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If you book travel for clients, there are a few issues which you need to be aware of. It straddles a variety of different areas, and our advice at SVA is either:

  • Use a specialist travel agent who is able to do the bookings for you.
  • Just do the research and send the client the links to book the travel themselves once they know what the options are.

So why can't I book travel as a virtual assistant?

There are a few reasons, and most of them are workable if you take certain actions, but you would need to be doing a high volume to make it worthwhile...

Issue 1: Insurance for booking travel

First thing to check - will your insurer cover booking travel for clients? Some policies have this as a specifically reserved activity, but they won't always realise that a virtual assistant may do this. So if you are going to book travel for clients, get it in writing from your professional indemnity insurer that this is covered. It's super easy to put the wrong date. It can cost ££££s to book last minute replacement flights!

Issue 2: Booking travel on your own card and rebilling the client

This is a no-no.

Firstly because they might not pay for it. We've even had clients pay upfront for travel via Paypal then reclaim it back once you've forked out for the tickets. Secondly, because if you book it on your card, the cardholder will often require to be present to pick up the tickets.

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Thirdly: Booking and reselling flights requires an ATOL licence (Travel Agent licence). This is essentially what you are doing when you book and pay for the flights and then bill your client for them. If you aren't registered, it's illegal to do so.

For VAs working under the VAT threshold, it's never a good idea to rebill work, it also pushes up your turnover and could mean extra accounting costs if you go over the VAT limit of £85,000.

Issue 3:  Using a credit card to book travel

The first two issues are fairly obviously risky to VAs, but loads of VAs will have their client's credit card details and book travel for them. What can go wrong?

Again, we're back to insurance - does your insurer allow you to hold client credit card details? You need this in writing from them.

Banks expect their customers to keep their credit card details secure - and if they've shared them with their VA, they lose any protection from fraudulent transactions. Even if someone clones the card, manages to hack into their bank account, phishes their account - if the bank find out you had the details, they won't be covered. And it's easy to trace - they can see the card was used in Sainsburys in Didcot at 12:10 and at 12:11 you booked flights from an IP address in Sunderland. Two people must have had the card details. It's not hard to spot if anyone looks at who was accessing the account.

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Issue 4: Being classed as an employee

So the obvious way round the credit card problem with the bank, is to issue a company credit  card in the VA's name... Cue the next issue: If you have a company issued credit card, you are classed as a permanent fixture at that business.

This is problematic because one of the tests on whether a VA is self-employed or an employee is whether or not they hold a permanent position. Having a bank card in your name is a massive clue that, actually, you are a permanent fixture in the organisation.

They don't take that as absolute proof, but if they add in whether you ever work on site, how you sign off your emails, if you can substitute another person to do the work etc. It can all add up to the conclusion that you are, in fact, an employee. If you are a sole trader, that will leave your client with a big employer's tax bill to pay. If you are a limited company, you get landed with that bill and possibly a fine too.

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