Traveling on University Business
Frequently Asked Questions
Answers to the following questions are the same irrespective of source of funds (sponsored or non-sponsored), unless specifically noted.
Travel on Sponsored Funds
- When do I need prior sponsored approval to travel on a project?
If the sponsor requires prior approval or if the travel is a result of, or results in a change in, the work scope.
- How do I obtain prior approval from a sponsor?
Draft a request that justifies the business need for the expense. Submit the request to the grant administrator in Sponsored Projects Administration for approval and transmittal to the appropriate business officer at the sponsoring organization.
- If I use sponsored funds for a trip, must I certify the effort on that project?
If the traveler is providing effort to that project during that effort quarter, yes the traveler must certify the effort.
If the traveler is not providing effort to that project during that effort quarter, it is then dependent on the traveler's role on the project and how federal regulations must be applied:
- If a principal investigator or a senior researcher: No, the effort can be uncommitted cost sharing, which does not require certification.
- If an employee with a full time (100%) appointment on another project: Yes, because that person is employed full time by the other project and has no "outside" time to spend traveling. Travel expenses are permitted on the second project only if the employee decreases their effort on the first project, puts it on the second, and certifies the effort. The effort must be certified or cost shared to the project during the effort period in which the travel occurs.
- If a trainee (appointed on a training grant) or an employee with a part time (less than 100% appointment): No. If the principal investigator has determined this travel is necessary for the project, the principal investigator may incur travel expenses against the project for activity or travel that occurs outside of the University appointment. The effort does not require certification but it does require documentation in the comments section of the Expense Report, such as "This travel or activity occurred outside of my University appointment time."
- Can a student travel on a grant?
Yes, if the travel is necessary and provides benefit to the project. Follow the procedures below:
- If the student is a full time employee on the grant, certify the effort on the sponsored project when the student incurs travel expenses.
- If the student is on a training grant or an employee with a part time (less than 100%) appointment on a different project, do not certify the effort but provide an explanation in the Comments section of the Expense Report such as, "This travel/activity occurred outside of my University appointment time."
- If the student is not an employee or a trainee, do not certify the effort. Justify the expenses according to justification standards and include a statement that indicates that the student travels on a volunteer basis.
- A sponsor allows first-class travel; however, University policy does not allow this. Can I fly first class and charge the grant?
Follow applicable federal or nonfederal sponsored regulations:
- Federal sponsor:The federal Government Services Administration identifies specific criteria for first class and business travel. Follow those regulations found on the US General Services Administration travel information website
- Nonfederal sponsor:Request a prior written approval from the sponsor if the additional fee is supported by a valid business reason. Include a copy of that approval with the Expense Report.
If allowed by the sponsor, request an exception through your unit’s Chief Financial Manager.
Paying for Travel
- How do two or more employees in travel status together handle reimbursement when one employee pays the bill for dining?
It is recommended that the employees request separate checks or each employee claim their per diem and "work it out themselves" after being reimbursed.
- Three University of Minnesota employees share a cab on the way to an event, one person paid. How do we document this?
The employee who paid should submit the expense for reimbursement noting the names of the employees who shared the ride. The two employees who did not pay should not submit the expense for reimbursement.
- I have a PCard and a Travel Card. What should I use when booking airfare for a student group?
A departmental PCard should be used to purchase group airfare.
- Can a supplier pay for my travel expenses?
Where an outside entity (such as a for profit company) invites you to attend a conference and offers to pay for some or all of your expenses, unless you are providing a service such as being a speaker, assume there is a conflict of interest and this is not allowed. It's over our $5 de minimus limit for gifts set by the State of Minnesota. See Administrative Policy: Individual Conflicts of Interest and Standards Governing Relationships with Business Entities (Section II C and E).
Documenting Travel Expenses
- My unit is requiring receipts for parking expenses below $25 from employees seeking travel reimbursement on non-sponsored ChartField strings. Is this allowed?
No, receipts are required only for expenses greater than $25. Departments, colleges, campuses, and units cannot establish policies that differ from the University-wide policy.
- A traveler returned from a trip and submitted a request for reimbursement more than 60 days after the conclusion of travel. The traveler provided no justification for the late reimbursement. Does this reimbursement have to be reported as taxable income?
Out of pocket travel reimbursements submitted more than 60 days from the end date of the trip should be denied. If extenuating circumstances exist, the Chief Financial Manager (CFM) may determine that the expense can be reimbursed as taxable. The CFM may work with the Tax Management Office for help with determining whether the tax treatment of reimbursement outside of the 60 day window meet IRS requirements.
- Federal regulations require me to fly to the conference but for medical reasons, I am unable to fly. What do I need to do to take the train or drive my car?
Travelers must obtain prior approval from the sponsor if rail or vehicle expenses exceed the cost of airfare. Include a copy of that approval with the Expense Report documentation.
If the train or vehicle expenses are equal to or less than the airfare cost, prior approval is not necessary. Include documentation with the Expense Report comparing the costs and highlighting the savings.
- May I charge a cancellation fee or a flight change fee to a sponsored account?
Any time a University account pays for a flight change fee, sponsored or non-sponsored, there should be a valid business reason. If the charge is on a sponsored account, there should be a valid business reason and evidence of savings presented if the change results in leaving early. These savings could be hotel charges as well as savings on per diems. If there is no savings greater than or equal to the fee then the traveler should seek sponsor's approval and submit documentation with the travel reimbursement.
- Can I extend a trip to take advantage of resources that will benefit the project? For example, delaying the return trip to meet with an expert who is available to meet after a conference. Can I charge a change fee for the airline ticket to the project?
Request a written approval from the sponsor if you can support the change fees and additional costs by a valid business reason. Include a copy of that approval with the Expense Report documentation.
- The conference ends on Friday, can I stay over through Saturday night to take advantage of a cheaper airfare?
If all associated trip costs (meals, lodging, transportation, etc.) for a Saturday night stay are lower than the trip cost to return on Friday, then yes. Include documentation with the Expense Report comparing the costs and highlight the savings.
- Can I upgrade an airline coach seat to first-class?
Policy allows this if you are using personal funds or personal frequent flyer miles. However, you must have clear documentation to prove that sponsored or University funds were not used. A receipt indicating use of a personal credit card or a printout of your personal frequent flyer account will suffice.
Policy allows this if the airline automatically grants an upgrade based on travel status, and there is no cost to the sponsor or University.
- How do I request an exception if I need to upgrade my seat for a flight that is normally not allowed?
Exceptions should be infrequent and must route through the unit’s Chief Financial Manager, which must be escalated to the Director of Purchasing Services for final approval. If an exception is determined to be unallowable, the expense may not be reimbursed.
Frequent Flyer Miles
- Does this policy apply to frequent flyer miles accrued while traveling on sponsored funds?
Yes. The policy and the Minnesota statute refer to "public funds,” which include any funds received by the University from any source, including sponsored funds.
- Why don't miles accrue to a department or central University pool rather than to an individual?
Airlines will only issue mileage credits to individuals and not to corporate entities such as the University.
- If I have credits accrued on a specific airline, should I give a preference to that airline over other airlines in order to maximize the likelihood of earning a ticket for the University?
It depends on the cost of the ticket. Do not give preference to a specific airline if the ticket costs more than a ticket on a non-membership airline.
- Can another University traveler use a ticket if I have accrued enough miles for it?
Yes. The traveler who earned the points may redeem them for a ticket in another University traveler's name. The individual who has accrued the miles may contact the airlines and arrange a ticket in another individual's name for the purpose of University business.
- If I use my own personal frequent flyer miles to purchase a ticket for University business, can I be compensated/reimbursed?
No. The University will not compensate/reimburse employees or non-employees for use of personal frequent flyer miles.
- Does the University monitor compliance with this policy?
Yes. Travel by individuals is subject to review or audit. By virtue of Minnesota statute, the University "owns" frequent flyer credits/benefits awarded when University funds are used to pay for an employee's airline ticket. As such, using these credits for personal or non-University use is akin to any other misappropriation of University funds or property, and may subject an employee to discipline, up to and including termination. Repayment of funds may also be required based on fair market value. In addition, converting frequent flyer miles earned through a ticket purchased with University funds for personal use may subject an employee to civil or criminal prosecution under Minnesota law. In such cases, employees may not be eligible for defense and indemnification under Board of Regents Policy: Legal Defense and Indemnification of Employees, which precludes coverage when an employee has reasonable cause to believe that their own conduct was unlawful.
Fly America Act
- What is the Fly America Act and when can I use other carriers?
According to federal regulations, if you travel using federal project funds, you must use a U.S. flag air carrier if service provided by such a carrier is "available." This rule applies to air transportation to, from, between, or within a country other than the U.S. Under the law, U.S. flag air carrier service is considered "available" even if:
- Comparable or a different kind of service can be provided at less cost by a foreign-flag air carrier;
- Foreign flag air carrier service is preferred or is more convenient;
- Service by a foreign flag air carrier can be paid for in excess foreign currency.
For more information, refer to the University of Minnesota Travel Services Fly America Act Regulations website.
- Who can sign a contract using a vacation rental (for example, Airbnb or VRBO)?
If the contract is in the traveler's name, the traveler is responsible for signing the contract as assumes responsibility for the rental. If the contract is in the name of the Regents of the University of Minnesota, then it must be signed by someone granted "FN04, Purchase of goods and standard services up to $49,999" level authority for the DeptID being charged. Delegations are listed in the Delegation of Authority library.
Meals & Incidentals
- Where are the per diem rates located?
Location of Travel Per Diem Rates Domestic Travel U.S. General Services Administration (GSA)
Hawaii and Alaska
- The University uses the Maximum Lodging, Local Meals and Local Incidentals.
Department of Defense International Travel U.S. Department of State
- What amount do I use if I cannot find my destination city on the website – (for Domestic & International)?
Use the "Other" rate provided.
- The per diem sites mention incidentals. Is that amount included in the daily meal per diem total and can I claim it – (for Domestic & International)?
The Meals and Incidental Expenses (M&IE) rate table lists a separate amount for incidental expenses. Travelers can claim this amount for each day of travel for domestic and international travel.
- The conference includes a continental breakfast (rolls, juice, coffee, etc.). Can I eat a full breakfast elsewhere and claim the per diem?
No, unless there is a business or health or religious reason for an alternate meal.
- Are there limitations on how to spend the per diem?
The purpose of per diem is to reimburse employees a flat rate for travel related meal expenses. Broad discretion is granted to travelers on how and where the per diem is spent. However, the University will not reimburse for documented alcohol expenses.
- While campuses, colleges, and departments may not establish policies different from the University's policy, can travelers claim less than the per diem?
At the traveler's discretion, they may choose to claim less than the per diem allowed.
- An employee travels for University business from Sunday to Wednesday and personal travel from Wednesday to Sunday. What days do we reimburse meal per diems and how much?
The employee would be reimbursed 75% of the meal per diem for Sunday and Wednesday (their first and last days of business travel) and full per diem for Monday and Tuesday.
- The travel arrived home at 1am in the morning. What do they get per diem for that day?
The last day of travel is when the traveler arrives at home or place of work, regardless of the time that they arrive there. So if a traveler arrives home at 12:45am local time on Wednesday, their official last day of travel is Wednesday. They are then allowed up to 75% of Wednesday meal per diem. If the travel chooses to not take any per diem that day, they would still get 100% per diem for Tuesday.