Step 3 - Travel
What to consider while traveling
Now for the fun part! Here are a few things to keep in mind when traveling for TTS.
Use your travel card when possible
Use of the GSA travel card is mandatory for all expenses as per the Federal Travel Regulation, except expenses for which it “is impractical (e.g., vendor does not accept credit cards) or imposes unreasonable burdens or costs (e.g., fees are charged for using the card).”
Request tax exemption where available
Many jurisdictions exempt federal travelers from paying lodging tax. More information on each state’s policy can be found here. Note that the GSA travel card is considered an “IBA”.
Which receipts must I keep?
Receipts are required for lodging, rental cars, gas purchases when using a rental car, and any other expenses over $75. If no receipt(s) can be provided, an acceptable reason must be given explaining why you are unable to furnish the necessary receipt(s).
Meals and Incidental Expenses (M&IE)
In addition to receiving round trip tickets to your destination and lodging for the nights that you need to stay there, you also get a flat-rate per diem for Meals and Incidental Expenses (M&IE). A few things to remember:
M&IE is given to you to cover the additional expenses you might incur while traveling that you might not normally have at home, like dining out instead of eating home-cooked meals, forgetting toothpaste, tipping hotel porters, etc.
This allowance is at your discretion to spend and you don’t need to provide receipts for it.
The amount that is given is based on your location, not your actual expenses. If you spent less than the allowance, you get to keep the difference, and if you spend more, you must pay the difference.
M&IE is given at a reduced rate on “travel days”– i.e. days where part of the normal work day was spent traveling. This reduced rate is always 75% of normal M&IE, regardless of how much of the day was actually spent traveling.
Note that if your travel extends past midnight, you get the full meal allowance for the long day of travel plus the 75% of the meal allowance for the following day (even if you arrived just after midnight local time). If you anticipate traveling past midnight, ensure your authorization reflects this in advance, otherwise, you will need to create an amended authorization upon your return.
M&IE is given as a reimbursement after submitting a voucher, which is done after you return from a trip. How this reimbursement is disbursed depends on how much you used the GSA travel card.
You may use your travel card to get a cash advance from an ATM, but only if your authorization to travel has been approved, and only for expenses you wouldn’t expect to be able to pay for using the travel card.
M&IE and use of the GSA travel card
While use of the GSA travel card is required for all travel expenses when practicable, using the GSA travel card to pay for M&IE requires some additional administrative work when submitting a voucher after returning from your trip. Here’s what you should be aware of when completing your voucher– should you use the GSA travel card for meals and incidental expenses, keeping receipts for your personal use may be helpful. Feel free to book travel office hours for a walkthrough on what to keep in mind when paying for meals while traveling.
Other necessary expenses
Follow the guidance above for keeping receipts, and also be mindful of budget– do not exceed the overall amount budgeted for your travel in your authorization email (SF-182 or Salesforce event request for trainings/conferences) by more than 20%.
Taxis, public transit, and other forms of local transportation
Reasonable local transit costs may be authorized in the following situations:
- From the airport or train station to the residence or office
- Between a place of lodging and a place of business, or between two or more places of business
- To obtain meals only when the nature and location of the work is such that meals cannot be obtained within reasonable walking distance. Expenses claimed to obtain a meal for personal convenience or preference, however, will not be reimbursed.
- Baggage fees for one bag may reimbursed per leg without further justification. Fees for 2 or more bags requires additional justification.
Mileage, Parking, and Tolls
- Reimbursement for privately-owned (not rented) vehicle mileage at the POV mileage rates can be approved if considered advantageous to the Government. POV mileage is advantageous when it is the least costly method (taking into account the cost of additional travel time) of all options including a government car, public transportation, ride-share, taxi, rental car.
For example, it is typically advantageous to use a POV to go to the airport for instance, where reasonable public transit is not available, and the costs of the mileage reimbursement and parking are less than round trip taxi fare from home to the airport.
Parking at the airport is only reimbursable when the conditions in the above example are met. However, when use of a government car, rental car, or privately owned car is authorized, parking charges and tolls as they relate to the mission are reimbursable.
- May be expensed when government-provided internet service (i.e. the data plan and hotspot on your government phone) is not available. Wifi on an airplane is generally reimbursable, but wifi charges at a hotel or other areas where cell signal is generally available require justification specifying why you weren’t able to use your government phone connection.
- May only be reimbursable if travel involves at least 4 consecutive nights.
Don’t forget about vouchers!
Have a good trip, get reimbursement– filling out a voucher– within 5 business days of getting back.
Why the rush? Filling out a voucher correctly allows you to:
Get reimbursed for your M&IE and for any hotels, airplane tickets, or other expenses you paid for personally.
Have the government automatically pay off the balance on your Travel Card. If you do your voucher correctly and on time, you will never have to worry about paying one of those bills yourself.
On the other side, when travel expenses are submitted late, it’s a major drain on resources for the finance and agreements teams, which sometimes have to reopen billing and even modify agreements in order to recover our costs for the trip, which the Economy Act requires us to do. So, future travel may not be approved for anyone with travel expenses that are more than 5 business days outstanding.