- 9.1 Preparing for a college-related trip
- 9.2 Travel by car
- 9.3 Travel by air
- 9.4 Lodging
- 9.5 Food
- 9.6 Rental cars
- 9.7 Reimbursement
- 9.8 Summary
Houghton College recognizes the importance of efficient, economical, safe and reliable arrangements for those who travel on college-sponsored activities. The following policies were created with those characteristics in mind. That said, a particular college group or department should feel free to institute more detailed parameters to effect improved economy and/or safety for a specific trip(s). The resources conserved by careful management of travel allow more employees to benefit from travel opportunities and, ultimately, save the college money.
A. Planning Ahead
Ideally, reservations for domestic airfare, lodging, and car rental should be made at least 21 days before departure. This helps to maximize savings opportunities and ensure availability of cars and rooms. Similarly, international travel arrangements may require 60-90 day advance preparation. Planning ahead can assist in determining if the trip can be shared with another college employee and whether savings for lodging and/or car rental, etc. can be realized.
B. Using the Internet
Web sites like Orbitz, Expedia, and Travelocity often provide lower fares than those available through traditional travel agents. Choose a site that does not assess additional booking fees. Specific airline sites (Southwest, Air Tran) may offer fares not found in other locations. In general, the college does not support the use of travel agents for anything other than group or international travel.
C. Spouse/children inclusion
Some college travel may facilitate a spouse accompanying the employee. If the spouse assists the traveler in carrying out his or her primary requirements for the trip, the spouse may, with a supervisor’s permission, accompany the traveler at college expense. Absent such “primary assistance” to the traveler, the incremental cost of a spouse’s travel is charged to the traveler personally. As a general rule, children of employees are not to accompany their parents on college business. If they do, the college cannot reimburse their expenses.
If the employee will be away overnight, it may be helpful to obtain a cash advance before leaving. Cash advances may be obtained at the bank, with proper form, supervisor signature and approval by the Accounting Department. Such approval is subject to guidelines for cash reimbursement outlined below, including the need to present the advance request to Accounting before 4PM to be able to collect the advance at the bank by 9:30 AM the next day. Keeping receipts and documenting meal participants, purposes and destinations is very important when accounting for advances. A new (second) advance will not be provided while an unreconciled advance remains outstanding. Plan to reconcile all advances within two days of your return from a trip.
A. College fleet
The college maintains a fleet of various late-model cars to suit the needs of those traveling while on college business. A car is reserved by calling the Conference Office (x6470) or by e-mailing “college fleet”. For trips greater than one day in length, it is wise to make a reservation at least one week before departure. Leaving a car at the airport for more than five days may limit availability of cars for other travelers. If such an extended trip is anticipated, use of a personal car or arranging to be dropped off and picked up is advised.
Each college car has a packet that contains the NYS registration, insurance card, mileage card, accident report form and a MasterCard. The MasterCard is for gas or emergency auto repair only and is NOT to be used for any other travel expenses. Filling the car up with gas is a necessary courtesy for the next driver. Completing the mileage card also saves fleet administrators time and frustration
B. Personal car usage
Employee vehicles can be used for college business if a college car is unavailable or, as identified in II A above, one has to park a car for an extended period of time. Otherwise, it is expected that travel for Houghton College will be accomplished by a college fleet vehicle. The College also allows employees to use personal cars if a reimbursement will not be requested. If a personal car is used, the employee’s insurance will be considered primary, with the non-owned auto component of the college insurance policy coming into play after individual insurance has been exhausted. The current reimbursement rate for personal car usage can be obtained from the Accounting Office.
C. Safety considerations
Drive with care, recognizing your limitations. Schedule trips to avoid extended late night travel. While it may seem obvious, mapping out routes prior to leaving is advised. At a minimum, this ensures that maps needed for the trip have been secured. Driving aggressively or speeding is unacceptable. The Houghton logo should convey a positive witness. Drivers will be responsible for all moving violations and parking tickets incurred while on college business or while driving a college vehicle.
A. Restricted versus unrestricted fares
“Non-refundable” tickets are often the most economical. Changing such a ticket, however, can be expensive, with fees up to $100. It is thus recommended that restricted fares be used judiciously, when one has confidence that the trip will come off. Certain carriers, most notably Southwest, do not have fare restrictions. Use such carriers as much as feasible. Jet Blue is also an economical and flexible carrier.
B. Class of ticket
College travelers are expected to fly using the most economical class of seats. Typically this is designated as “coach” or “economy”. A traveler who uses coupons or frequent flier miles to upgrade a seat may do so, as long as the cost of travel is not increased as a result. If the traveler is not comfortable flying in a prop plane, he or she will be allowed to travel using jets only by presenting to his or her supervisor a comparison of cost between a prop flight and a jet for the same destination. The supervisor must then approve the reservation before the ticket is purchased. This process is necessary because the cost differential could be substantial, prompting the supervisor to consider another traveler for the trip.
C. Frequent flier program participation
While personal membership in frequent flier programs is encouraged and the traveler may retain awards personally, accumulating miles on one airline does not merit overpaying for a ticket. In general, fliers are to book the most economical fare, even if it requires an additional change of planes or it precludes receipt of frequent flier miles. Many hotels post frequent flier miles as well. Again, paying more for a frequent flier mileage hotel is not considered appropriate.
D. Booking flights
Often the airlines themselves offer better fares than other providers, including travel agents. Consider using one of the Internet sites listed in I. B. above to gather information about flight times and costs. Then, to book the flight and possibly avoid a booking fee, go to the specific airline’s site. If the trip is for an extended period of time and flexibility exists as to the specific time of departure and return, consider bidding for the flight cost using priceline.com or economytravel.com. The off-campus programs office may be helpful for you in determining the best resource to use.
E. Travel to and from the airport
A college car should be used to get to and from the airport. It is acceptable to leave the college car in paid parking during your trip if trip length is no more than five days. Otherwise, it is acceptable to use a personal vehicle or to have someone drop you off and pick you up at the airport. The traveler should park in a safe location, with competitive daily rates. One option is a “Park and Fly” arrangement available at the Sleep Inn and other hotels near the Buffalo airport, and the Comfort Inn near the Rochester airport. Should one be booked on an early flight out of Buffalo or Rochester, it may pay to stay at a Sleep Inn or comfort Inn the night before and park the car at the hotel for free during the trip.
A. Finding the best rates
Many hotels/motels offer special Internet rates, as well as discounted rates for AARP and AAA members (if the traveler is a member of these organizations). Discounts for colleges and universities (known as E&I rates) are available through the Administrative Services Office (x3300). Sometimes one can use Priceline.com or Hotwire.com to bid for a low hotel rate. Travelers are encouraged to be creative in finding the lowest rate possible whenever traveling on college business.
B. Acceptable brand names
The college would like its employees to be safe and comfortable when traveling, and this applies to hotel choices as well. Brand names such as Hampton Inn, Choice Hotels (Comfort Inn, Sleep Inn, etc.) and Fairfield Inn usually offer reasonable prices and comfortable rooms. In addition, these chains often include a continental breakfast in the price of a room, allow for efficient on-line booking, and offer frequent traveler programs/upgrades. Less expensive chains should be avoided for safety reasons and more expensive chains should be avoided as well unless special rates are in effect (but be sure to consider hidden costs like parking fees at downtown hotels when deciding what kind of rate is "special.")
Often, it is more convenient to stay in a hotel that hosts a conference to be attended by the traveler. This is acceptable, even though the rates for lodging may exceed normal amounts. As an alternative, the traveler may wish to evaluate the cost of staying elsewhere and renting a car to get to and from the conference. By doing so, the trip could be more productive and cost-effective. Another possibility involves exploring sharing a room with a colleague from another institution who is attending the same conference; by sharing a room both colleges benefit and the employees may enjoy additional fellowship.
D. Sharing rooms
The college does not require its employees to share rooms with each other. Sometimes sharing a room with another faculty or staff member is acceptable to both parties and can save budgetary money for travelers. It is generally inappropriate for employees to share rooms with students. It is also unacceptable for members of the opposite sex to share a room, unless they are married to each other.
E. Safety considerations
The safety of college employees and guests is of utmost concern. Travelers should thus consider the following when choosing lodging options:
1. Interior hallways tend to be safer than exterior ones
2. Should a desk clerk announce your room number within earshot of another guest, request another room assignment.
3. If you’re unfamiliar with the area where you are staying, ask a veteran traveler from the college staff (advancement, admission, athletics, etc.).
4. Saving $20 per night on a room should not result in a thirty-mile drive in heavy traffic every day. Economy and convenience should be carefully weighed when choosing a hotel.
Your department will probably assign cost parameters for meals. Normally, budgetary constraints will dictate that which is possible and reasonable for a particular trip. The College expects, absent word to the contrary, that the cost of two meals per day should approximate what a fast-service restaurant charges. It is also expected that one meal, (typically dinner) will cost more. Applying this standard means that, breakfast should not exceed six dollars, lunch nine dollars and dinner fifteen dollars, yielding a $30 per day guideline for meals while away from home overnight. Again, certain department parameters may limit these amounts and specific entertainment requirements may add to them. Whatever the situation, the per diem guideline will not automatically be given to the traveler. Receipts are necessary in all cases.
Internet reservations are usually the most efficient and economical way to reserve a rental car. As a member of E & I Cooperative, the college receives discounts from National, Hertz, Budget, and Alamo. Coupons and discount cards are available upon request from the Administrative Services Office. AAA and E&I discounts should be used wherever possible to obtain the lowest rate for a car. With fleets sometimes reduced, planning early is important to ensure availability of vehicles.
B. Approved car classes
An intermediate sedan is typically sufficient for the needs of college travelers. Unless a compelling reason exists to rent a more expensive car, the additional cost of an SUV, luxury or sports car may have to be borne personally by the traveler.
Decline the additional insurance coverage. In the event of an accident involving a rental car, please notify the Chief Business Officer as soon as possible. Always plan to fill the car up with gas prior to your return. Should your trip be of sufficient length, you might opt to prepay for a tank of gas to save money and extra effort at the time of return.
A. Qualified expenses
Only legitimate expenses, incurred while traveling on behalf of the college are reimbursable. For meals, non-taxable reimbursement is available for an employee in two cases: First, the employee is away from home overnight on college-related travel. Second, the employee is entertaining another person for college purposes and the other person is either not an employee of the college or, if a college employee is not a peer of the employee. In other words, there should be some difference in position within the college for the meal of two employees to be reimbursable on a non-taxable basis.
Guidelines for taxable reimbursement are put forth by the Financial Affairs Council from time to time. Such reimbursements are limited to day-trips (not overnight) by employees for college business. Personal costs including souvenirs, entertainment for the primary benefit of the traveler, clothing, health and beauty aids are not to be charged to the college.
Documentation is required for all expenses to be reimbursed by the college. This Includes receipts, a statement of business purpose and the naming of those persons outside of the college (or at a different employment level within the college) who were entertained or fed. PLEASE COLLECT AND KEEP RECEIPTS!
C. Meal reimbursement requirements
The college, subject to documentation, can reimburse meals of the employee as long as the traveler is away from home, overnight. IRS requirements disallow tax-free reimbursement for meals the employee eats by himself or herself when traveling to and from a business destination within one day. The Financial Affairs Council has approved a policy for the treatment of such costs. The policy requires the entertainment of another person at each meal where reimbursement is requested for a trip that does not involve an overnight stay. Please refer to that policy for more specific guidance.
D. Expense reports
Use only approved college expense reports, completing them legibly, completely and honestly. Business purposes for each trip, along with the names of those entertained is important. Reports are to be signed by the traveler and supervisor. They must also be signed by the Accounting Department prior to reimbursement. As a rule, Accounting will not sign them on the spot but allows reports submitted by 4PM to be reimbursed at the bank by 9:30 AM the next day. Reimbursement by check is encouraged and may be required by accounting if the amount exceeds $500.
Expense reports must be submitted within 60 days or any reimbursement will be treated as taxable to the employee and will be processed through payroll.
These policies and their associated guidelines are designed to assist travelers with the typical issues they may be confronted with while traveling for the college. Some departments may be more specific with travel policies to effect better economy and consistency. This is acceptable as long as such policies do not result in excess costs over the recommendations outlined herein.
In general, our travelers should reflect the reputation that Houghton College desires to convey to outsiders. We want our employees to be safe. We desire their transportation to be free from mechanical failures. A good night’s rest is important for our travelers, as is good food. These standards can be met or exceeded with lower cost providers who have a national reputation. It is this believed that, by following these policies, safety, convenience and economy can be maximized.