Official Travel Basics
The General Services Administration (GSA) is responsible for developing the policies and procedures regarding Federal employees who travel on official business. The Federal Travel Regulation (FTR) is the regulation found at 41 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Chapters 300 through 304 that implements statutory requirements and Executive branch policies for travel by Federal civilian employees and others authorized to travel at Government expense. Below is a list of frequently asked questions about official travel.
What travel expenses may an agency pay? An agency may pay or reimburse only those expenses essential to the transaction of official business, which include: (a) transportation expenses (as provided in FTR Part 301-10); (b) per diem expenses (as provided in FTR Part 301-11); (c) miscellaneous expenses (as provided in FTR Part 301-12); and (d) travel expenses of an employee with special needs (as provided in FTR Part 301-13) (see FTR §301-2.2).
Must an employee have authorization to travel? Yes, generally an employee must have written or electronic authorization prior to incurring any travel expenses.
What travel arrangements require authorization or approval prior to travel?
If not practicable or possible to obtain authorization prior to travel, the employee’s agency may approve a specific authorization for reimbursement of travel expenses after travel is completed. However, written or electronic advance authorization is required for certain expenses (see FTR §301-2.1). An employee must have a specific authorization or prior approval for: (a) use of other than coach-class service on common carrier transportation; (b) use of a foreign air carrier; (c) use of reduced fares for group or charter arrangements; (d) use of cash to pay for common carrier transportation; (e) use of extra-fare train service; (f) travel by ship; (g) use of a rental car; (h) use of a Government aircraft; (i) payment of a reduced per diem rate; (j) payment of actual expenses, unless your agency has issue a blanket actual expense authorization under §301-70.201; (k) travel expenses related to emergency travel; (l) transportation expenses related to threatened law enforcement/investigative employees and members of their families; (m) travel expenses related to travel to a foreign area; (n) acceptance of payment from a non-Federal source for travel expenses (see Chapter 304 of the FTR); (o) travel expenses related to attendance at a conference (see FTR §301-2.5); and (p) Due to an employee’s medical requirements or religious beliefs, payment of the full M&IE allowance even though meals are furnished by the Government either directly or through a registration fee or other payment for a conference or other event, in accordance with §301-11.18(b).
How must employees make travel arrangements? Employees must use their agencies’ E-Gov Travel Service (ETS) or Defense Travel System (DTS) to make travel arrangements. If the service is not yet available to the employing agency, its employees must use the existing internal Travel Management Service (TMS) to make travel arrangements (see FTR §301-50.3).
Are there any limits on travel arrangements employees may make?
(a) Common carrier accommodations:
(1) if the employee's agency is a mandatory user of GSA's city-pair contracts for air passenger transportation services, the employees must use the contract carrier, unless the employee has an approved exception (see § 301-10.107);
(2) employees are required to use coach class accommodations unless granted an exception under FTR §§301-10.123, 301-10.162 or 301-10.183; and
(b) Lodging accommodations:
(2) when selecting a commercial lodging facility, employees first consideration should be given to government lodging agreement programs such as FedRooms, all of which meet fire safety requirements. FedRooms benefits include:
(i) Lodging rates are set at or below per diem rates;
(ii) There are no add-on fees;
(iii) The room cancellation deadline is 4:00 p.m. (or later) on the day of arrival;
(iv) Most hotels offer last standard room availability rates;
(v) There are no early departure fees; and
(vi) Rates are available using all booking channels (e.g., E-Gov Travel Service, Travel Management Service, FedRooms website, and hotel reservation call centers). The FedRooms rate code (XVU) must be entered to get the program benefits
(c) Car rental accommodations: when authorized to use a rental vehicle under FTR §301-10.450, employees should rent a vehicle from a vendor that participates in the Defense Travel Management Office’s (DTMO) U.S. Government Car Rental Agreement, unless travel is OCONUS and no agreement is in place for the OCONUS TDY location. DTMO has negotiated rental car agreements that include automatic unlimited mileage, collision damage insurance, and ceiling rates (see FTR §301-10.450).
How must employees pay for official travel expenses? Employees are required to use the Government contractor-issued travel charge card for all official travel expenses unless granted an exemption (see FTR §301-51.1).
What official travel expenses and/or classes of employees are exempt from the mandatory use of the Government contractor-issued travel charge card? The Administrator of General Services exempts the following from the mandatory use of the Government contractor-issued travel charge card: (a) expenses incurred at a vendor that does not accept the Government contractor-issued travel charge card; (b) laundry/dry cleaning; (c) parking;
(d) transit system at TDY location; (e) taxi; (f) tips; (g) for meals when use of the card is impractical (e.g., group meals or the Government contractor-issued travel charge card is not accepted); (h) phone calls (when a Government calling card is available for use in accordance with agency policy); (i) an employee who has an application pending for the travel charge card; (j) individuals traveling on invitational travel; (k) new appointees; (l) relocation allowances prescribed in Chapter 302 of the FTR, except en-route travel and househunting trip expenses; and (m) employees who travel 5 times or less a year; however, even though exempt, agencies have the discretion to issue a travel charge card to such employees (see FTR §301-51.2).
What information must be provided in an employee's travel voucher/claim? Employees must provide the following:
(a) an itemized list of expenses and other information, as specified in the FTR (agencies may have additional requirements, as well), except: (1) an employee may aggregate expenses for telephone calls, transit system fares, and parking meter fees, except any individual expenses that cost over $75 must be listed separately; (2) when an employee is authorized lodgings-plus per diem, the employee must state the meals and incidental expense (M&IE) allowance on a daily basis; (3) when an employee is authorized a reduced per diem, the employee must state the reduced rate the agency authorized on a daily basis; and (4) when the agency limits M&IE reimbursement to the prescribed maximum M&IE for the locality concerned, the employee must state the reduced rate on a daily basis. Please note, however, that some agencies may or may not require itemization of M&IE when reimbursement is limited to either the maximum M&IE locality rate or a reduced M&IE rate is authorized;
(b) the type of leave and the number of hours of leave for each day;
(c) the date of arrival and departure from the TDY station and any non-duty points visited when the employee travels by an indirect route other than a stopover to change planes or embark/disembark passengers; and
(d) a signed statement, “I hereby assign to the United States any rights I may have against other parties in connection with any reimbursable carrier transportation charges described herein,” when the employee uses cash to pay for common carrier transportation (see FTR §301-52.2).
What must employees provide with their travel vouchers/claims? Employees must provide:
(a) evidence of the necessary travel authorizations including any necessary special authorizations; and
(b) receipts for:
(1) any lodging expense;
(2) any other expense that cost over $75. If it is impracticable to furnish receipts in any instance as required by the FTR, the failure to do so must be fully explained on the travel voucher. Mere inconvenience in the matter of taking receipts will not be considered; and
(3) receipts must be retained for 6 years and 3 months as prescribed by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) under General Records Schedule 6, paragraph number 1 (see FTR §301-52.4).
When must employees submit their travel claims/vouchers? Unless an employee’s agency administratively requires submission of travel claims/vouchers within a shorter timeframe, employees must submit travel claims/vouchers as follows:
(a) within 5 working days after completing a trip or period of travel; or
(b) every 30 days if the employee is in a continuous travel status (see FTR §301-52.7).
How should employees submit their travel claims/vouchers? As soon as the employee's agency fully deploys ETS, employees must use the ETS to file all travel claims/vouchers. If this service is not yet available to the employee's agency, employees must file their travel claims/vouchers in the format prescribed by their agencies. If the prescribed travel claim/voucher is in hardcopy, the claim/voucher must be signed in ink. Any alterations or erasures to hardcopy travel claims/vouchers must be initialed. If agencies have electronic processing, employees must use their agencies’ electronic signature where required (see FTR 301-52.3).