Travel Authorization and Reimbursement

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University Policy Number 2101

Categorized:

Responsible Office:

Policy Procedure:

Related Law & Policy:

 


I. Scope

The policies provided herein apply to all George Mason University organizations, faculty, staff, students and all other organizations and individuals that intend to travel at University expense.

II. Policy Statement

 This administrative policy implements the Commonwealth of Virginia’s travel regulations. To be reimbursable, the Commonwealth requires that the travel be performed in the most economical manner consistent with mission requirements; that all expenses be incurred while in a travel status; that the expenses be reasonable, necessary and (except for meal and incidental expense per diem) actual; and that they not exceed the limitations imposed by the Commonwealth or the University. Travel expenditures are open to public review. Individuals are expected to exercise prudent judgment in performing travel. Travelers are required to present receipts for all expenses in excess of $20, except for meals and incidental expenses reimbursed on a per diem basis.

III. Responsibilities

Travelers have the responsibility to perform their travel duties in conformity with the provisions of this policy, and to present vouchers that are legitimate and complete to support their travel reimbursement claims. Principal Investigators (PIs) and Unit Administrators have the responsibility to review award budgets and travel restrictions when sponsored research funds are charged to ensure travel costs charged to sponsored funding are allowable. Supervisors and fiscal officers with signature authority for a university fund or organization have the responsibility to review and monitor all travel expenses that they approve. Such approval will certify that the travel was necessary and the expenses were incurred while on official business of the University.

The Office of Research Integrity and Assurance (ORIA) has the responsibility to review and approve in advance international travel:

  • To a comprehensively embargoed country (e.g., Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria).
  • To a militarily embargoed country (list of these countries available at: http://pmddtc.state.gov/embargoed_countries/index.html ) for a traveler who works with data controlled by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

The Director of Purchasing and Accounts Payable has the responsibility to administer and oversee the provisions of this policy, and to provide guidance to travelers through the Travel Office.

 IV. Pre-trip Planning

A. Cost Estimating and Approval Travel costs must be estimated in writing before the proposed trip is made for 1) overnight travel where costs exceed $500 or 2) travel where lodging costs exceed the basic rates. All travel must be approved in advance. The form and level of approval required depend on the nature and estimated cost of the trip, as described in this section of the policy. The University President’s travel with no requests for exceptions may be approved by the Chief of Staff or the Senior Vice President. Exception requests for the President’s domestic travel may be approved by the Rector of the Board of Visitors. Exception requests for the President’s international travel must be approved by the Secretary of Education. Approval for the travel of non-immigrant visa holders must be obtained prior to the trip from the University’s International Tax Department.

1. Travel Requiring Written Approval

All overnight travel that exceeds $500 or travel where lodging costs exceed the basic rates (see V.B. below) must be approved in writing in advance by the traveler’s first line supervisor and a fiscal officer with signature authority for the fund/organization being charged if the traveler or supervisor does not have signature authority for that fund/organization. In unusual situations where the proposed lodging costs are more than 50% over the basic rate, an exception that requires an additional approval process may be granted. Only the Comptroller of the Commonwealth or his or her designee (Assistant State Comptroller) may grant exceptions. (see V.D. below).

Officials may neither authorize their own travel nor approve their own reimbursement vouchers.

2. International Travel Requiring Additional Written Approval

International travel must be approved in writing in advance by the Office of Research Integrity and Assurance (ORIA) when travel is:

  • To a comprehensively embargoed country (e.g., Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria).
  • To a militarily embargoed country (list of these countries available at: http://pmddtc.state.gov/embargoed_countries/index.html ) for a traveler who works with data controlled by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

3. Travel Requiring Oral Approval

Travel costing less than $500 and travel where lodging does not exceed basic rates (see V. below) may be authorized orally by first line supervisors.

B. Special Accommodations

The University complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Travelers requiring special accommodations because of physical or other handicap must be certified by the Affirmative Action/EEO Office prior to making trip arrangements.

C. Travel Charge Card

The University does not make travel advances. Instead, individuals are authorized to obtain a Travel Charge Card. Applications may be obtained from the Travel Office.

V. Lodging

A. Basic Rates

The State publishes maximum reimbursable lodging rates for specific cities within the U.S. as well as basic rates for Virginia and out-of-state lodging when a particular city is not listed. The rates are updated periodically by the state. Lodging taxes are fully reimbursable. Reimbursement for lodging in excess of the maximum rates will be limited to the maximum amount allowed, and lodging taxes on these excessive rates will be reimbursed on a prorated basis. Current rates may be obtained from the Travel Office link at the Fiscal Services website. The rates listed are single room rates excluding applicable taxes.

B. Approval for Lodging Above the Basic Rates

When circumstances warrant, supervisors may approve, in advance, reimbursement for lodging up to 150% of the established basic rates. Written justification for the excess lodging must be provided, in all cases including those when the traveler is staying at the site of the conference he or she is attending. Example: The state listing includes a basic rate of $102 per night for Richmond (City Limits), Virginia. Any per night hotel cost exceeding $102, up to $153 must be approved in writing by the supervisor prior to travel. An explanation of the circumstances justifying the lodging exception must be attached to the Travel Expense Reimbursement Voucher.

C. International Rates

The University uses federal government travel ceilings for international lodging and per diem rates. See the U.S. Department of State website for rates that apply to international locations. See the GSA web pagefor rates that apply to locations outside the 48 contiguous United States including Alaska, Hawaii and U.S. Territories such as Puerto Rico only. Reimbursement requests for foreign lodging, meals and incidental expenses must be accompanied by documentation of the maximum allowable rates.

D. Exceptions to Maximum Rates

Occasionally, prevailing hotel rates exceed the maximum allowable reimbursement rates, despite reasonable efforts to locate alternatively priced accommodations. In these situations, the Comptroller of the Commonwealth may grant exceptions to the established reimbursement rates for in-state, out-of-state, and foreign travel. The Comptroller will only consider requests submitted by the University Controller in advance of travel. Exception requests should document the circumstances of the request and must be accompanied by a travel authorization signed by the traveler’s supervisor and a fiscal officer with signature authority for the fund/organization being charged if the traveler or supervisor does not have signature authority for that fund/organization. Requests must be submitted to the Travel Office at least 14 days prior to the trip.

E. More Than One Person in a Room

Vouchers must be annotated to explain more than one person in a room. When two or more people are traveling on official state business and staying in the same hotel room, the allowable lodging rate will be the lodging rate allowed in the area they are staying, plus the cost charged by the hotel for any additional persons in the room. Documentation from the hotel listing additional hotel charges for each additional person, per room must be provided. If the additional traveler is not a business traveler, only the single room rate may be claimed.

For non-luxury, conference hotels, lodging rates that are less than the standard rate lodging guidelines applicable to the travel destination multiplied by the number of official business travelers in the room may be authorized.

F. Hotel Bills

An original itemized hotel bill must support lodging reimbursement requests.
VI. Meals and Incidental Expenses in Conjunction With an Overnight Trip

A. Per Diem Rates

Generally, travelers are paid on a per diem basis for meals and certain incidental travel expenses rather than being reimbursed for actual expenses. As with lodging, the Commonwealth has established basic and city-specific maximum per diem rates for meals and incidental expenses. Current rates within the U.S. can be obtained from the Travel Office link at the Fiscal Services website. The incidental portion of the per diem is intended to cover such items as transportation to restaurants, personal telephone calls, laundry, and tips to baggage handlers and taxi drivers.

B. Foreign Per Diem Rates

The University uses federal government travel ceilings for foreign lodging and per diem rates. See the U.S Department of State website for rates that apply to locations outside the United States. Reimbursement requests for foreign lodging, meals and incidental expenses must be accompanied by documentation of the maximum allowable rates during the period of travel for the applicable foreign location(s).

C. Travel Departure and Return Days

On travel departure and return days, travelers receive 75% of the per diem meal allowance and 100% of the per diem incidental allowance, regardless of the time of departure or return. The return day allowance is based on the rate at the location where the traveler spent the night prior to returning to the home base.

D. “No-cost” Meals

The per diem rate claimed must be reduced for all “no-cost” meals the traveler receives. This includes meals included in event registration fees.  If a continental breakfast or reception is offered as part of the travel event and the food/timing is sufficient to serve as a meal, the traveler should reduce the per diem by the appropriate allowance.  Individual meal components are provided in the per diem rate tables.

VII. Transportation

A. Commercial Air Carrier

Generally, airline travel cannot exceed the lowest rates charged for nonrefundable tourist/coach fare with a reasonable number of stops given the distance traveled. Justification is required for purchase of refundable tickets. Some airlines have created a higher level of coach class services that charges a premium for certain preferable seats, priority boarding, advance seat selection and/or other amenities. Such upgrades in the coach seating area are considered enhancements to the coach fare and are not reimbursable. When federal funds are used, provisions of the Fly America Act are applicable and foreign travel is restricted to a U.S. air carrier unless extenuating circumstances apply and are approved in advance by the Office of Sponsored Programs. See the Compliance section of the Office of Sponsored Programs website. Travelers should use the Purchasing Charge Card (P-Card) to purchase airline and rail tickets. Appropriate documentation must be retained for three years by the cardholder (10 years for charges to a sponsored fund). Alternatively, a traveler may purchase airline tickets using his/her Travel Charge Card or a personal credit card; however, reimbursement will not be made until after the travel has taken place. Documentation that validates the mode and class of travel is required for all air and rail reimbursements. When procuring airline tickets or other travel services using the Internet, specific documentation is required. See section XI. Rates for airline tickets typically may not exceed coach class. Supervisors may approve business class travel under the following circumstances:

a. The business class fare does not cost more than the lowest available tourist/coach fare,

b. The travel is to western Europe and the business meeting is conducted within three hours of landing,

c. The travel is for a transoceanic intercontinental trip of more than eight hours, or

d. The traveler pays the difference.

Some airlines charge additional fees for services, such as checked baggage, previously included in the ticket price. These fees are reimbursable with a receipt when limits must be exceeded for legitimate business purposes. Written justification must be provided when requesting reimbursement for two or more checked bags.

B. Personal Vehicle

Travelers may be reimbursed for use of a personal vehicle while on University business. Total reimbursement for vehicle use, lodging, and meals and incidental expenses, however, may not exceed the alternative cost of travel by the most economical air or rail routing.

Rate

The “personal” mileage rate may be used in any of the following situations: (1) The travel distance is 100 miles or less per day, (2) The cost of the personal car does not exceed the cost of an Enterprise vehicle by more than $20 (print a copy of the Enterprise Trip Calculator from the State’s Office of Fleet Management website and attach to travel reimbursement voucher). (3) An Enterprise rental vehicle is not available (print a copy of the page indicating vehicle is sold out and attach to travel reimbursement voucher).

Trips not qualifying for the personal mileage rate are reimbursed at the lower “fleet” rate.

Round-trip mileage traveled routinely and directly by an employee between his residence and Mason work location on a scheduled workday is considered commuting mileage.  Commuting mileage and other commuting costs incurred on a normal workday are considered a personal expense and are not reimbursable. Current mileage rates may be obtained from the Travel Office link at the Fiscal Services website. As an additional option, George Mason University motor pool vehicles may be obtained from the Motor Pool Dispatcher.  The cost of using a motor pool vehicle will be recharged to the user department.

C. Rental Vehicles

Reimbursement may be made for car rental expense. The traveler must select the most economical contractor and type of vehicle available and acquire any commercial rate or government discount available when the vehicle is rented.   The State maintains a contract with Enterprise Leasing to provide vehicles for short-term travel by State employees, which may be accessed at the State’s Office of Fleet Management Services website.

1. Insurance

The Commonwealth provides a statewide self-insurance plan for employees. Therefore, employees will not be reimbursed for rental car insurance for locations within the United States. Individuals traveling outside the territorial United States (including Canada, Puerto Rico) are required to purchase and will be reimbursed for liability damage waiver and collision damage waiver insurance.

2. Gasoline Charges

Travelers must refuel rental vehicles before returning to the rental contractor. Reimbursement will be based on receipts provided for fuel used. In no instance should the traveler enter into a “Fuel Agreement” or pay for fuel in advance when renting a vehicle.

D. Parking Fees and Toll Charges

Reimbursement is provided for parking fees and toll charges incurred. A receipt is required where an individual claim exceeds $20.

E. Taxi and Shuttle Van Fares

Reimbursement is provided for taxi and shuttle van fares between airports and hotels. A receipt is required where an individual claim exceeds $20.

F. Local Area Public Transportation

Reimbursement is provided for metro, bus or other public transportation fares in the local area.
VIII. Other Requirements and Limitations

A. Other Reimbursable Expenses

  1. Business telephone calls
  2. Facsimiles
  3. Data transmission charges
  4. Internet charges necessary for business activity
  5. Country specific expenses such as visas, vaccinations and airport fees
  6. Registration fees (no more than 90 days in advance)

B. Unallowable Expenses.

  1. Lost or stolen articles
  2. Alcoholic beverages
  3. Damage to personal vehicles, clothing, or other items
  4. Services to gain entry to a locked vehicle
  5. Movies charged to hotel bills
  6. All expenses related to the personal negligence of the traveler, such as fines
  7. Entertainment expenses
  8. Towing charges
  9. Expenses for children, spouses, and companions while on travel status The above list is not all-inclusive. Travelers should use prudent judgment and remember that all travel expense accounts are open to the public and must be able to sustain the test of public review.

C. Business Meals

Business meals occurring in the local area or during overnight travel may be reimbursed if the conditions for business meals established in University Policy Number 2102, “Food and Beverages Expenditures” are satisfied. Reimbursement requests for business meals must be accompanied by an original itemized receipt. See University Policy Number 2102 at the Fiscal Services website.

D. Grants and Contracts

The dollar limitations described above also apply to travel conducted in support of grants and contracts sponsored by outside agencies unless the underlying grant or contract specifically provides different reimbursement policies or rates. Authorizations and vouchers applying this exception must contain a statement to this effect signed by the Principal Investigator and the Associate VP for Research Operations.

E. More Than Three Employees

Travel to destinations in the 48 contiguous United States involving more than three employees from the University traveling to the same event requires advance written approval from a supervisor.

Travel to an international destination as well as any destination outside the 48 contiguous United Sates including Alaska, Hawaii and U.S. Territories, involving more than three employees from the University traveling to a single destination requires written approval in advance by the Cabinet Secretary.

F. EDI Reimbursements

Employees who expect to travel more than two times per year are required to participate in the Commonwealth’s Travel EDI program. Enrollment forms are available from the Travel Office or from the Fiscal Services website.

G. Internet Charges Necessary for Business Activity

Travelers are permitted to incur charges to use the internet at hotels, airports or other locations provided that internet access is necessary for business activity.  To be reimbursed for internet charges, travelers must provide an explanation of the internet usage, such as checking and responding to email or conducting internet-based research.  The explanation may be written on the itemized hotel bill or internet provider receipt.  Internet charges to sponsored funds are allowable only when directly related to the specific grant or contract.

IX. Local Area Travel Expenses

A. Transportation in the Local Area

Non-commuting travel expenses may be reimbursed when individuals must travel in the local area on official business. This includes trips between University campuses or to other locations in the vicinity to attend meetings or training classes, to deliver paperwork, etc. Travel may be by personal vehicle or local common carrier (e.g., metro, bus, etc.). Commercial parking fees and toll charges may also be reimbursed. Charges to park on University property (i.e., University decals, passes and parking meters) are not reimbursable. Normal commuting mileage is not reimbursable; only the net additional mileage may be claimed.

B. Lodging in the Local Area

Normally, employees may not be reimbursed for lodging within 25 miles of their normal work place.

Local area lodging paid for guests of the University (e.g., employment candidates) are considered travel expenses and should be included with the estimated cost of the trip if the trip is expected to exceed $500. Sponsoring departments should work through the Purchasing department to arrange for guest lodging and for the University to be billed directly by the vendor. Contracts with local area hotels are listed on the Travel page at the Fiscal Services website. Visitors are limited to the appropriate local contracted hotel/motel rate when, in special situations, they obtain their own lodging.
X. Methods of Payment

The following methods of payment may be used: 1) Purchasing Charge Card (P-Card) – may be used for transportation tickets and conference registration fees. 2) Travel Charge Card – may be used for all travel purchases (e.g., hotel, transportation). Travelers will not be reimbursed until after the travel has taken place. 3) Personal Credit Card.

XI. Using The Internet To Purchase Travel Services

When travel services are purchased using the Internet, the following supplemental documents must be submitted with the Travel Expense Reimbursement Voucher: 1) All pages of the confirmation document generated when the reservation is complete showing  total cost and class of service (e.g. coach, business class) for electronic tickets. 2) Passenger receipt (ticket stub) when paper ticket is issued.

XII. Effective Date and Approval

The policies herein are effective September 21, 2004, and were revised May 4, 2007, July 30, 2008 and December 10, 2008.  This administrative policy shall be reviewed and revised annually to become effective at the beginning of the University’s fiscal year.
Approved:

__/S_____________________
Maurice W. Scherrens
Senior Vice President

__/S______________________
Peter N. Stearns
Provost

Date approved: October 11, 2004

Revisions approved: May 24, 2007
and August 13, 2008

Revised: May 23, 2012

Revised: February 11, 2013

Revisions approved: June 24, 2014