business travelers looking to work while eating.

Starbucks is also the most expensed restaurant for breakfast at 13.09% of total meals, with McDonald’s being the most expensed for lunch and dinner at 3.13% and 1.68% respectively. Last year, Starbucks was also the most expensed for breakfast with 16.11%, but Subway was the most expensed for lunch with 3.12% and HMS Host was the the most expensed for dinner with 1.59%.

Hyatt is the top rated hotel with a 4.3 rating, followed by Marriott with a 4.2 rating. Neveu said there’s a link between the most expensed hotels also being the top rated.

Most Expensed Hotels

Vendor % of Total Expenses Avg. Cost
Marriott 8.66% $240.74
Hampton Inn 7.94% $205.44
Courtyard by Marriott 5.63% $171.08
Hilton 4.37% $211.94
Holiday Inn 4.05% $163.04
Doubletree 3.80% $176.41
Holiday Inn Express 3.42% $204.51
Hilton Garden Inn 3.40% $202.34
Hyatt 2.75% $228.07
Sheraton 1.84% $224.23
Fairfield Inn 1.62% $193.59
Comfort Inn 1.57% $155.94
Embassy Suites 1.24% $236.43
Westin Hotels 0.94% $252.80
Residence Inn 0.86% $309.22
*Miscellaneous 48.00% NA

“This seems to be the case particularly in hotels and airlines,” Neveu said. “The major providers in both categories tend to have extremely large market share (Marriott, Hilton or Delta and American). Because of this, they tend to receive overall more reviews and seem to be doing a good job at meeting the business traveler’s needs.”

If you consider that American Airlines and U.S. Airways merged, their combined spending would be 20.08% of total airline spending for the second quarter. Delta would stay as the most expensed airline year-over-year, attracting 20.51% of total expenses and average costs of $419.56, an 11.9% increase compared with the same period a year ago.

With each of the most expensed airlines, data show the average cost increased year over year. Southwest is still the top rated airline with a 4.4 rating.

Certify revealed the most expensed vendors in the general expense category for the first time in the second quarter. The category includes products and services such as cell phone, gas, groceries, office supplies and taxis. Costco topped the category, accounting for about 7% of expenses, followed closely by AT&T and Shell, both at about 5%.

The most expensed U.S. city this quarter was Chicago at about 4%, followed by Houston at 3%, New York and Dallas each at 2 percent, and Los Angeles and Philadelphia both at 1%.

The data show Philadelphia is the cheapest place for dinner, averaging $37, while the cheapest lodging is in Dallas at an average of $205 for the second quarter.

The priciest town for dinner and hotel is New York at an average $71 for dinner and $422 expensed for hotels, while Houston came in as the next highest city at $315 expensed for the second quarter. The best deal for dinner and lodging over a 24 hour period was Dallas, at $245.

For car rentals, National Car Rental took the number one position with 20.45%  and average cost of $180.51 and is also the top rated with a 4.2 rating. Last year, Avis Car Rental was the most expensed and top rated.

Most Expensed Airlines

Vendor % of Total Expenses Avg. Cost
Delta 20.51% $419.56
United 14.36% $432.01
American Airlines 10.67% $376.60
Southwest 9.56% $314.78
US Airways 9.41% $300.80

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Tags: expenses, hotels, restaurants, skift business travelers

Photo credit: Starbucks is very popular with business travelers, and attracted the highest spending among restaurants for road warriors in the second quarter of 2014. Pictured is a Starbucks in Denmark. Starbucks

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