A ghost credit card is a virtual credit card. Corporations, government agencies and other large employers use ghost credit cards as an alternative to issuing a credit card to each employee. Each employee uses the ghost number, and then the organization pays all of the charges using a single account.
A ghost credit card reduces fraud and overspending. The employee can't spend money from a card that the employer owns without approval, because the order is only finalized after the employer authorizes the charges from its own account. The employee can't spend more money than the company budgets for a business trip if a card has a higher limit than the budget allows.
A ghost credit card reduces the employee's personal risk. If an employee uses her own card to pay for airline tickets, meals and hotel reservations, she is responsible for paying the bill. The company needs time to verify these charges, so it will not reimburse the employee immediately, and she may have to pay additional interest charges.
To set up a ghost credit card, the organization needs to establish an arrangement with another company. This company does not need to be a credit card company, and many travel agents offer a ghost credit card service. The travel agent makes a reservation for the organization's employee using the ghost credit card number, instead of requiring a valid credit card number, because the organization will reimburse the travel agency.
A company can assign a single ghost card number to more than one employee. For example, it can give everyone in the marketing department the same ghost card number. Like a numeric code assigned to a category of expenses on the chart of accounts, this helps the company organize and track its expenses by department.
A company can also assign a ghost card number to its vendors. If many employees purchase office supplies such as ink and paper from the same store, it is easier for the company to track a single receipt for all of the supplies from the vendor than to track each individual receipt from each employee.
Some hotels also accept ghost cards. According to the Arizona General Accounting Office, a hotel will usually accept a ghost card number to reserve and check into a room. If the employee uses the ghost credit card to pay the bill at checkout, the hotel may have to pay higher fees to its merchant credit card network because the employee is not paying the bill with a valid credit card, so the hotel may decide not to accept the ghost card for payment.
Eric Novinson has written articles on Daily Kos, his own blog and various other websites since 2006. He holds a Bachelor of Science in business administration from Humboldt State University.