The Catholic University of America

Travel Policy

Archived 11/11/16

I. Introduction

This policy is intended to provide for the reasonable needs of travelers, to control travel expenditures, to maximize the University's ability to negotiate discounted rates with preferred suppliers, to facilitate proper reporting, and to ensure compliance with applicable IRS requirements. 

This policy applies to all travelers (faculty, staff, students, and guests) regardless of the source of funds. If travel expenses are charged to a grant/contract source, the terms of the grant or contract will take precedence if they are more restrictive than the University policy. Departments may establish conditions and terms of their own; these may be more restrictive than the University's, but may not be less restrictive.

II. Definitions

For the sake of clarity, the definitions and procedures in this policy and related practice guides distinguish between "transportation" and "travel."

A.  Transportation: leaving campus for a period of less than 24 hours, generally within a 50-mile radius, and not requiring overnight lodging.

B.  Travel: leaving campus or home for a period exceeding 24 hours, beyond the general area, and necessitating an overnight stay.

C.  Domestic Travel: travel among any of the fifty United States, its possessions and territories. In the case of sponsored projects, domestic travel may be defined in the contractual documents.

D.  Foreign Travel: travel outside of the United States, its possessions and territories. In the case of sponsored projects, foreign travel may be defined in the contractual documents. Federal grants or contracts should comply with the Fly American Act and all applicable federal requirements. Any questions should be directed to the Sponsored Accounting Office.

E.  Official Travel: travel on approved University business between home (or normal workplace) and another destination. Commuting between one's home and regular place of employment is not considered official travel.

F.  Supervisor: Someone to whom the traveler reports in an official capacity. A supervisor does not include administrative assistants or employees that report to the traveler. A supervisor also does not include a member of the Sponsored Accounting Office.

Procedures and Regulations

III. General Traveler Responsibilities

The University trusts the integrity of the traveler in following its policies in planning and conducting official travel. The traveler will be fully reimbursed for all ordinary, necessary, and reasonable expenses incurred in connection with any required travel assignment, having first obtained appropriate approvals.

Travel assignments should be planned and conducted so that costs will not exceed budgetary limitations. Both the traveler and the authorizing officer should be familiar with the University's policies and procedures regarding travel. 

It is the responsibility of the traveler to keep clear and complete records of expenses. To maintain efficient business processes, travel documentation that is incomplete, inaccurate or not well-organized will be returned to the traveler and could delay reimbursement processing. 

It is the traveler's responsibility to submit their expense report on a timely basis. Travel expense reports with significant lapses between travel and submission may be subject to additional justification and verification.

Under no circumstances will travel expenses for travel completed during a fiscal year be reimbursed after the close of that fiscal year. The Controller shall publish reasonable deadlines at the fiscal year end for reimbursement requests to be processed.

The traveler must translate all foreign expenses into US dollars, using the exchange rate effective during the period traveled. 

IV. Travel Authorization and Scope

A.  Authorization - General

Travel on University business should be authorized in advance by the Vice President, Dean, Department Chairperson, Director or Principal Investigator responsible for the travel budget to be used. That person should be familiar with the purpose of the travel, and will be responsible for assuring that budgeted funds are available to meet any travel commitment. When travel is completed, all Travel Expense Reports are required to be signed and approved by a supervisor.

The purpose of the travel should be specific. Statements such as, "official business, in connection with duties, or by distinction of" are not acceptable. Examples of specific purposes, which are detailed enough, include, "meet with clients Mr. And Mrs. X, or attend MLA committee meeting."

Official travel should utilize the mode of transportation that will be the most practical and economical, and should generally follow the most direct route.

B.  Grants and Contracts

The Sponsored Accounting Office only provides a budget and compliance review and cannot sign as an approver. Certain grants and contracts may require explicit permission of the granting agency. In some situations, compliance with U.S. Government travel regulations is required. When in doubt, consult with the Sponsored Accounting unit of the Controller's Office.

V.   Restrictions

A.  Restrictions - General

For travel reimbursements and payments to be considered non-taxable income, the University's policies and procedures are required to comply with the IRS Accountable Plan Rules, meeting three conditions:

•    Business Connection: Reimbursements and advances provided to travelers must be for work-related expenses only. An advance payment must be reasonably related to the business expenses that a traveler is expected to incur. 
•    Substantiation: Travelers must provide, within fifteen (15) business days, a statement substantiating the amount, time, use, and business purpose of the expenses. 
•    Return of Advances: Travelers must return any advanced amounts in excess of the substantiated expenses within fifteen (15) business days of completion of the travel assignment.

Prohibited reimbursements are included in Financial Policy: Prohibited Transactions and specific sections of this policy.  The Vice President for Finance has the authority to prohibit other items not specifically listed.

B. Travel for Business and Personal Reasons

If a travel itinerary includes personal or vacation travel, only the business portion of the trip will be reimbursed. The traveler must provide documentation showing the incremental costs to be treated as personal expenses and is responsible for payment of the incremental cost.

C.  Trip of Less Than 50 Miles

Trips of less than a 50-mile radius do not qualify for an overnight stay and the university does not generally allow meal expenses for such one-day travel.

D.  Foreign Travel - General

For approved foreign travel, the actual costs of acquiring passports, visas, tourist cards, identifying photographs, birth certificates, inoculations, currency exchange fees, and travel cancellation insurance, if applicable, etc., are reimbursable. However, these costs are often not reimbursable by federal grants or contracts. When in doubt, consult with the Sponsored Accounting unit of the Controller's Office. The traveler is responsible for ensuring that all necessary documentation is complete and appropriate for the foreign itinerary.

E. Travel over Weekend

If travel is extended over a Saturday night to achieve better pricing, the reduction in cost of the travel should be greater than the cost of hotel and meals for the added period, and this should be demonstrated in the supporting travel documentation. 

VI. General Documentation Requirements

Each traveler should keep a log of daily travel expenses and receipts should be obtained and carefully retained for all expenditures for which they are normally available. The traveler will submit the Travel Expense Report  with original dated receipts taped or stapled to 8 ½” x 11” paper for all claimed reimbursements of $25.00 or more.  (The $25 threshold does not apply to meals – see the meals section for specific guidelines.)  Smaller expenditures do not need to be receipted but should be individually dated, described and obviously fit the business purpose of the trip. For charges under this threshold, the traveler will include the actual amount of the expense.  Accounts Payable will not reimburse a list of $25.00 expenses.  Charges incurred using a University credit card follow the documentation requirements of the relevant cardholder policies.

Travel expense reports are due within fifteen (15) business days upon return from travel.  For trips lasting two months or more, interim expense reports are due monthly on/before the 15th day of the calendar month.

Foreign Currency: Expenses translated from a foreign currency should include supporting documentation for the rate used.  Currency exchange website links are available on the Accounts Payable website.

VII. Airfare and Other Common Carriers (rail, etc)

A.  Airfare - General

Electronic airline tickets constitute an acceptable receipt.

Airline and rail tickets can be purchased through the University’s preferred travel agent, World Travel Services at toll free 1-800-633-8822 ext. 106 or direct local (202) 293-9273 and a dedicated travel agent will be available to assist with your travel plans.  World Travel Services is also accessible via the University’s Travel Portal under Preferred Travel Agency.  Purchases directly from the carrier or via the web are permitted to obtain best pricing.

B.  Travel Upgrades

Travel by common carrier should be for tourist, coach, or economy class unless the cognizant Vice President specifically approves an upgrade.  For IRS reporting purposes, any upgraded class must be specifically noted on the travel expense reimbursement form. Any upgrade not approved by the cognizant Vice President should be paid for by the traveler. Rail fares may not exceed the regular fare charged to the general public. Round-trip or excursion fares should be used if practicable. Sleeping accommodations, if justified, may be utilized. The traveler's supervisor should specifically approve charges for ticket changes and excess baggage consisting of university materials.

C.  Personal Frequent Flyer Miles

Travel arrangements made using personal frequent flyer miles will not be reimbursed. 

VIII. Auto, private/rental

A.  Private Auto Use

General: When travel by private automobile is chosen over a common carrier to save time, transport equipment, or reduce costs when a number of people are traveling to the same destination together, reimbursement to the traveler will be on the basis of actual business mileage traveled. Reimbursement for private vehicle use will not exceed the cost (or sum of costs for more than one traveler) of round trip air travel between the nearest airport of origin and destination, including coach fare and incidental expenses to travel to or from the airport. If several travelers share a privately-owned vehicle, only the owner of the vehicle will be reimbursed for mileage.

Reimbursement of Costs
: An accurate daily record of miles traveled must be maintained and submitted with the Travel Expense Report. The reimbursement rate will be the Federal Government rate in effect on the date of the travel. The mileage reimbursement rate covers all operating costs of the vehicle, including but not limited to gasoline, repairs, depreciation and insurance. Private vehicles used for business travel are not covered by University insurance but should be insured by the owner for the minimum insurance required by his or her locale. No reimbursement is permitted for costs of repairs or damages to vehicles, costs for locksmiths, car washes, or towing whether they result from the acts of the traveler or others. Fines for moving or parking traffic violations are not reimbursable.

Commuting costs (transportation between home and work place) are never reimbursable.

B.  Rental Vehicle

Rental vehicles may be authorized when other transportation is not available or when their use results in savings. Vehicles should be economy or compact models unless the cognizant Vice President approves an alternative. University insurance will generally cover vehicles rented domestically for collision and liability. Insurance offered by the rental agency will not be reimbursed on rentals within the United States. University insurance also generally covers foreign rental vehicles, but is not a substitute for any local, compulsive auto liability insurance.

IX. Car and Taxi Services

A.  Car and Taxi Service - General

When traveling, public transportation should be used whenever practical. In cases where there is a business reason to use a taxi service, (e.g., time constraints or the need to transport university materials), it is reimbursable. Car or taxi service to and from airports and terminals, and reasonable tips, are allowed. The least costly transportation should be used, especially if shuttle services are available. 

Taxi or car service fares are reimbursable for travel between home/office and the departure terminal, between arrival terminal and hotel or place of business, and between hotels and places of business during the working day.

B.  Car and Taxi Service Documentation

Receipts are required for taxis or car services. Receipts are not required for public transportation; however, an itemized log is required, with date, destination and cost.

X. Lodging and Meals

When a conference or meeting is offered as a package including hotel room and meals, payment is usually made in advance and reimbursement of the traveler is not necessary. Travelers are expected to use prudent judgment in the selection of hotels and restaurants while on official University business.  Where possible, travelers should actively seek discounts for educators, AAA members, etc.  Expense reimbursement for transport between hotel and restaurant is allowable.

A.  Lodging

General: Lodging within 50 miles of the traveler's home is not allowable unless fully justified as to the compelling business purpose or extraordinary circumstances. The cognizant Vice President should approve such cases. Lodging reimbursement is limited to single occupancy, single room only, unless accommodations are shared by more than one authorized traveler, in which case separate receipts should be obtained or only one person should submit for reimbursement.

 The original itemized, dated hotel bill, marked as paid, must be submitted with the Travel Expense Report. Reimbursement of domestic and foreign lodging expense will be made based upon actual expenditure not federal per diem reimbursement rates.

Reimbursement of Additional Charges:
 The traveler will be reimbursed for the actual expense of lodging. Personal expenses and services (in-room movies, health club fees, etc.) are the responsibility of the traveler. Personal laundry expenses may be reimbursed when travel exceeds five days.

Where possible, telephone cards should be used; hotel phone service is discouraged because of the additional charges. Travelers are permitted to be reimbursed for one phone call home per day unless extraordinary circumstances exist. A brief description of the extraordinary circumstances should be included on the reimbursement request (e.g., family member ill).

B.  Meals and Incidental Expenses

General: Employees, in consultation with their supervisor, can use one of two meal reimbursement methods:  per diem (preferred) or actual expense.  For the traveler’s own meal expenses, only one method may be used for each trip.  Students can only be reimbursed for actual expenses approved by the CUA employee supervising the trip.  

For actual expense reimbursement, the amount should be reasonable and itemized receipts are required for amounts greater than $10.  (If using actual expense reimbursement and the meal is under $10, the traveler must indicate the actual amount, not $10.)   If the traveler wants to receive per diem reimbursement but there is an occasion on the trip where he/she is paying for someone else’s meal, the traveler should follow the guidelines below for a business entertainment meal and request per diem reimbursement for the other meals.  If the trip consists of multiple business entertainment meals, the traveler may want to use actual reimbursement for the whole trip for ease of recordkeeping. 

Per Diem Reimbursement Guidelines: Domestic per diem reimbursement will be based on the US General Services Administration Meals and Incidental Expenses (M&IE) rates, which are listed by location and month.  Foreign per diem reimbursement will be based on the Department of State Office of Allowances federal M&IE rates, which are noted by area of travel and are also updated monthly. The traveler must use the correct rates for the month of travel from these websites as a maximum limit.  The traveler can only claim 75% of the day’s rate for days of transit or actual travel.  Per diem rates should be reduced for any meals paid for by another party (e.g. a conference).  For situations where a reduced per diem is required, the following guidelines should be used:

Breakfast      20%
Lunch           30%
Dinner           50%

To receive per diem reimbursement, the traveler is required to submit appropriate documentation proving that he or she was traveling.  In most cases this can be proved by documentation that would already be submitted for reimbursement, such as a hotel bill or plane ticket.

Departments can internally set lower limits for budgetary purposes, but Finance will not monitor the use of any rates other than the official rates.  

Grants and Contracts:
 As allowed for non-grant travel, travelers using sponsored funding can use either the per diem or actual reimbursement basis; however, they can only use one method for the entirety of a trip.  For meals reimbursed by a grant or contract, costs of alcoholic beverages must be identified and subtotaled on the receipt and can never be reimbursed under a federal grant or contract. If actual reimbursement is requested, all meal receipts must be itemized to prove that no alcohol is included in the reimbursement request.  Room service is permitted when the traveler is dining alone. 

Business Entertainment Meals
: Business entertainment meals while on travel may be reimbursed, provided substantiation requirements are met.  The requirements are: documentation of the specific business purpose, original receipts, names and titles of guests, and the business relationship to the traveler. IRS rules require that the traveler document the purpose, place, date, and amount. Costs of alcohol should be reported separately from meals to be reimbursed.  The traveler cannot claim per diem reimbursement for that meal.  The reduced rate percentages are listed above.

Travel/Corporate Cardholders
:  If a traveler uses a University credit card for his or her meals, he or she cannot request a per diem reimbursement.  By using a University credit card, the university is already paying the actual amount spent.  Since reimbursement methods cannot be combined on one trip, the traveler should decide before travelling whether he or she wants to use the University credit card or receive a per diem reimbursement for meals. 

Incidental Expenses:  If the traveler is receiving per diem reimbursement, the rate covers incidental expenses; therefore, incidental expenses, such as tips, will not be reimbursed separately.  If the traveler is receiving actual expense reimbursement for meals, tips for meals are reimbursable.  Other incidental expenses should be minimized and should be itemized as actual expenses in order to be reimbursed.

Summary of Primary Meal Reimbursement Scenarios

Travel Situation    Meal Reimbursement Method
Group/Business Entertainment meals Actual reimbursement – include business purpose and attendees
Conference or other situation where meals are provided Actual reimbursement or Per Diem with reduction for days where meals were provided
Student travel Actual reimbursement – must be approved by CUA employee that’s supervising the trip
Travel/Corporate Cardholders If traveler charges meals to a CUA travel/corporate card, they should submit receipts and cannot request a Per Diem for that trip.
Other travel meals Per Diem reimbursement preferred but actual reimbursement will be accepted with receipts.  Cannot combine both methods in one trip.  If traveler will have multiple group/business entertainment meals on the trip, actual reimbursement is the preferred method.

XI. Other Travel Expenses

The following items are generally reimbursable to the extent they are reasonable and necessary business expenses. In addition to the general documentation and restriction requirements, see sections noted for rules regarding some of these expenses related to business:

•    Telephone calls (Section X.A) 
•    Registration/conference fees 
•    Computer network access or faxes
•    Cellular phone use for business 
•    Currency conversion fees 
•    Fax charges 
•    Gasoline for rental cars, including final fill (Section VIII.B) 
•    Laundry/dry cleaning on trips exceeding 5 business days (Section X.A) 
•    Overnight packet service when needed for business documents 
•    Parking 
•    Mileage on personal vehicles (Section VIII.A) 
•    Taxi/car service to make travel connections and related tips (Section IX) 
•    Tolls 
•    Travel insurance is allowed but not required.  It is encouraged for situations where the cost of cancellation significantly exceeds the cost of the insurance and the likelihood of cancellation is reasonably likely (e.g. foreign travel).
•    Required vaccinations for foreign travel (Section V.D) 
•    Fees for purchase of traveler's checks 
•    Visa and passport fees (Section V.D)

Other documented and justified cost items will be given consideration for reimbursement. The University will reimburse a traveler only for items paid personally, and only after the travel has taken place.

XII. Advances

A travel advance will only be issued for trips that cost greater than $300 between two (2) weeks and a month before travel. A traveler should obtain a travel advance only when necessary, and only when it is to be used for anticipated, reasonable, and allowable out-of-pocket expenditures to cover actual subsistence, mileage for private auto and other items. Major costs, such as airline tickets and conference fees, should be obtained through University Procurement Services, thus minimizing the need for advances.  In most cases, a traveler with a University credit card open to travel purchases cannot request a travel advance.

Only individuals traveling on University business may request travel advances. All individuals receiving travel advances shall be required to sign the Travel Advance Agreement which stipulates that the University will make a payroll deduction of any travel advance which is not repaid within the required period.

XIII. Cancelled Travel

If a trip is cancelled for reasons beyond the traveler's control (e.g., conference cancellation, and weather closings), the University will reimburse the costs expended to date which are not returned. Cancellation of reservations for lodging and transportation is the responsibility of the traveler. Any penalty for failure to cancel reservations will be the personal responsibility of the traveler if the supervisor determines that the reservation could have been cancelled in time to avoid the penalty. 

Travel Advances for cancelled travel should be returned to the University on the first business day after the cancellation.

XIV. Non-University Employees

A.  Non-University Employees

Travel expenses for non-University employees such as consultants, speakers, job applicants etc. are generally reimbursed in accordance with contracts for services or vendor payment procedures which should be in accordance with University policy. Any exceptions to the University travel policy for non-University employees should be approved in advance by the responsible program Vice President.  If those rules are less restrictive than this policy, then University policies and procedures will prevail.

B.  Foreign Nationals

Payment to visiting foreign nationals can be made only if the visitor holds an appropriate visa. In addition to the documentation required for all travel reimbursement, resident aliens must also submit the currently required visa documentation.

C. Spousal Travel

The IRS has ruled that the expenses of a spouse or other person accompanying a traveler cannot be reimbursed tax-free if the person has no significant role or performs only duties of a clerical, secretarial, or medical nature. All requests for reimbursement of spousal travel require the advance approval of the cognizant Vice President, and the supporting documentation must note that the accompanying person is performing significant duties as stipulated by the IRS before approving.  The travel form should clearly identify any expenses related to spousal/companion travel.  The University discloses to the IRS annually on the Form 990 whether any companion travel has occurred.

XV. Travel Outside University Policy

At their discretion, given extenuating circumstances, the President, the Vice President for Finance, or the Provost may waive a university travel restriction; grant-sponsored restrictions may be waived only by the sponsoring agency.