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.
- 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.
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 and alcohol, 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.
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.
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.
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.
Travel Booking Policy and Exemptions (Exclusions)
Travel Booking Policy
University policy, codified in Administrative Guide Policy 5.4.2: Business and Travel Expenses, requires the use of a centralized travel booking program when faculty, staff, postdoctoral scholars and students are booking air fare, hotels, or rental cars for university-sponsored travel.
The centralized booking program, Stanford Travel, automatically registers travel reservations in the university’s Travel Registry, which connects to Stanford’s provider of medical, personal, travel and security assistance. This program provides the university with the ability to locate and support its travelers in the event of an emergency, supports compliance with reimbursement policies and procedures and offers discounts, waivers, and perks to travelers.
To be reimbursed for university-sponsored travel, travelers must use a Stanford Travel booking channel when booking airfare, hotels or car rentals. There are limited exemptions to this policy, which are described below.
Travel Booking Policy Exemptions (Exclusions)
The following are instances where faculty, staff, postdoctoral scholars and students are not required to be booked through Stanford Travel booking channels but should manually enter and update their reservations in the university’s Travel Registry. Expenses associated with booking policy exemptions (exclusions) are still reimbursable as long as they are in accordance with their respective travel policies.
- Conference hotels, which may be booked directly with the hotel at the conference rate per the Lodging Policy.
- Airline ticket reissues or exchanges.
- 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 (excluded).
- Group travel bookings for 10 or more travelers going to the same destination.
- Rental cars booked through the Enterprise Rent-A-Car branch located on Stanford's historic campus.
- Remote or international air travel, hotels or car rental companies not available in Stanford Travel and there is not a comparable option available.
The following are exempted (excluded) from the booking policy and are not entered into the Travel Registry:
- Travel for visitors and guests.
- Non university-sponsored or personal travel (such as for non degree programs, internships not sponsored by the university, house-hunting or moving expenses).
- Travel for Stanford Healthcare and SLAC employees, which follow each organization’s respective travel policies.
- Ground transportation options such as car service, non-passenger vehicles (such as cargo vans or trucks), rail, taxi and public transportation.
- Non-hotels or homeshares (such as Stanford Guest House, Schwab Residential Center, or AirBnB) or rideshare services (such as Uber and Lyft). If travelers choose to utilize these optional services, they may be booked either within or outside of the Stanford Travel program.
Learn more about traveling for Stanford in the Travel Process overview.
Roles and Responsibilities
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 and payment 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.
Generally, the Stanford Travel Card (TCard) is the preferred payment method for travel costs. Alternatively, personal funds may be used and a request for reimbursement can be submitted after the trip.
For more information about each of these methods, refer to Topic Overview: Purchasing & Payment Methods.
Receipts and Documentation
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.
- $75 or more: 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.
- 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 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.
Some expense categories, such as meals, airfare, car rental, lodging and conferences require additional documentation, which is detailed on those respective policy pages.
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.
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, human subjects and gifts, visit the Other Business Expenses page.
Below is a list of some, but not all, expenses that are considered non-reimbursable. Discretionary accounts/funds are not eligible to support these expenses. As a general policy, purchases in excess of reasonableness are not allowed.
- Spousal travel expenses to accompany Stanford employees or visitors on university-sponsored travel, unless approved in advance by the Provost
- First-class airfare, unless business class would be allowed under policy but is not available
- Travel clubs, 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
- Travel insurance
- Airfare hold fees, which lock-in an airfare price for several days
- Personal amusement, social activities or entertainment
- Gifts to individuals, e.g., for birthdays and baby showers (excluding service awards)
- Personal membership dues, subscriptions and club fees, such as airline clubs and individual Stanford Faculty Club dues
- Commuting expenses and parking fees or permits on historical campus and Stanford Redwood City campus for employees or students
- Traffic citations for either personal or university vehicles
- Interest charges for late payment of bills
- Personal services or items included in a purchase of other items to be owned by Stanford
- Mobile devices not purchased through University IT
- Mobile devices on family plans
- Cell phone accessories
- Purchases of carbon offsets or carbon credits
- Any costs specifically disallowed by school, department policy, external agreement or gift restriction