Ethical/Moral Question

My company is paying for me to fly for work. Thoughts on conducting an inflight shop and collecting the fee and reimbursement when I didn’t purchase the ticket with my own money?

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@Capurato wrote:

My company is paying for me to fly for work. Thoughts on conducting an inflight shop and collecting the fee and reimbursement when I didn’t purchase the ticket with my own money?

I don't see a problem with that. Now, if your company was reimbursing you for an item (one you could and did legitimately claim on your expense account) you have to purchase for a shop--and you're also claiming reimbursement from the MSC, that would be unethical. But I don't see that who pays for your ticket presents a problem--unless the instructions say you must purchase the ticket on your own. I don't think that's ever the case--unless you're being reimbursed for the ticket by the MSC. In which case that (your company paying for the ticket and you getting reimbursed by the MSC) also would be unethical.

I think a lot of shoppers combine business flights with shops.

I learn something new every day, but not everyday!
I've learned to never trust spell-check or my phone's auto-fill feature.
Sure, if the logistics work With the ones I've done, the msc buys the ticket, so I'm not sure how you could charge it to company. The msc flight reimbursement is payment for the shop, so if there is no conflict with side work during the trip in general, the double reimbursement also should not be an issue.
I'm sorry; I could be misunderstanding the question. If this is a shop where the MSC is paying you a fee for the shop and reimbursing you for a purchase other than the flight, I don't see an issue. But I think it's highly problematic if your company is paying for the flight and you somehow manage to submit a receipt for it to the MSC and get "reimbursed." You are, in effect, then claiming *you* paid for the ticket and are simply being made whole by the reimbursement.

It's not a reimbursement if the money for the ticket didn't come out of your own pocket. You can't be reimbursed for money you didn't spend.

I understand there are many types of in-flight shops (applying for a credit card, purchasing some item or service, etc.), so, again, I could well be confused here.

I learn something new every day, but not everyday!
I've learned to never trust spell-check or my phone's auto-fill feature.


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/30/2022 05:31PM by BirdyC.
if you are trying to double dip on you plane ticket cost it depends. if the company is having you pay for it and then reimburse you for a payment on your own credit card in your name you set up or out of pocket expenses then yes. but if its a company credit card or expense account the risk of a snafu is to high and i would say no

but if your company is paying you to fly and you happen to have a shop inside the airport at a resteraunt or something then yes.

shopping north west PA and south west ny
@cooldude581 wrote:

if you are trying to double dip on you plane ticket cost it depends.

I disagree, whether you get "caught" or not.

There could be not only an ethical issue, but a legal one as well. The legal definition of "reimbursement" has language to the effect that a reimbursement is to "re-pay" someone for a business expense, insurance, taxes, or other costs. There are many definitions, but all are predicated on repayment for monies paid out by someone. If you don't pay for something, you can't be repaid for it.

If you did double dip, and the MSC somehow found out about it, I think you might end up in trouble. At the very least, I'd expect the MSC to get its money back from you.

"Double dipping" should only be done with permission from the MSC.

I learn something new every day, but not everyday!
I've learned to never trust spell-check or my phone's auto-fill feature.
In the decade before I retired and for the 26 months afterward that I worked as a consultant in Asia, I generally flew twice a month. I did as many in-flight shops (generally observing credit card offers or the lack thereof) as I could, plus interactions at airline lounges. Sometimes I did shops for businesses inside airports, but I caution you that you need to have long layovers. Flights get delayed, itineraries get rerouted, and flights get canceled. The schedulers I worked with understood that stuff happens that is beyond the control of the shopper. Before I accepted a shop inside an airport, I would try to see where my incoming flight generally arrived (gate-wise) and where my connecting flight was leaving from. The safest in-airport shops are at the originating airport, and even then you need to do some research. For instance, until about 8 years ago, not all of the terminals at PHL were connected post-security. At EWR, many terminals are still not connected post-security and you won't be able to access them if you don't have a ticket for a flight from that specific concourse. With outgoing flights, you are generally in control since you can arrive early (for morning shops, make sure that the particular business will be open when you are there). Even then, stuff can happen. I was scheduled to fly UA to Frankfort from Terminal D at PHL. The flight was delayed, and I would have missed the connecting flight at Frankfurt. So, UA moved me to an AA flight out of A-West. While the terminals connect post-security, it is a good 20-minute forced march each way.

As far as ethics is concerned, if I choose to arrive early at an airport (and that does not mean leaving my office early), IMHO, that is totally fine. If I choose to spend connecting time visiting an airport lounge, no problem either. However, if I need to eat during a layover and I complete a reimbursed meal shop, you can't be reimbursed twice!

Shopping Southeast Pennsylvania, Delaware above the canal, and southwestern NJ since 2008
I do it all the time.

The golden years was using my personal card that had a signup bonus for rewards, reimbursement from my company for work, and stacking it with mystery shops on top of that.

These days, since my new company only allows use of their business cards issued to me, not as lucrative as before using my personal card, but can still double dip on reimbursements for mystery shops.

Shopping the Greater Denver Area, Colorado Springs and in-between in Colorado. 31 year old male and willing to travel!
Many of these responses are speaking about how the msc or on the other end your own employer who might be reimbursing you for the flight would react had this come to light. There is also the question of the legality of someone writing off a reimbursement for expenses for an airline ticket on their Schedule C when they already had been reimbursed by their employer at the job that sent them on the trip. Seems to me that would be considered double dipping by the IRS. I am not so fortunate as to have these opportunities so I do not myself know.
All I know is the time I went on a one day business trip to San Francisco with my ticket paid by my employer and got stuck in the SF airport for 5 additional hours while computers were down, my employer made a big stink about paying me overtime for sitting in SF airport for hours beyond my 8 hour day. Not to mention most were sitting on the floor. If I had to fight them on that I cannot imagine what they would have said if they knew I was working elsewhere while on their job and getting reimbursed a second time for the airfare. And I worked for a relatively fair employer although one with many many rules.
Easy fix, rather than claim a $0.00 expense for the plane ticket (it wouldn't have been an expense even if you weren't double dipping) claim it as additional income and pay taxes on the price of the reimbursed plane ticket.

@sandyf wrote:

There is also the question of the legality of someone writing off a reimbursement for expenses for an airline ticket on their Schedule C when they already had been reimbursed by their employer at the job that sent them on the trip. Seems to me that would be considered double dipping by the IRS.
@JasperJohnson wrote:

Easy fix, rather than claim a $0.00 expense for the plane ticket (it wouldn't have been an expense even if you weren't double dipping) claim it as additional income and pay taxes on the price of the reimbursed plane ticket.

That objectively sounds like a reasonable solution--but only insofar as the IRS is concerned. It doesn't address the ethical issue of the MSC "reimbursing" someone for monies they didn't spend. I highly doubt this is OK with any MSC. They don't care how you handle it with the IRS, I imagine, but they sure must care how you handle it with them. They reimburse you for an expense they assume came out of your own pocket, but which someone else paid. Not good.

I learn something new every day, but not everyday!
I've learned to never trust spell-check or my phone's auto-fill feature.
If the MSC didn't have to pay you for the ticket that is budgeted in the shop, what do you think will happen to the money. My guess is the MSC would take it as profit.

From most of what I've read, the MSC companies get a flat fee to complete X shops. The client doesn't know how much the MSC had to pay ICs to get it done. Anything left in the pot after the shops are done belong to the MSC company.

The only double dipping I think to be black and white is when two companies hire you for the same hourly job and you bill the same hour twice. Doesn't matter if you say you did the work of two people. Some people do the work of two people and get paid for one every day.


@BirdyC wrote:

@JasperJohnson wrote:

Easy fix, rather than claim a $0.00 expense for the plane ticket (it wouldn't have been an expense even if you weren't double dipping) claim it as additional income and pay taxes on the price of the reimbursed plane ticket.

That objectively sounds like a reasonable solution--but only insofar as the IRS is concerned. It doesn't address the ethical issue of the MSC "reimbursing" someone for monies they didn't spend. I highly doubt this is OK with any MSC. They don't care how you handle it with the IRS, I imagine, but they sure must care how you handle it with them. They reimburse you for an expense they assume came out of your own pocket, but which someone else paid. Not good.
Note to Jasper...there have been numerous threads throughout the time I have been on the forum of shoppers being upset when a msc denied their request for reimbursement for a meal when the meal had been paid for by someone else such as a friend at another table. They seem to never pay reimbursement even if you claim you were treated by someone you knew and now have to treat them back. This double dipping on an airline ticket seems to me to fit the same thought pattern for a msc. Yes I think they definitely would mind.
I seem to remember having to submit a copy of the paid receipt for the flight. If you are paying yourself and then your company reimburses you, you'd be ok, but if they paid for the ticket and you have no receipt, you won't be getting reimbursed. If you can do it, I would just count it as extra income. If it's the shopmetrics company, reimbursement is only $25. Plus, the flights need to be in US and over 500 miles.

*****************************************************************************
The more I learn about people...the more I like my dog..

Mark Twain
How would they know who paid at the restaurant? You can always block the cc info and say it is for security reasons. I have one company that deducts points if you don't black that part of the receipt out.

@sandyf wrote:

Note to Jasper...there have been numerous threads throughout the time I have been on the forum of shoppers being upset when a msc denied their request for reimbursement for a meal when the meal had been paid for by someone else such as a friend at another table. They seem to never pay reimbursement even if you claim you were treated by someone you knew and now have to treat them back. This double dipping on an airline ticket seems to me to fit the same thought pattern for a msc. Yes I think they definitely would mind.
I'll shut up on this after one more comment. I honestly can't believe anyone would think it's OK to claim a reimbursement for money that somebody else paid on your behalf. A "reimbursement" is strictly, by definition, and legally a RE-payment for an expense you yourself incurred. If someone else paid it, you're not entitled to a reimbursement. If it were called a "fee," that's different. But reimbursement and fee aren't the same. Even if the MSC never found out, it's still unethical. HIghly, IMO. When shoppers come on here and complain about not being "reimbursed" for a meal that a friend paid for them, as @sandyf noted, I don't understand it. If the shop is broken down into a fee and a reimbursement, the shopper is entitled to the fee if the report is done correctly. But NOT the reimbursement, since he or she didn't pay out of pocket. There's nothing to reimburse. It's ludicrous to expect the MSC to pay the reimbursement because the shopper feels obligated to return the friend's favor. Not the MSC's problem. And none of the shopper's business what the MSC does with the retained funds. I assume they stay with the end client. If we do the job correctly and get our contracted-for fee, seems to me that's fair and all that should be expected. .

I'm not sure why this seems to be a contentious concept. All anyone needs to do is look up the definition of reimbursement.

Rant over. smiling smiley

I learn something new every day, but not everyday!
I've learned to never trust spell-check or my phone's auto-fill feature.


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/01/2022 02:40PM by BirdyC.
Hopefully one last note from me as well. If the person who paid the bill in a restaurant is sitting there with you at the table as your guest then you would have done well to inform them first that you were on a mystery shop and getting reimbursed otherwise they would almost definitely make some sort of mistake on your job like asking for a refill when the glass was still mostly full or ordering appetizers before giving the server a chance to suggest. I would think in that situation the person who paid was either weird knowing you were getting reimbursed as most of your fee or doing it because you did not have a valid credit card you could use and you were planning to pay them back. When my husband was still alive he sometimes handed over the credit card but it was a shared card. I always considered that to be me paying as I actually was paying the bill sooner or later. I do not personally know of anyone who would pay the bill on a mystery shop as my knowledgeable guest when they knew I was getting reimbursed. Perhaps in cash a small overage we might have spent, or the tip but not the entire bill.
I am talking of situations where someone you know (or in some cases someone attracted to you for whatever reason) pays the bill from across the room. This has happened to me but fortunately not on a mystery shop. I would have been really upset had I had to write up a report with no reimbursement and usually no more time left before the report deadline to plan another meal the next day or so.
As others have said the IRS is clear on the rules.
@JasperJohnson wrote:

How would they know who paid at the restaurant? You can always block the cc info and say it is for security reasons. I have one company that deducts points if you don't black that part of the receipt out.

@sandyf wrote:

Note to Jasper...there have been numerous threads throughout the time I have been on the forum of shoppers being upset when a msc denied their request for reimbursement for a meal when the meal had been paid for by someone else such as a friend at another table. They seem to never pay reimbursement even if you claim you were treated by someone you knew and now have to treat them back. This double dipping on an airline ticket seems to me to fit the same thought pattern for a msc. Yes I think they definitely would mind.
@JasperJohnson wrote:

If the MSC didn't have to pay you for the ticket that is budgeted in the shop, what do you think will happen to the money. My guess is the MSC would take it as profit.

From most of what I've read, the MSC companies get a flat fee to complete X shops. The client doesn't know how much the MSC had to pay ICs to get it done. Anything left in the pot after the shops are done belong to the MSC company.

The only double dipping I think to be black and white is when two companies hire you for the same hourly job and you bill the same hour twice. Doesn't matter if you say you did the work of two people. Some people do the work of two people and get paid for one every day.

If you want to know, the scenario varies based on the agreements these mystery shopping companies have with their clients. I will speak from professional experiences managing projects in the oil and gas industry, which is no different from project management in the mystery shopping space.

Depending on the type of contract that's set up for the work, per diem or other reimbursables relevant for the contractors are probably planned for and included.

The main types of contracts include the following: Fixed Price, Cost Reimbursable, Time and Material or Unit Price. Project expenses are likely planned and built into their terms as costs to the client upfront for the project. If I were to guess considering the difficulty they probably have right now to sell this kind of work to companies for mystery shopping serviecs, they're working on Fixed Price (or known as lump sum) contracts, which is in FAVOR of the client. Meaning, the mystery shopping companies have a bucket of money to work with. Any money saved is more money left in the budget agreed upon.

Shopping the Greater Denver Area, Colorado Springs and in-between in Colorado. 31 year old male and willing to travel!
Just to twist some brains more...how do you report mileage?

per day - all companies together?

each company individually, which could lead to reporting the same miles twice?
All MS visits of the day together. The IRS has specific guidance on this subject that you will find in one of their online publications.

Based in MD, near DC
Shopping from the Carolinas to New York
Have video cam; will travel

Poor customer service? Don't get mad; get video.
The company that I worked full-time for had very strict ethics policies. Every month every employee worldwide received an email with some anonymous examples of people fired for unethical behavior. It was not like we weren't warned, in fact, every year, we had to take online courses on ethics, proper behavior towards others, information security, and many others. After the online course, we each took tests and got graded. I and others would look at some of the monthly examples and think, "Why did they forge a receipt knowing that collecting an extra $27.20 might cost them their jobs?" I was amazed (yes, truly amazed) that some people who posted earlier in this thread either did or at least contemplated, submitting a plane ticket for reimbursement twice. As a salaried employee, I was not paid by the hour but I was expected to work 8 hours a day or the equivalent. I often spent 30 hours over the course of 2 calendar days getting to Thailand. If those days included weekends, I did not get a penny extra. So I felt very comfortable doing a mystery shop during a 4-hour layover at O'Hare. Every company has its own policies, and I am not trying to open a can of worms here discussing which travel policy was correct.

Before working for that company, I taught at a major research university. Occasionally, a student would come in and ask if there was anything they could do to get a better grade. If they seemed to be offering me a bribe, I could have reported them. Instead, I tried to humorously de-escalate the situation by pointing out that since my job was at risk, I needed to think about how many years of salary I would need. I guess that was technically soliciting a bribe, but the subject rapidly changed. I suggest that those of you who are contemplating submitting an $8 receipt from Arby's (for instance) think about the risk-reward equation for doing that.

Shopping Southeast Pennsylvania, Delaware above the canal, and southwestern NJ since 2008
My company is purchasing the flight for me (corporate credit card in my name) and I receive a receipt through the United App. I have no issue completing as many gate/club and other shops, however I was thinking I could do the inflight shop and just collect the $25 job fee and NOT the $75 flight reimbursement since I am not the one paying for the flight.

I am going to avoid the inflight shops when traveling on the company dime just to avoid all appearances of conflict. It’s not worth the $25 IMO.
@Capurato wrote:

I am going to avoid the inflight shops when traveling on the company dime just to avoid all appearances of conflict. It’s not worth the $25 IMO.

I wouldn't see any issue with you doing that, but I understand your erring on the side of caution. Have fun!

I learn something new every day, but not everyday!
I've learned to never trust spell-check or my phone's auto-fill feature.
That is exactly what I did. I will note that they can in principle make the in-flight announcement at any time during the flight. That means having to stay awake and alert throughout the flight. Often there is no announcement, which triggers the need to get an application anyway. You have to "complete" the application in a specific way that I don't remember, take a photo of it, and give it to the flight attendant (presumably so that they can track it through the system). I think that the flights had to be a minimum duration (90 minutes?) had to depart and arrive in the US, and had to depart after 6 (?) AM and arrive before 9 (?) PM. There were times when I really wanted to sleep!
@Capurato wrote:

My company is purchasing the flight for me (corporate credit card in my name) and I receive a receipt through the United App. I have no issue completing as many gate/club and other shops, however I was thinking I could do the inflight shop and just collect the $25 job fee and NOT the $75 flight reimbursement since I am not the one paying for the flight.

Shopping Southeast Pennsylvania, Delaware above the canal, and southwestern NJ since 2008
Without hearing the conversation, is it possible the student was asking for extra credit work rather than offering a bribe?

@myst4au wrote:

Before working for that company, I taught at a major research university. Occasionally, a student would come in and ask if there was anything they could do to get a better grade. If they seemed to be offering me a bribe, I could have reported them. Instead, I tried to humorously de-escalate the situation by pointing out that since my job was at risk.
The fact that the ticket is being purchased by the company rather than being reimbursed makes this more black and white. If you used your own card and own funds, it would be gray. A lighter shade of gray would be to use the second reimbursement on a personal / MS work plane ticket (I was told this would also be a way of not paying income tax on the reimbursement if double dipped).

@Capurato wrote:

My company is purchasing the flight for me (corporate credit card in my name) and I receive a receipt through the United App..


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/02/2022 03:24PM by JasperJohnson.
Agreed. That was possible, but that was not the case. I had a firm, announced policy that there was no extra credit work for just one student. If one student was offered an opportunity to raise their grade, the same offer was made to all students. You either understand instrumental analysis, quantitative analysis, spectroscopy, etc., or you don't. Frankly, it bothered me to assign grades, but I understood that grades were snapshots in time. Every student is different. I wrote recommendations for "C" students that helped get them admitted to very good graduate schools and they often did well. I was happy to explain why a student received a "C" despite (fill in the blank). Everyone had the right to ask me for a recommendation. No one had the right to expect extra credit that was not available to others. Everyone has the right to their own grading philosophy, and that was mine.
@JasperJohnson wrote:

Without hearing the conversation, is it possible the student was asking for extra credit work rather than offering a bribe?

@myst4au wrote:

Before working for that company, I taught at a major research university. Occasionally, a student would come in and ask if there was anything they could do to get a better grade. If they seemed to be offering me a bribe, I could have reported them. Instead, I tried to humorously de-escalate the situation by pointing out that since my job was at risk.

Shopping Southeast Pennsylvania, Delaware above the canal, and southwestern NJ since 2008
You have to forgive me, I like a good game of what if? and being the devil's advocate.

I was thinking about taking the fee only and realized that you would most likely have to upload the ticket as proof of flight. So even if you don't get reimbursed for the ticket, you are still using a ticket someone else purchased.

Just for fun...if you are doing I C jobs and stop to do personal errands (pay a bill, buy groceries, etc), are the miles personal or business?

What if the job is between home and personal? In that situation you could argue that business miles are zero.


@Capurato wrote:

My company is purchasing the flight for me (corporate credit card in my name) and I receive a receipt through the United App. I have no issue completing as many gate/club and other shops, however I was thinking I could do the inflight shop and just collect the $25 job fee and NOT the $75 flight reimbursement since I am not the one paying for the flight.

I am going to avoid the inflight shops when traveling on the company dime just to avoid all appearances of conflict. It’s not worth the $25 IMO.
Jasper, all of your questions about mileage deductions are fully covered by specific IRS rules and can be found in the appropriate IRS online publication.

Based in MD, near DC
Shopping from the Carolinas to New York
Have video cam; will travel

Poor customer service? Don't get mad; get video.
The subject of this thread is Ethical / Moral Question.

I wasn't asking what is legal or how to report my mileage.

Is the discussion not allowed?

@walesmaven wrote:

Jasper, all of your questions about mileage deductions are fully covered by specific IRS rules and can be found in the appropriate IRS online publication.
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