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. The university's airfare policies are designed to assure compliance with all legal and governmental requirements.
- For round trip travel in excess of 350 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 round trip travel of 350 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. The traveler may still fly to a location that is less than 350 miles round trip if it is more 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.
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.
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 (with fewest stops as possible). When multiple airports are available, the traveler should select the most appropriate and cost effective airport for the purpose of the trip. A more direct route is preferable over a lower cost fare. The university supports taking a more direct flight (fewer stops) even if it is a higher cost, because of the sustainability and risk implications.
If the traveler takes an indirect route or interrupts a direct route for a purpose other than university business, reimbursement 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. In these cases, the traveler should document a fare comparison to show what the cost would have been for the most direct route.
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.
Nonrefundable fares are generally preferred, but there may be instances where a refundable fare is appropriate due to comparable pricing or when it is the only option for a traveler. If a refundable fare is chosen, an explanation should be included with the reimbursement request.
Economy Class Fares
The university pays for air travel in economy class for all domestic and international flights. The university will reimburse for the lowest airfare in economy class that allows for changes to the flight and includes any of the following flight components:
- Early boarding
- Pre-assigned seats and preferred seat location
- Extended legroom (such as United Airlines Economy Plus seats or equivalent seats on other airlines)
- Checked and carry-on baggage fees
- In-flight meal and in-flight Wi-Fi service.
These components may be included in the airfare or charged separately as an ancillary fee. 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.
If this class of fare is not available for the travel period and the most direct route, the next higher level of fare may be selected, but a fare comparison must be provided to demonstrate it was not available.
Not Recommended: Basic Economy, the lowest airfare in economy class, typically does not include any of the components listed above. It is a highly restrictive airfare which may not allow any changes under any circumstance, and may lead to financial loss. For these reasons, the university does not recommend purchasing this class of fare. As a result, these fares are not displayed in the Stanford Travel booking channels.
Higher Fare Classes, Such as Business Class Fare
Business class is permissible for international flights with a duration of eight hours or more (including connecting domestic legs, excluding layover time). Departments, at their discretion, can impose more restrictive guidelines for budgetary or control reasons.
When any class above economy airfare (premium economy, business class, first class, etc.) is selected there are two options to appropriately allocate the expense:
- Option 1: Document a fare comparison for the cost of an economy flight in order to ensure that any amount over the economy fare is allocated to an unallowable expenditure type.
- Option 2: Allocate one-third of the cost to an allowable expenditure type and the remaining two-thirds to an unallowable expenditure type.
See Purpose and Use of Expenditure Type Codes for more information regarding allowable and unallowable expenses.
The above process also supports compliance when a sponsored or restricted award is used as the funding source of the airfare. Either option ensures that only the cost of an economy fare is charged to an allowable expenditure type, supporting Stanford’s ability to readily identify and exclude the excess expenses from its indirect cost calculation. For more information on allowability, refer to Administrative Guide 3.1.4: Cost Policy.
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.
Any costs associated with health care assistants who are needed during travel should be charged to an unallowable expense type.
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 reimbursable 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.
In order to be able to more effectively support university travelers, Stanford requires the use of a centralized travel booking program (Stanford Travel) when faculty, staff, postdoctoral scholars and students are booking airfare for university-sponsored travel unless it is specifically exempted from the booking policy. Purchasing airfare (unless specifically listed as a type that is exempted) outside of the centralized booking program requires an advance booking method exception from Global Risk. Travelers may also use Stanford Travel when booking hotels and rental cars for university-sponsored travel.
Stanford Travel automatically sends booking updates to the travel registry (used to locate and support travelers in an emergency) when itineraries change, supports compliance with reimbursement policies and procedures and offers discounts, waivers, and perks to travelers.
More booking policy details are available in the Business and Travel Expense Policies 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 airfare is booked through a Stanford Travel booking channel per the travel booking policy.
- 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 recommended payment option for any travel costs that will not be reimbursed through the per diem method. 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.For more information on reimbursement methods, see the Topic Overview: Business and Travel Expense Policies page.
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 page.
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 airfare class is above economy and the comparison will be used to allocate excess costs appropriately. This also applies if the traveler elects to upgrade their fare and will only be reimbursed for the applicable amount.
- The most economical method of transportation is not selected for a trip, for example, a rental car is selected instead of air travel.
- The airfare will be charged to a sponsored research award and will be booked outside of the Stanford Travel program.
The fare comparison documentation is most often in the form of a screenshot 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, with certain exceptions (listed below). 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.
- United Airlines flight 9725 operated by Swiss International Air Lines meets the requirements for Fly America Act.
- The same flight purchased as Swiss International Air Lines 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 federally 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.
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, 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.
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 the contracts process can be found on Topic Overview: Purchase Services.