format_list_bulleted Topic Overview

Business and Travel Expense Policies

The university pays directly or reimburses individuals for expenses that are necessary and appropriate to conduct university business. Below is an overview of the key considerations and associated processes for business and travel expenses, along with links to information, guidance and limits on specific types of expenses. 

University policy and guidance addresses many, but not all, scenarios. Where unclear or unusual circumstances arise, additional information, questions about financial policies or exceptional requests should be directed to the school or unit’s senior finance administrator. In all cases, fiscal prudence and good judgment should be exercised.

All Stanford transactions are subject to review by Financial Management Services (FMS) as well as internal and external auditors for compliance with sound business practices, institutional policies and procedures, and any applicable laws and regulations.

Overview of Administrative Guide Memo

The university outlines its guiding principles and the IRS regulations for business and travel expenses in Administrative Guide Policy 5.4.2: Business and Travel Expenses. In summary:

  • Guiding Principles
    • Supporting University Travelers: In order for Stanford to be able to provide support to its faculty, staff, postdoctoral scholars and students when they are traveling on university-sponsored business, the university requires the use of a centralized booking program as described in the Administrative Guide Policy.
    • Stewardship of Resources: Individuals using university resources for business or travel expenses and/or are purchasing items to be owned by Stanford, share the responsibility of ensuring that these resources are used appropriately, support the university mission and comply with university policies, applicable laws and regulations and sponsor and donor restrictions. Individuals are expected to spend appropriately and expenses must be reasonable and necessary. Departments may uphold more restrictive guidance than the university at local discretion.
  • IRS Regulations: The university reimburses individuals under the IRS Accountable Plan when the IRS regulations are met. Under this plan, the reimbursement is not taxable as income to the employee, as long as the expense has a business connection and was submitted in a timely manner.

Travel and business expenses that do not reflect good stewardship of university resources, are found to benefit the individual at the expense of the university and/or are deemed excessive or fraudulent will be subject to further review by the appropriate office (e.g., Office of Chief Risk Officer or School/Unit Office), as outlined in Administrative Guide Policy 3.5.1: Financial Irregularities.

Funding Source  

A key consideration in the proper stewardship of university resources is ensuring that the funding source is appropriate to use for the expense. Funding sources such as individual or corporate donors, government agencies, non-government sponsors and tuition have varying restrictions for their use. The federal government has mandated that no alcohol may be charged as either a direct or indirect expense of federally sponsored projects. Consequently, alcohol cannot be charged to a federal grant or contract account under any circumstances. 

Business and travel expenses that will be charged to restricted or sponsored awards, including costs of lodging, meals and incidental expenses, must be reasonable, allowable, necessary to the award and consistent with university policies. For example, the use of the per diem method is required when travel meal expenses will be charged to a sponsored award. Certain expenditures, such as business entertainment, alcohol and eligible business-class airfare, may be incurred within policy for university business or travel, and may be charged to an unrestricted account, but may not be charged directly to restricted or sponsored awards.

University-Sponsored Travel

Per Administrative Guide Policy 5.4.2, university-sponsored travel is defined as when the university pays directly or reimburses individuals for travel expenses that are necessary and appropriate to conduct university business. This includes the use of any funding source for which the university has financial responsibility and accountability, including operating budgets, donor gifts, federally-sponsored grants and awards, and any other restricted or unrestricted fund. Student and postdoctoral scholar travel that is directly related to their individual course of study, or for which academic credit may be awarded, is considered university-sponsored travel, even if the travel is funded via their base financial support.

University-sponsored travel may occur within or outside of the local area. Travel is considered outside of the local area when the destination is 50 miles or more one way from the traveler’s home or Stanford’s historic campus, whichever is greater. This definition is applicable to some travel expense policies, for example, hotel lodging reimbursement, where the university will only pay for hotel lodging expenses when the trip is outside of the local area.

Employee Travel to a Stanford Work Location

For employees in a hybrid work arrangement, travel between an employee’s telecommuting worksite and their Primary Stanford Work Location is considered part of an employee’s normal commute and associated expenses are not reimbursable. For details, see Administrative Guide Policy 2.1.20: Hybrid (Telecommuting) Work Arrangements

For employees in a remote work arrangement whose residence is within the defined 10-county area*, travel to a Stanford Work Location will not be reimbursed because the remote arrangement is at the employee’s request and there is space available for the employee to work on campus. For Remote employees outside of the 10-county area, Stanford will reimburse expenses for occasional, required travel to a Stanford Work Location as long as the travel is necessarily incurred and the employee receives prior approval by the employee’s department/manager. In these instances, the guidelines for booking and reimbursement of business travel apply. For details, see Administrative Guide Policy 2.1.21 Remote Work Arrangements.

*The 10-county area includes all of the following counties: Santa Clara County, San Mateo County, San Francisco County, Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Marin County, Napa County, Sonoma County, Solano County, or Santa Cruz County.

Split or Partially Funded Travel

When travel expenses for Stanford faculty, staff, postdoctoral scholars or students will be shared by Stanford University and one or more external organizations, even if only a minority of the travel expenses are sponsored by Stanford, the trip is considered split.

In terms of the booking policy, split travel is considered university-sponsored travel and must be purchased through a Stanford Travel booking channel following the Business and Travel Expense Policies detailed here and in Administrative Guide Policy 5.4.2.

If it is not easy to separate out the costs that will be covered by the external party, the Stanford Travel Card may be used to pay for the total cost of the trip, then Stanford must be reimbursed by the traveler or travel arranger for the external party portion. See How To Return Personal Expenses Charged to a Travel Card.

Any portion of travel that Stanford pays for must follow Stanford Travel policies and guidelines described on this page.

Fully Externally-sponsored Travel

When an outside institution or entity asks Stanford faculty, staff, postdoctoral scholars or students to travel on that organization’s behalf and provides full payment for those travel expenses, the trip is considered fully externally-sponsored, also referred to as third party travel.

Stanford University resources may not be used to book, purchase or reimburse expenses for fully externally-sponsored travel. In these instances, the use of the Stanford Travel Card and advances is prohibited, and travel arrangements may not be booked via Stanford Travel booking channels.

Personal Travel

When a personal component of travel is added to a business trip, the university will only pay for or reimburse the costs of the business component. The charge that would have been incurred without that personal component must be documented through a fare comparison at the time of booking in order to appropriately process the reimbursement.

The Travel Card may be used to pay for trips that include a component of personal travel that may not be easily separated from the booking, but it may not be used to purchase trips that are exclusively personal. In cases where the Travel Card is used to purchase trips with a personal component, the individual is responsible for reimbursing the university for the extra cost.

Note: The university’s travel booking policy was updated in September 2022. Read more in the Fingate newsroom.

Travel Booking Policy

University policy, codified in Administrative Guide Policy 5.4.2: Business and Travel Expenses, outlines the university’s travel booking policy. Travelers must comply with this booking policy to be reimbursed for university-sponsored travel (regardless of whether the reimbursement method is based on actuals or per diem).

Stanford utilizes a centralized travel booking program (Stanford Travel) that automatically registers travel reservations, and any subsequent changes to a reservation, to the university’s Travel Registry, which connects to Stanford’s provider of medical, personal, travel and security assistance. Therefore, in order to enable the university to provide guidance to travelers before their trips and to locate and more effectively support travelers in the event of an emergency, faculty, staff, postdoctoral scholars and students traveling on behalf of the university must utilize the centralized travel booking program to book airfare unless it is specifically exempted from the booking policy. 

Stanford Travel automatically sends booking updates to the registry when itineraries change, supports compliance with reimbursement policies and procedures and offers discounts, waivers, and perks to travelers. Considering these benefits, booking a hotel through Stanford Travel remains the preferred booking option wherever possible.

When hotels or exempted airfare are booked outside of the Stanford Travel booking channels, travelers or travel arrangers must use the itinerary-forwarding service to register and then, as needed, update their trip details as described in the “exemptions” section below.

Exemptions to the Travel Booking Policy

Noted below are instances where faculty, staff, postdoctoral scholars and students are not required to be booked through Stanford Travel booking channels.

Exempted travel reservations must be manually registered in the university’s Travel Registry (International SOS). To register travel, forward an itinerary confirmation from the traveler's Stanford email address to @email. To learn more, visit the Travel Registry page. If you experience any issues with forwarding an itinerary, please contact @email.

Expenses associated with booking policy exemptions are still reimbursable as long as they are in accordance with their respective business and travel expense policies. An explanation of the booking policy exemption should be included in the expense report’s business purpose.

  • Airlines:
    • Regional airlines that are not available to book through Stanford Travel.
    • Airline ticket reissues or exchanges.
  • Travelers:
    • Travel for visitors and guests.
    • Travel for Stanford Healthcare and SLAC employees, which follow each organization’s respective travel policies.
  • Other travel:
    • Group travel bookings for 10 or more travelers going to the same destination.
    • Travel purchases booked outside of the U.S. for employees of Stanford’s affiliated global subsidiaries and branches. Non-employees affiliated with activities managed through these subsidiaries and branches, for example, coaches or volunteers are also exempted.
    • Non university-sponsored or personal travel (such as for non degree programs, internships not sponsored by the university, house-hunting or moving expenses).

Learn more about traveling for Stanford in the Travel Process overview.

Travel Booking Exceptions

Purchasing non-exempt airfare outside of the centralized booking program requires an advance exception from the Dean's or VP Office (or designee) that is then attached to the transaction when originated. Without the pre-approval, it will be returned to the preparer and would require an approval from the Dean, Vice Provost, or Vice President of the school/unit and PTA award owner to be processed.

It is the responsibility of the individual incurring expenses, those who assist others with incurring expenses and those involved in the preparation and approval of advances, reimbursement requests or financial transactions to exercise good stewardship of university funds and to adhere to university policies. The individual incurring the expense and the appropriate administrator must ensure that all costs are in compliance with university travel and business expense policies prior to purchasing. These roles and responsibilities are outlined in Reimbursements and Expense Reports.

All business and travel expenses must have a business connection; that is, they must have been paid or incurred while performing Stanford business. The business connection must be adequately explained and documented in the university’s records. Documentation must include the Business Purpose, which should clearly and without need for interpretation:

  • Explain how the business expense is connected to the university and supports its mission.
  • Include sufficient documentation to support the Business Purpose and alignment to the purpose of the funds, such as agendas or travel itinerary, and demonstrate that the expense was reasonable based on circumstances.

A Business Purpose should be written so that someone reading it at a future time (e.g., an auditor reviewing the expense two or three years later) could understand the business connection without question. Refer to Resource: Guidelines for Writing a Clear Business Purpose

Those responsible for spending university funds on business and travel expenses must use the appropriate purchasing, payment and reimbursement method. Depending upon the type of expenditure and circumstances, primary purchasing and payment methods for business and travel expenses include Stanford purchase requisitions, credit card programs, non-purchase order payments, advances (under special circumstances) and expense reimbursement. For more information about each of these methods, refer to Topic Overview: Purchasing & Payment Methods.

Paying for Travel Expenses

The Stanford Travel Card (TCard) is the recommended payment method for any travel costs that will not be reimbursed through the per diem method.

When the per diem reimbursement method is available and selected by the traveler (i.e., for meals or lodging), the traveler should not use the TCard for these expenses. Reimbursing per diem expenses charged to a TCard creates an administrative burden for both the preparer and the university.

This chart shows which travel expenses are recommended for purchase with the TCard depending on the selected reimbursement method:

 

Travel Expense

TCard Use Recommended When Reimbursement Method is:
Actuals Per Diem
Airfare Yes N/A
Lodging Yes No
Meals Yes No
Rental Cars Yes N/A
Ground Transportation Yes N/A
Other Reimbursable Travel Expenses Yes N/A

As an alternative to using the TCard, personal funds may be used and a request for reimbursement can be submitted after the trip. When personal funds are used, there are different reimbursement options available depending on who is traveling and the funding source:

  • Stanford travelers may select between per diem or actual reimbursement up to the published maximums. The method selected must be used for the entire trip. If the funding source of the trip is a sponsored award, Stanford travelers must use the per diem option for travel meals.
  • University affiliates must choose actual reimbursement up to the published maximums. Any individual without a SUNet ID should indicate their affiliation in the business purpose.
  • Non-Stanford travelers and visitors are required by the IRS accountable plan rules to be reimbursed for actual travel expenditures up to the published maximums, regardless of the funding source. In these situations, a visitor must submit receipts to receive reimbursement.
Per Diem Reimbursement 

Stanford uses per diem rates recommended by the U.S. government to take advantage of governmental cost studies and to ensure general equity with grant and contract requirements. The use of the per diem method is required when travel meals will be charged to a sponsored award.

  • Domestic per diem rates are maintained by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). To view the current per diem rates for a city (or county if the city is not listed), access the GSA’s Domestic Per Diem Rates.
  • Foreign per diem rates are maintained by the U.S. Department of State. To view the current per diem rates for an international location, access the Foreign Per Diem Rates by Location.

When using the per diem method, documentation is required to demonstrate proof of travel, such as boarding passes and conference or hotel receipts to substantiate trip dates. Individual meal documentation or receipts are not required in the Expense Requests System, although individual schools, units or departments may require all receipts. 

When creating an expense report in the Expense Requests System, the per diem tab must be used for per diem rates to be automatically calculated and applied based on the city visited. When the trip includes more than one university business stop and the cities involved have different per diem rates, the lodging per diem rate for each calendar day (beginning at 12:01 a.m.) is determined by the location where the lodgings are obtained for that night. When listing multiple cities, add each city in the Details page before selecting Generate Per Diem. Meal per diem rates are determined by where the meal occurred. If the city in which the travel occurred does not have a specified per diem rate, enter the county in which the city is located to apply that rate, e.g., "Santa Clara County." 

The Expense Requests System automatically calculates the corrected travel meal amount for the first and last day of travel, at 75 percent of the meals rate for the first day based on government-listed rate for the city traveled to, and 75 percent of the meals rate for the last day, based on the government listed rate for the last city visited.

Expense and reimbursement requests must include sufficient documentation to support the business purpose and alignment to the purpose of the funds. Per the IRS Accountable Plan, documentation must demonstrate that the amounts incurred are reasonable based on the facts and circumstances, and specific explanation when they have deviated from university guidelines. Departments and units may have more restrictive requirements for receipts and documentation at their local discretion.

Requirements

  • Receipts:
    • When the method of reimbursement will be based on actual expenses, original receipts are required in the Expense Requests System for expenses of $75 or more and should correspond to an individual expense line. If an individual expense is $75 or more, and an original receipt is not submitted as a backup document, some form of proof of payment, such as a credit card statement, must be submitted.
    • When using the per diem reimbursement method, documentation or receipts are not required in the Expense Requests System, although individual schools, units or departments may require receipts. Documentation is required to demonstrate proof of travel, such as boarding passes or conference receipts to substantiate trip dates.
  • Currency: Foreign receipts must be converted to U.S. dollars. The Oanda website is a currency converter that can be used to convert foreign receipts. On the Oanda website, enter the date of receipt or date the plane ticket was issued (not necessarily the travel date) to get proper conversion. The currency conversion result must be attached to the expense report.
  • Students and postdoctorates: Reimbursement to students and postdoctorates requires certification by the appropriate signatory within the Expense Request System. Learn more on the Student Travel page.

Additional Documentation 

Some expense categories, such as meals, airfare, car rental, lodging and conferences require additional documentation, which is detailed on those respective policy pages.

Requesting Hotel Accommodations that Exceed Policy

When expected hotel accommodation costs will exceed university guidelines, the traveler must obtain pre-approval. This pre-approval will be at the discretion of the appropriate vice president, vice provost, dean or designee of the respective school of the traveler for being out of compliance. The pre-approval email for the business transaction must be attached as back-up documentation. The transaction’s business purpose should also detail how the transaction meets a valid business need, which allows auditors to identify the expense as necessary and appropriate.

If either the pre-approval is not attached, or a valid business need is not described clearly in the business purpose, the transaction will be rejected.

Meals

The university reimburses for reasonable and necessary meal expenses of two types:

  • A business meal is defined as a meal at which faculty, staff, students and/or guests are present for the purpose of conducting university business. 
  • A travel meal is defined as an ordinary and necessary meal that a traveler has while traveling on university business.

For more information, visit the Meals Overview page.

Travel Expenses

The university pays for reasonable and necessary expenses incurred by Stanford employees, affiliates and visitors in the course of university-related business travel. Travelers should neither gain nor lose personal funds as a result of business travel on behalf of Stanford University.
Travelers must have necessary approvals and travel documents prior to travel.

Other Common Reimbursable Expenses 

For information about other common reimbursable expenses, such as employee morale, recruitment expenses, human subjects and gifts, visit the Other Business Expenses page.

Below are some, but not all, expenses that are considered non-reimbursable, regardless of the funding source. As a general policy, purchases in excess of reasonableness are not allowed. Travelers should neither gain nor lose personal funds as a result of business travel on behalf of Stanford University. Unless Stanford University has approved the purchase of a product or service in advance, these items cannot be reimbursed to a university employee, affiliate or visitor for personal use.

Any costs specifically disallowed by school, department policy, external agreement or gift restriction are non-reimbursable.

Expense Type Non-Reimbursable Expense
Travel-related expenses
  • First-class airfare, unless business class would be allowed under policy but is not available (see class of fare guidance on Airfare policy page)
  • Travel clubs or lounges, programs and fees, i.e., Trusted Traveler, Clear, Global Entry and TSA PreCheck
  • Frequent traveler programs or memberships, including the purchase of or redemption of miles/points
  • Subscriptions for air travel services (such as baggage, club access, WiFi, etc.)
  • Airfare hold fees, which lock in an airfare price for several days
  • Travel Insurance
  • Peer-to-peer car sharing (i.e., Turo, GetAround, HyreCare, etc.)
  • Highway express lane charges
  • Spousal travel expenses to accompany Stanford employees or visitors on university-sponsored travel, unless approved in advance by the Provost
Personal Expenses, Dues, Fees and Charges
  • Expenses incurred during personal travel, time off, or leave
  • Personal membership dues, subscriptions and club fees, such as individual Stanford Faculty Club dues
  • Lifetime memberships to professional organizations
  • Traffic citations for either personal or university vehicles
  • Interest charges for late payment of bills
  • Personal amusement, social activities or entertainment
  • Personal services such as childcare or pet care 
  • Personal care expenses such as hair salons, barbers, manicurists or shoe shine
  • Gifts to individuals, e.g., for non-work related milestones, such as birthdays and baby showers (excluding service awards)
  • Parking fees, permits or transportation expenses related to employees commuting to their Primary Stanford Work Location (as defined in Administrative Guide Memo  2.1.20)
Technology
  • Mobile devices not purchased through University IT (such as cell phones, Apple watches, and tablets)
  • Mobile devices on family plans
  • Cell phone accessories
Other Non-Reimbursable Expenses
  • Purchases of carbon offsets or carbon credits
  • Person-to-person sales or purchases conducted outside of a third party marketplace (i.e., eBay or Etsy)

 

Last Updated: Oct 5, 2022