The university pays reasonable and necessary transportation expenses within limits and guidelines when they are incurred in the course of university-related business travel. University payment for travel requires prior approval by the appropriate authority and the cost of transportation should be kept to a minimum and consistent with a reasonable level of comfort, convenience and security for the traveler. Key considerations and associated processes are found in Business and Travel Expense Policies Fundamentals. The university outlines its guiding principles and the IRS regulations for business and travel expenses in Administrative Guide Memo 5.4.2.

Individuals traveling on university business are expected to use transportation options that are necessary and reasonable. The university pays for reasonable and necessary airfare along with certain ancillary fees and charges, as described below. It is expected that there will be no exceptions to the university's airfare policies, which are designed to assure compliance with all legal and governmental requirements. Any request for exception based on extraordinary circumstances must be approved, in advance of the travel, by the provost.

Transportation Options

  • For travel in excess of 200 miles, commercial air travel is generally the most economical and practical; however, other forms of travel such as bus, rail or ship, may be allowed in certain circumstances. 
  • For travel of 200 miles or less, ground transportation by personal car, bus, shuttle service, ride service, taxi, rental car, or some combination of these is likely to be the most economical.

Roles and Responsibilities 

It is the responsibility of the individual incurring the airfare expense and those involved in the booking, preparation and approval of the expense request or financial transaction 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 & Expense Requests.

Funding Source

Before making international travel plans, travelers need to confirm the funding source that will be used for the airfare. When the trip is funded by a federal award, the Fly America Act requires all flights charged to be booked with U.S. air carriers. The requirement applies to all travelers, including a foreign visitor's flights when supported by federal funds. If a sponsored, non-federal award allows for other flights, documentation must be included with the expense request that demonstrates that exception. More detail around this guidance is below.

Travel Period

A travel period may begin one day ahead of a business event (for example, arriving on Sunday for a conference that begins on Monday). The business travel period may include weekends, holidays, and other necessary standby days if they fall between business travel days. If a traveler chooses to arrive early or to stay longer for non-business reasons, the university does not pay for expenses incurred during those additional days. Exceptions include when travel is at a lower total cost if the traveler stays over a weekend or holiday, with department approval, or when traveling more than eight time zones, The traveler must document the reason for this extra expense in order to support the non-business-day payment.

Most Direct Route

The traveler should select the most direct route for air travel. If, for other than university business, the traveler takes an indirect route or interrupts a direct route, payment for airfare will be at either the actual charge or the charge that would have been incurred by traveling the direct route by the most economical means, whichever is less. The charge that would have been incurred as the lowest available airfare for a direct route must be documented per the proof-of-lowest fare policy below.

Class of Fare

The university pays for air travel in coach or economy class for all domestic and most international flights. Stanford defines coach or economy class as: the lowest economy air fare which includes a reserved seat, one personal item, one carry-on bag and one checked bag. Business class is permissible for international flights with duration of eight hours or more (including connecting domestic legs, excluding layover time).

Other classes of travel may be allowed based on documented medical needs by submitting a medical waiver request through the form in Stanford's Services & Support portal. The medical waiver request must be:

  • Approved before booking travel in an upgraded class of fare.
  • Updated each fiscal year, unless it explicitly states it is for a long-term condition, in which case it will be valid for five years.

All other requests for the use of other classes of fare must be pre-approved by the traveler’s dean’s office or senior director of finance, and this approval must be documented in the expense request.

Changes and Cancellations

If a ticket has to be changed and a penalty is incurred, the traveler may request payment from the university for the penalty. Fees associated with changes to the itinerary, provided there is a business reason (i.e. previously confirmed meeting dates or time have changed), are allowable on sponsored and non-sponsored projects and are reimbursable to the traveler. Itinerary changes due to meetings ending early are considered a personal expense and are not reimbursable. 

When trips must be cancelled, travelers are encouraged to rebook tickets for travel at a later date whenever possible. If it is not possible to use the ticket within the rebooking timeframe, it may nevertheless be payable with proper documentation. An unused ticket affidavit must be completed and submitted in the Expense Requests System with an expense report. Unused tickets must be charged to an unrestricted account (PTA) and need to use the appropriate unallowable expenditure type. In some circumstances, travelers may request payment for tickets to be used later by requesting an advance in the Expense Requests System.

Ancillary Fees

The university pays for certain ancillary airline fees, including early boarding, pre-assigned seats, extended legroom, preferred seat location, checked and carry-on baggage fees, in-flight meals, and in-flight Wi-Fi service. Expenditures for these fees must be reasonable and prudent and must be properly documented. Global Entry and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) PreCheck fees are not reimbursable. 

Travel Companions

In general, the expenses of a spouse, family member or other person accompanying the business traveler are not reimbursable. Such expenses are only allowed if the accompanying person has a position with the university and is traveling to make a significant contribution in furtherance of university business. Exceptions to this policy are rare and must be approved in advance of travel by the Provost.

In order to be able to effectively support university travelers, Stanford 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 provides the university with the ability to locate and support its travelers in the event of an emergency. More policy details are available in the Business and Travel Expense policy overview.

Travelers are allowed, subject to appropriate approval, to choose their dates and times of travel, as well as their desired origin and destination airports. Standard booking guidelines include:

  • The trip is booked through a Stanford Travel booking channel. 
  • If charged to a U.S. government contract or grant, it must be booked on a U.S. carrier per the requirements of the Fly America Act and Open Skies Exceptions.
  • The flight is the appropriate class of fare, which is typically a non-refundable, restricted coach or economy fare that may involve change penalties. 
  • The route between origin and destination is the most direct and frequently traveled (i.e., no circuitous routing) and may include nonstop flights.
  • Departure and arrival times are within one hour in either direction of the traveler's desired travel times.
  • The itinerary does not require overnight stays beyond the traveler's requested dates of travel.
  • The itinerary cannot include charter flights.

The Stanford Travel Card (TCard) is the preferred payment method for ground transportation costs. Alternatively, personal funds may be used and a request for reimbursement can be submitted after the trip. The same policies and guidelines must be followed regardless of payment or reimbursement method. Learn more about these methods on the Travel Process page.

Reimbursement is based on the lowest fare, which is benchmarked through Stanford Travel. Airfare booked through Stanford Travel is automatically validated to ensure that it was the lowest available airfare under Stanford policy. 

If a traveler incurs charges in excess of the lowest available airfare, the excess, up to the maximum approved and authorized for university payment, must be charged to an unallowable expenditure type and an appropriate unrestricted PTA (account). If documentation of lowest available airfare is not available for a business class trip, one-third of the cost will be charged to an allowable expenditure type and the remaining two-thirds to an unallowable expenditure type and an unrestricted account/activity. For more information on allowability, refer to Administrative Guide 3.1.4: Cost Policy.

Some types of transportation such as air travel, rail, bus or ship may include meals and/or overnight accommodation in the fare charged for travel. In these instances, meals and accommodation expenses should be deducted from a travel meal and lodging reimbursement request. Information on deducting a meal is found on the Travel Meals.

As described in Business and Travel Expense fundamentals, reimbursement requests must include sufficient documentation to support the business purpose and alignment to the purpose of the funds. Departments and units may have more restrictive requirements for receipts and documentation at their local discretion.

Proof of Payment

An itinerary, invoice, ticket or receipt (including printouts of electronic versions of these documents) that shows proof of payment (e.g., card being charged) must be included when reporting airfare expense. The receipt for airfare must be attached to the airfare expense line in an Expense Report via the Expense Requests System.

Documentation must include all the following information, or the request will be returned:

  • Dates of travel
  • Time of departure
  • Flight numbers
  • Class of service
  • Fare basis
  • Ticket number or confirmation code
  • Cost of ticket
  • Proof of payment.

Ancillary Airline Fees must be itemized separately and documented with appropriate receipts or equivalent documentation. The university does not require receipts for expenditures under $75; however, schools and departments may.

Documentation of Fare Comparison

Stanford Travel is the required booking method for faculty, staff, postdoctoral scholars and students booking university-sponsored air travel. Generally documentation of fare comparison is not required when the business trip is booked according to the travel booking policy

Fare comparison documentation is required when any of the following occur:

  • The trip includes a personal component.
  • The itinerary is an indirect route. 
  • The fare class is out of policy.
  • The most economical method of transportation is not selected for a trip, for example, a rental car is selected instead of air travel.
  • In rare cases, an exception has been granted in advance by the Dean or VP to book outside of a Stanford Travel booking channel.

The fare comparison documentation is most often in the form of a screenshot of Stanford Travel of search results taken the same day of booking from a Stanford Travel booking channel. The screenshot must visibly note the time and date of the search (i.e., from the taskbar on your desktop); include a broad set of search results (e.g., all applicable carriers); and should display the applicable parameters, such as the most direct route, excluding any personal stops and the appropriate fare class (e.g., coach, non-refundable). The expense report must include an attachment with the fare comparison documentation.

If the attached screenshot is dated post-travel, the Business Expense team will calculate an online comparison at the time of processing, and will pay based on the lesser of their own comparison or that provided by the traveler. For guidance on documenting a fare comparison, refer to How to: Document a Flight Comparison.

The Fly America Act requires all flights charged to federal awards be booked with U.S. flag air carriers. The requirement applies to all travelers, including a foreign visitor's flights when supported by federal funds. 

U.S. air carriers may designate foreign air carriers that codeshare with a U.S. flag carrier by showing as "operated by" on the flight taken. If there is no U.S. carrier to the destination, the traveler must take a U.S. carrier as far as possible. By law, additional cost for U.S. carrier flights is not sufficient justification to fly on foreign carriers. 

While Fingate maintains a list of U.S. flag air carriers, it changes frequently, so best practice is for travelers to check the airline's website to confirm that the airline is incorporated in the U.S.


Codesharing is when an airline ticket is issued by one airline but operated by another. When a U.S. flag carrier leases seats on a foreign carrier and the ticketing code is from the U.S. airline, it meets the Fly America Act requirements. Any airline used by the U.S. airline as a codeshare is approved.

For example:

  • Delta Flight 6717 operated by Aeroflot Russian Airlines meets the requirements for Fly America Act. 
  • The same flight purchased as AEROFLOT Russian Airlines 107 does not meet Fly America Act requirements. 

An itinerary, invoice or boarding pass normally provides proof of codeshare. If there is no documentation showing the U.S. carrier code and flight number, the flight cannot be charged to a federally sponsored project.

Open Skies Agreements: Exceptions to Fly America Act

One exception to the Fly America Act is the Open Skies Agreement. The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) states that qualifying travelers, whose travel is supported by federal funds may travel on certain foreign airlines as well as U.S. flag air carriers. The Open Skies Agreements exception does not apply if travel is funded by the Department of Defense (DOD) or by a department of the U.S. military. Travel funded by the DOD or by a U.S. military department must be on a U.S. flag air carrier. Stanford University Awards for DOD begin with TAAAA-TZZZZ.

If any portion of a flight using sponsored funds is not flown on a U.S. air carrier, a Certification of Exception to Fly America Act must be completed and attached to the Expense Request at time of reimbursement as support for using a foreign air carrier. If at least one exception is found on the form, then travel may be completed using a foreign air carrier. 

Private Aircraft

The university officers listed below, or their designees, may authorize faculty and employees to pilot aircraft for travel on university business provided that the director of Risk Management has been contacted to ensure proper documents and insurance are in place:

  • Deans of the seven schools
  • Vice provost and dean of research
  • Vice provost for graduate education
  • Vice provost for undergraduate education
  • Director of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center
  • Director of the Hoover Institution
  • Vice president of the administrative area

Payment will be based on the actual operating expenses, including any rental fee for the aircraft, or the private aircraft mileage rate, up to a maximum amount not to exceed the lowest available commercial airfare that would be payable for the same trip. The charge that would have been incurred as the lowest available airfare for a direct route must be documented per the proof of lowest fare policy.

When the private aircraft mileage rate is used, any additional flight expenses, such as tie down fees, will not be paid, as those costs are already included in the rate calculation. Expense reports for use of private aircraft must show the type of aircraft and number of hours flown. When two or more people travel together in a private aircraft on university business, the calculation of maximum amount payable is the product of lowest available airfare for a single traveler times the number of people traveling; however, reimbursement is payable only to the pilot.

Chartered Aircraft

Stanford business trips using chartered aircraft services must be arranged through the Contracts group in Procurement. A requisition must be approved and submitted to this department which will be responsible for procuring the necessary services. The Purchasing and Contracts Department must review and approve any contract or agreement with the service provider prior to using chartered aircraft services. More information about this process can be found on Topic Overview: Purchase Services.


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