Travel & Entertainment Policy

Statement and Purpose

Table of Contents

Each department on campus is responsible for making its own travel arrangements. All University travel must have supervisory approval prior to securing airfare, hotel accommodations, car rental, conference registration, etc. Travel expenditures in excess of $5,000 will follow the purchase order process described in the previous section prior to finalizing arrangements. Departments planning travel arrangements in excess of $5,000 must complete a purchase requisition form detailing the arrangements and itinerary and forward it to the PD for approval. The PD provides quick turnaround on travel-related requests since these arrangements are often time-sensitive (see PO process section for detailed instructions).

In general, the policies for travel expenditures follow other purchasing policies. This is one area, however, that falls under greater IRS scrutiny and requirements for expense reimbursements. Purchases made through the University payment process (where SPU pays the vendor directly) follow the same policies as other University expenditures. Expenditures made via a University bankcard or personal funds and then submitted on an expense reimbursement require specific documentation and substantiation (see Business Expense Policy). In addition, the University has set standards related to business travel. This section will explain the general policy and University standards. Specific requirements for expense reimbursement and bankcard reclassifications are addressed in the Business Expense Policy section, along with the underlying IRS regulations.

Entities Affected By This Policy

All University faculty and staff.

Policy Version: 1.1

Responsible Office: Financial Affairs
Responsible Executive:
  Assistant Vice President for Financial Affairs

Effective Date: December 8, 2017
Last Updated:  January 27, 2019

Approval Expectations

The approval process for University travel really begins as part of each department’s operational planning for the year. The University expects the overall planning process to reflect the fact that professional development and operational travel are part of a department’s ongoing operations and personnel development.

To support this philosophy, many VP areas have allocated professional development and operational travel resources out to the departmental level (versus being centralized at the VP level). To further support this philosophy, travel policies and procedures grant the dean and director level more ability to utilize these resources.

While the University expects professional development and operational travel to be part of each department’s planning process and therefore have supervisory approval, the payments department will no longer verify this supervisory approval during the purchase/payment process. Individual departments can have their own internal approval requirements and processes, but the payments department will not be able to verify compliance. (Reimbursement for travel and entertainment still requires a supervisor’s approval. See Business Expense Policy.)

Documentation Requirements

All credit card reclasses or reimbursement requests for travel must include original, itemized receipts for expenditures. If a transaction is under $50 and a receipt is difficult to obtain, it is allowable to document the expense and note the lack of receipt. The IRS requires all expense reimbursements (including purchasing card documentation) to provide substantiation of the expenses by adequate records that include the following:

  • Amounts
  • Date
  • Place
  • Business purpose
  • Person(s) entertained
  • Business relationship of person(s) entertained
  • Presence of employee requesting reimbursement

Conference Agendas--For travel that is conference related, a conference agenda must be submitted as part of the documentation.

Spousal Travel--The University does not reimburse for spousal travel unless it is pre-approved by their VP with a valid business purpose. Spousal travel reimbursement is a targeted hot topic for the IRS.

Administrative approval is required for all reimbursements. Generally, the employee’s supervisor (including VPs), who has budget authority, approves the request for reimbursement. Supervisors approving these expenses attest to the business purpose of the entertainment or travel, as well as the propriety and reasonableness of the expenses. The Director of Finance and Controller has been instructed to refer any unusual charges or amounts in excess of University thresholds to the area vice president for review and approval or to the vice president for Business and Planning or the president, if appropriate.

Air Travel

We recommend that travelers arrange to have all airfare charges placed on one of their departmental purchasing cards. Travelers should note that the University will not reimburse any airfare purchased with personal funds until the related travel is completed. We highly recommend departments continue to utilize the following two travel agencies:

  • TMA Incorporated
    4626 NE 174th Place
    Seattle, WA 98155 

    Contact: Steve Danishek (206) 363-2523

  • Northwest Navigant
    1201 Third Avenue, Suite 1800
    Seattle, WA 98101

    Contact: Deborah Muser-Dolen (206) 676-4900

These agencies assure us they will make every effort to book reservations at the most economical rates available. Internet websites, such as Expedia, are also okay to use. Airfares should be booked for the standard coach fare. See the Business Expense Policy for specific documentation requirements for air travel purchases on purchasing cards or through the use of personal funds.

Booking Airfare (under $5,000)

  • Use one of the two University travel agent offices to book coach airfare, or use a discount internet website.
  • Use a University purchasing card to pay for airfare charges.
  • The use of personal funds is discouraged. The University will not reimburse any airfare purchased with personal funds until the related travel is completed.

Extending Travel Beyond Business

  • The University covers only the round-trip (to and from the destination) cost of the direct destination.
  • The University covers the cost of either the direct destination flight or the stopover flight—whichever is lower.
  • Any additional costs related to a personal extension of a business trip must be reimbursed to the University at the time the University pays for the expense or when the ticket is issued.
  • Care should be taken to document any departures from the direct destination routes, including the standard round-trip airfare without the extension. Written documentation is required.
  • The travel agent booking your arrangements will provide this information upon request.


  • Book accommodations directly with the hotel if the travel is related to a conference. (Hotels often give rate reductions for conference-related stays.)
  • Use one of the two University travel agencies to book accommodations for travel other than for conferences.
  • Use a University purchasing card to pay for charges, or use a request for payment form to have the PD issue a check.
  • Collect itemized receipts for lodging if using a purchasing card or personal funds.
  • Document (at the time of expenditure) the amount, date and duration, place, and business purpose.
  • Please note that our preferred hotel vendor for the Seattle area is Courtyard Marriott:

Courtyard Marriot (Seattle Downtown/Lake Union)
925 Westlake Ave N 
Seattle, WA 98109 
Telephone (206) 478-6003
Fax (206) 213-0101 
Account Manager: David Baisch

Car Rental

Travelers who are renting cars for a portion of their business trip should contact the PD to receive copies of the University’s insurance card. University liability insurance covers travelers on business trips while they are driving rental cars. Therefore, do not accept the rental agency’s additional insurance coverageThe University standard for rental cars is the compact class.

Car Rental Guidelines

  • Book rental car reservations directly with the rental agency (or University travel agency) at the same time as other travel arrangements.
  • Check with the payments department for any special corporate rates.
  • If booking directly with the rental agency, ask if there are any specials in the destination town.
  • Rental car charges are paid via a University purchasing card when the car is returned.
  • Collect itemized receipts and document the business purpose of the expense.
  • Choose from the compact class, which is the University standard for rental cars.
  • Decline the rental agency’s insurance coverage because the University’s own liability insurance covers travelers on business trips while they are driving rental cars. Obtain an insurance card from SPU's risk management and insurance specialist before you leave on your trip.
  • Check the rental car for damage when you pick up the car prior to leaving the lot. This prevents the University from being charged for preexisting damage.
  • Refuel cars prior to returning them to the agency. Many agencies assess excessive refueling charges to cars that are returned less than full.

Meals and Incidentals

Choose one option:

Actual Expenditures

  1. Obtain and keep original, itemized receipts. If a transaction is under $50 and a receipt is difficult to obtain, it is allowable to document the expense and note the lack of receipt.
  2. Document (at the time of expenditure) amount, date, place, business purpose, person(s) entertained, relationship of person(s) entertained, and presence of yourself.
  3. Report spending via a request for reimbursement (use of personal funds) or reclassification envelope (purchasing card).
  4. Verify spending levels per person (both local and traveling) were not exceeded, or provide explanation and VP approval.
  5. The University does not reimburse for alcohol.

University guidelines for meals are listed below. (Requests in excess of these guideline amounts must include a justification for the excess and VP approval.) The University does have an alcohol use policy and does not reimburse for alcohol use.

a. Breakfast$12
b. Lunch$18
c. Dinner$36

Per Diem Alternative

Under a per diem allowance method, an employee receives a per diem allowance in lieu of reimbursement for actual expenses for meals and incidentals incurred for travel away from home. Incidentals are defined as items, other than meals and lodging, like snacks, taxis and tips. The advantage in using the per diem method is that it eliminates much of the recordkeeping that is usually associated with away-from-home travel expense. The per diem amount must be substantiated by recording the names of people included in the per diem calculation for each calendar day, the locality of travel and the business purpose of travel. The University per diem rate is $30 per day, or an employee can use the IRS per diem rate by locality (select the state and city in which you will be attending the conference). IRS international rates are also available. Individual areas that have traveling student groups can set their own per diem rate as long as it is no more than $30 per day.

For the per diem option . . .

  1. Submit any related conference agendas.
  2. Document (at the time of expenditure) date, place, business purpose, person(s) entertained, relationship of person(s) entertained, and presence of yourself.
  3. Report per diem amount per day.

Day Trips

The University does not reimburse for meals or incidentals occurred on one-day (no overnight) trips. The IRS does not view reimbursements for meals on one-day trips as an allowable expense. In order for any meal expense to be allowable as a deductible/reimbursable travel expense, it must occur as a result of a trip lasting substantially longer than an ordinary day’s work. In other words, meals that an individual may purchase while traveling between locations without an overnight stay or while at a local seminar are not reimbursable. The tax code treats any reimbursements received for this type of meal as taxable income to the individual. This does not refer to or include reimbursements or expenditures for meals with a specific, substantiated business purpose. A substantiated business purpose in this circumstance includes lunches where business is the main topic or purpose of the meeting. In light of this IRS position, the University will not reimburse or pay for any meals as a result of a one-day trip unless there is a clear, substantiated business purpose.


The University reimburses employees for local business transportation expenses using the standard mileage allowance. The standard mileage rate generally changes on January 1 of each year. Business miles driven between January 1, 2023, and December 31, 2023, will be reimbursed at 65.5 cents per mile. Business miles driven between July 1, 2022, and December 31, 2022, will be reimbursed at 62.5 cents per mile. Adequate accounting for business miles requires the employee to substantiate the time, place (or use) and business purpose of the travel. Local transportation includes travel from one job to another, from one customer to another, and from the individual’s office in order to perform business tasks. Commuting expenses between an employee’s residence and a business location are not reimbursable. The mileage allowance rate is determined by the IRS and is meant to cover gas, use of the vehicle, wear and tear on the vehicle, insurance, and maintenance. As a result, these items are not reimbursable.

Mileage Documentation

  1. Record starting and ending destination and total miles traveled.
  2. Document (at the time of expenditure) the date and the business purpose of travel.

Mileage for Temporary Work Locations

Some faculty positions at SPU require persons to do all or most of their work off of the main campus. SPU remains their primary place of business, but they spend a majority of their time at a temporary worksite. The mileage from your home to those worksites is fully reimbursable. If during the day your trip brings you to SPU, you will need to use example (A) below to calculate your mileage.

Example A: What if I travel from home to a remote job site and then to SPU?
The IRS wants to make sure that commute miles are not included, so they have set up a formula for this situation. Calculate the mileage from home to site to SPU. Then calculate the mileage from SPU to site to SPU. The lower mileage calculation is the amount to be claimed as reimbursable.

Example B: What if I travel from home to a remote job site then back home?
If your home is your primary place of business then you can report mileage from home to site to home. If not, you must follow the same steps as in the above example. Calculate the mileage from home to site to home and compare the mileage from SPU to site to SPU. Whichever is smaller is the amount that’s reimbursable.

Relocation Assistance

HR hiring procedures describe the guidelines for receiving relocation assistance.

You need to be aware that certain types of moving expenses, and the lack of documentation for qualified moving expenses, trigger tax implications. Please observe the following guidelines to minimize this potential taxation.

Know that . . .

  • The relocation assistance is ultimately your resource to keep, whether it is tax deductible or not. The monies can be used for anything you choose to. It is intended to help make your move less of a financial burden.
  • The IRS considers certain expenses as taxable in nature. These items include food costs, house hunting trips and temporary transitional housing, to name a few.
  • The IRS does consider all other costs for moving your possessions from one place to another as tax deductible expenses if you are moving a distance of 50 miles or greater. For a detailed IRS list and official IRS documentation, visit the IRS website.
  • You need to keep detailed records of your expenses. These must be original receipts. A credit card statement is not considered acceptable documentation. You also need to keep documentation on the mileage driven. Moving allowance documentation forms are available in the Finance Office's downloadable forms directory.
  • It is important for you to submit your documentation, along with a reconciliation of your expenses, within a month after you move. If we do not hear from you, we will need to include 100% of these monies as taxable income on your payroll check. There will be taxes withheld on that amount and you will need to then deduct these expenses on your own personal tax return. The big disadvantage to this is that your check will be reduced and you will not receive the benefit of exemption from your Social Security taxes.
  • If you have any questions or concerns, please call the Director of Finance and Controller or the payments lead. They would be very happy to help you understand your responsibilities. The sooner the better for this conversation would be preferred.

Cell Phones

Information coming.

Definition of Terms

Please see our Policy Glossary for definitions of terms used in this policy.

Related Policies and Procedures