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.

Note: Due to impacts from COVID-19 that may make ground transportation a preferred option over air travel, the Business Expense team is temporarily extending the round trip distance noted below to 300 miles. Individuals traveling on university business are expected to use transportation options that are necessary and reasonable. Non-local travel will usually consist of a combination of air and ground transportation. Ground transportation is likely to be required as more than one component of a trip (e.g., travel from home to the airport, travel from the airport to lodging, travel from the airport to home, etc.). When planning and requesting approval for university-related business travel, the traveler should consider all aspects of the total trip to achieve the most economical result.

Transportation Options

  • For travel of 200 miles or less round trip, 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. 
  • For travel in excess of 200 miles round trip, 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 and should include an explanation and supporting documentation for why that option was selected.

Local Transportation 

The university will not pay or reimburse the cost of transportation (such as private sedans, limousines, rideshare services or other car services) used to travel on, around or between campuses.

Most Direct Route

The traveler should use the most direct route for ground travel. If, for other than university business, the traveler takes an indirect route or interrupts a direct route, payment for transportation expenses will be at either the actual charge or the expense that would have been incurred by traveling the direct route by the most economical means, whichever is less. The expense that would have been incurred as the most economical and direct route must be documented in the expense report.

Bus, Rail or Ship Fare

When a bus, rail or a commercial vessel is selected, the university will pay the reasonable and necessary cost of the lowest fare available for the trip. Reasonable and necessary fares typically include coach or economy classes. Other classes of travel may be allowed based on documented medical needs by submitting a medical waiver request. This form must be 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. Confidential medical information per HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) should not be included in the contents of the request. All other requests for the use of other classes of fare must be pre-approved by the traveler’s dean’s office or senior financial approver, and this approval must be documented in the expense request.

When the most economical method is not selected for a trip over 200 miles--for example, when rail, bus, ship, personal vehicle or rental car are selected in place of commercial air travel--the university will reimburse for that travel up to the lowest available commercial airfare available for the same trip, and the traveler is required to provide fare comparison documentation. 

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 date is 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. Refer to How to: Document a Flight Comparison for more information.

Special Situations

There are special situations that may require the use of a less economical option, such as a car service. For example, when a traveler is going to the airport for a very early or late flight, departing from a remote residence or requires some additional assistance, it would be reasonable to use a car service. The traveler should provide a reasonable and rational explanation for why this option was selected in the business purpose.

Commuting Expenses

The university will not pay employees for commuting expenses between their home and regular worksite. If an employee has a temporary assignment away from their regular worksite, payment will be made for the expense of ground transportation between their regular worksite and the assignment location or between home and the assignment location, whichever is less.

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.

Roles and Responsibilities

It is the responsibility of the individual incurring the ground transportation 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.

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.

Charter services, such as tour or shuttle buses, require a contract signed by the appropriate authority and are payable through a Purchase Order as a standard non-catalog requisition in iProcurement; and should not be paid with personal funds or the Stanford Travel Card.

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. For expense reports that include ground transportation expenses of $75 or more, a ticket or receipt (or electronic image of the ticket or receipt) that shows proof of payment (e.g., card being charged) must be attached in the expense report via the Expense Requests System. For car rental, the receipt is the contract, itemizing all charges, and showing proof of payment. Departments and units may require all receipts, including those under $75, at their local discretion.

The university pays a standard rate per mile to the owner/operator of a personal vehicle for business travel based on the actual driving distance by the most direct route. When one or more individuals are traveling together in the same personal vehicle, the university only reimburses the owner or operator of the vehicle.

The standard mileage rate includes the cost of all actual automobile expenses, such as fuel and lubrication, towing charges, physical damage to the vehicle, repairs, replacements, tires, depreciation, insurance, etc. 

In addition to the standard mileage rate, necessary and reasonable charges for the following automobile-related expenses are allowed: tolls, ferries, parking, bridges, tunnels, and liability and physical damage insurance coverage for driving in foreign countries or Hawaii. Traffic ticket and parking ticket expenses are personal and will not be paid by the university.

For more information about using a private automobile while on university business see Administrative Guide Policy 8.4.2: Vehicle Use.

Calculating Trip Distance

The most direct route is defined as not more than 105% of the most direct mileage indicated by Google Maps. Expense for ground transportation is calculated depending on if the trip originates in or outside of normal business hours (usually defined as weekdays, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.).

  • When the trip occurs during weekends, holidays or outside of normal business hours, the traveler should calculate the distance using their home address.
  • When the trip occurs during business hours, calculate the distance from the traveler’s Stanford worksite. If the trip did not include a business stop at their Stanford worksite, the traveler should use their home address as the starting point when that distance is less.

Travelers should use reasonable and economical means for travel to and from the airport. The university has set a maximum reimbursement amount for Bay Area airport transportation and reimburses for actual expenses when traveling to or from a destination’s airport.

Bay Area Airport Round Trip Maximum

When the cost of airport parking is considered, shuttle or ride services are usually the most economical solution for trips lasting 3 days or longer. The use of ride share services is not required, even if it is the most economical option. 

To accommodate the array of needs and options that a traveler may need for ground transportation, the university provides a $200 maximum round trip reimbursement for the actual costs of transportation to or from a Bay Area airport. This reimbursement amount can be used to cover personal mileage, parking fees, ride-hailing service charges and taxi fares.

Traveling to or From a Destination Airport

Travelers should use reasonable and economical means for travel to and from their destination airport. Typically, a shuttle, ride share service and taxi are reasonable and economical options. Car service is typically not the most economical option and should only be used when it is the best option for the needs of the traveler such as a very early or late flight, travel to or from a remote residence, or when the traveler requires assistance. The use of ride share services is not required, even if it is the most economical option.

The university reimburses actual costs of transportation to or from a destination airport.

Summary of Airport Transportation Policy

Transportation Bay Area Airport Destination Airport
Reimbursement Actual roundtrip expenses up to $200. Includes personal mileage and parking fees. Actual roundtrip expenses.
Receipts Only required in the Expense Requests System (ERS) for individual receipts of $75 or more. Individual schools and units may require receipts under $75 to be submitted.


General Policy

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, including the exclusion that rental cars may be booked directly through the Enterprise Rent-A-Car branch located on Stanford's historic campus.

Before renting a car, the traveler should consider shuttle services, ride services and taxis, particularly for transportation between airport and lodging, which are typically more economical options. When the use of a rental car is the most economical form of transportation, the university will pay rental fees for compact, intermediate or standard size automobiles and automobile-related expenses, such as fuel, tolls and parking. Non-standard rental car options, such as vans, SUVs and 4x4s are reimbursable with appropriate business justification, which should be included in the expense request.

Car Rental Agreement

Employees who rent a vehicle for university business should include their name and "Stanford University" on the rental agreement whenever possible. Use of the university-provided travel card serves this purpose for employees.

Car Rental Insurance

Only the driver named on the car rental agreement is covered by the rental agency's basic insurance. The driver on the agreement may not leave the state in which it is rented without the rental agency's permission.

In addition, the university self-insures against risk for all employees and students who rent a car from any agency while on university business within the continental U.S. Copies of the university's Certificate of Self-Insurance can be obtained through Stanford's Office of Risk Management. The university’s insurance policy does not cover visitors, so they should opt for Loss damage waiver (LDW), Collision damage waiver (CDW), etc.

Additional Car Rental Insurance

  • Stanford travelers should not elect additional car rental insurance within the continental United States. 
  • Stanford travelers should accept additional car rental insurance in foreign countries and Hawaii.

Additional insurance coverage includes the following:

  • Loss damage waiver (LDW)
  • Collision damage waiver (CDW)
  • Personal accident insurance (PAI)
  • Personal effects coverage
  • Liability coverage or supplemental liability iInsurance (SLI)
  • Emergency roadside assistance (ERA) or roadside assistance program (RAP) 

Car Rental Accident While on Stanford Business 

In the event of an accident involving a car rented for university business, the traveler should:

  • Not discuss or admit liability or make any statement, except to police officers.
  • Obtain names, addresses, and phone numbers of all persons involved, including any witnesses.
  • Request the name, address and phone number of the legal owner of each vehicle involved.
  • For accidents on Stanford property, report to Stanford Police at (650) 723-9633.
  • For accidents off Stanford property, report to local police.
  • Promptly notify Risk Management of the accident by submitting the information electronically to Risk Management. The traveler may also call (650) 723-4555. Refer involved parties to Risk Management for insurance responses.

Personal Use 

Any portion of the cost of a rental car attributable to the personal use of that car by the traveler must be subtracted from the total rental bill before requesting reimbursement. The personal portion is calculated by prorating the total cost of the rental over the number of days for personal use and number of days for university business use.

If the traveler purchases extra insurance for a domestic, mainland car rental in order to be covered during the personal portion, the entire cost of the insurance coverage for the entire rental period will be a personal expense. However, if the rental occurs in a foreign country or Hawaii, the cost may be prorated.

If personal expenses are included in the amount charged to a Stanford TCard, they will be subtracted from the total amount due for reimbursement on the traveler's expense report.

Car rentals through Stanford Travel are no longer available solely for personal use. 


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