Policy Notes: Air Travel

The University pays reasonable and necessary expenses incurred in the course of University-related business travel. For travel in excess of 200 miles, commercial air travel is generally the most economical and practical method. University payment for air travel requires prior approval by the appropriate authority, must be accomplished using the lowest available airfare, and must be properly documented.

For more information, read the Business and Travel Expense Reimbursement policy.

On this page:

Booking and Payment

Stanford Travel is the University's preferred travel management service for travelers and arrangers. Special Stanford-negotiated rates for air travel, car rental, and lodging can all be booked through Stanford Travel. Per Administrative Guide Policy 5.4.2: Business and Travel Expenses, use of Stanford Travel booking channels is expected, as it supports the guiding principle to spend appropriately, eliminates the administrative requirement to provide documentation demonstrating the expense is reasonable and also connects travel reservations to International SOS.

Stanford Travel Card is the university's preferred method of payment, but the same guidelines must be followed in the case of reimbursement payment to the traveler.

Traveling on Sponsored Awards

The Fly America Act requires all flights charged to federal awards be booked with U.S. flag air carriers. Learn more about the Fly America Act and Open Skies Exceptions.

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Class of Fare

The University pays for air travel in coach / economy class for all domestic and most international flights. Business class is permissible for international flights with duration of eight hours or more (including connecting domestic legs, provided there are no layovers). Other classes of travel may be allowed based on documented medical needs. Prior approval for other classes of travel must be obtained from the Business Expense Department. To request a medical waiver, send a secure email to the Director of Business Expense. Do not include confidential medical information per HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) in the contents of the email.

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Lowest Available Airfare

Travelers are allowed, subject to appropriate approval, to choose their dates and times of travel, as well as their desired origin and destination airports.

Reimbursement is based on fares meeting the following criteria:

  • If charged to a U.S. Government contract or grant, it must be booked on a U.S. carrier per the requirements of the Fly America Act and Open Skies Exceptions.
  • Flight is typically a non-refundable, restricted coach or economy fare that may involve change penalties. See requirements for Class of Fare.
  • Route between origin and destination is the most direct and frequently traveled (i.e., no circuitous routing).
  • Departure and arrival times are within one hour in either direction of the traveler's desired travel times.
  • Itinerary does not require overnight stays beyond the traveler's requested dates of travel.
  • Itinerary may include nonstop flights if requested by the traveler.
  • Itinerary cannot include charter flights.
  • Reimbursable cost may include Ancillary Airline Fees.

Exceeding the Lowest Fare

Reimbursement is based on the lowest fare, which is benchmarked through Stanford Travel. If a traveler incurs charges in excess of the lowest available airfare, the excess, up to the maximum approved and authorized for university payment, must be charged to an unallowable expenditure type and an appropriate unrestricted PTA (account). If documentation of lowest available airfare is not available for a business class trip, one-third of the cost will be charged to an allowable expenditure type and the remaining two-thirds to an unallowable expenditure type and an unrestricted account/activity. For more information on allowability, see Administrative Guide 3.1.4: Cost Policy.

Proof of Lowest Fare

Stanford Travel offers Stanford-negotiated airfares, which are used as the benchmark when determining the lowest available fare. Airfare booked through Stanford Travel is automatically validated to ensure that it was the lowest available airfare under Stanford policy and does not require additional documentation demonstrating proof of lowest fare.

Airfare booked directly with an airline program or travel agency not associated with Stanford Travel is subject to verification against Stanford Travel's negotiated rates. The expense report must include an attachment documenting proof of lowest fare. The proof of lowest fare documentation is most often in the form of a screenshot of Stanford Travel results taken the same day of booking. The screenshot must visibly note the time and date of the search, include a broad set of search results (e.g., all applicable carriers) and should display the same fare class parameters (e.g., coach, non-refundable). See How To: Document a Flight Comparison.

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Ancillary Airline Fees

The University pays for certain ancillary airline fees, including early boarding, pre-assigned seats, extended legroom, preferred seat location, checked and carry-on baggage fees, in-flight meals, and in-flight Wi-Fi service. Expenditures for these fees must be reasonable and prudent and must be properly documented. Global Entry and TSA PreCheck fees are not reimbursable. See Documentation of Expenses.

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Indirect Routes

If, for other than University business, the traveler takes an indirect route or interrupts a direct route, payment for airfare will be at either the actual charge or the charge that would have been incurred by traveling the direct route by the most economical means, whichever is less. The charge that would have been incurred as the lowest available airfare for a direct route must be documented, at the time of booking the actual flight, with a screen shot of relevant fares available at the time of booking (e.g., the screen display from an online airfare search engine).

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Change Penalties

If a ticket has to be changed and a penalty is incurred, the traveler may request payment from the University for the penalty. The penalty may be an allowable charge to a sponsored project. When trips must be cancelled, travelers are encouraged to rebook tickets for travel at a later date whenever possible. Travelers may wish to request payment for tickets to be used later by requesting an Advance in the Expense Requests system. See How To: Create Advance Request.

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Unused Airline Tickets

Travelers are encouraged to rebook unused tickets whenever possible. If it is not possible to use the ticket through rebooking, it may nevertheless be payable with proper documentation. An unused ticket affidavit must be completed and submitted in Expense Requests with an expense report. Unused tickets should be charged to an unrestricted account (PTA).

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Travel Expenses of Spouse or Other Traveling Companion

In general, the expenses of a spouse, family member, or other person accompanying the business traveler are not payable. Such expenses are only payable if the accompanying person has a position with the University and is traveling to make a significant contribution in furtherance of University business.

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Documentation of Expenses

Expense reports with the relevant supporting documents attached must be completed for all travel expenses paid by the university. For airfare, an itinerary, invoice, ticket or receipt (including printouts of electronic versions of these documents) that shows proof of payment (e.g., card being charged) must be included when reporting airfare expense. The receipt for airfare must be attached to the airfare expense line in an Expense Report via the Expense Requests system. See demo on attaching supporting documents (screenshots to be updated) .

Provided documents must include all the following information, or the request will be returned:

  • Dates of travel
  • Time of departure
  • Flight numbers
  • Class of service
  • Fare basis
  • Ticket number or confirmation code
  • Cost of ticket
  • Proof of payment.

Ancillary Airline Fees must be itemized separately and documented with appropriate receipts or equivalent backup. The university does not require receipts for expenditures under $75; however, schools and departments may.

When air travel is booked using a method other than Stanford Travel or when it includes an Indirect Route, additional documentation must be provided. See information in the Proof of Lowest Fare section on this page for a description of the documentation needed to substantiate the use of lowest available fare compared to Stanford Travel in the first case, or the lowest available fare for a direct route, in the second case.

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Piloting a Private Aircraft

The University officers listed below, or their designees, may authorize faculty and employees to pilot aircraft for travel on University business provided that the director of Risk Management has been contacted to ensure proper documents and insurance are in place:

  • Deans of the seven schools
  • Vice Provost and Dean of Research
  • Vice Provost for Graduate Education
  • Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education
  • Director of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center
  • Director of the Hoover Institution
  • Vice President of the administrative area

Payment will be based on the actual operating expenses, including any rental fee for the aircraft, or the private aircraft mileage rate, up to a maximum amount not to exceed the lowest available commercial airfare that would be payable for the same trip. The charge that would have been incurred as the lowest available commercial fare must be documented, within two business days of initial approval of the air travel, with a screen shot of relevant fares available at the time of booking (e.g., the screen display from an online airfare search engine). If post-travel dated airfare comparison is submitted as backup, Travel and Reimbursement auditors 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 / pilot. When the private aircraft mileage rate is used, any additional flight expenses, such as tie down fees, will not be paid, as those costs are already included in the rate calculation. Expense reports for use of private aircraft must show the type of aircraft and number of hours flown. When two or more people travel together in a private aircraft on University business, the calculation of maximum amount payable is the product of lowest available airfare for a single traveler times the number of people traveling but reimbursement is payable only to the pilot.

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Chartered Aircraft

Stanford business trips using chartered aircraft services must be arranged through the Contracts group in Procurement. A requisition must be approved (see Approval Authority) and submitted to this department which will be responsible for procuring the necessary services. The Purchasing and Contracts Department must review and approve any contract or agreement with the service provider prior to using chartered aircraft services.

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Exceptions to the University's Travel Policies

It is expected that there will be no exceptions to the University's Air Travel Policies, which are designed to assure compliance with all legal and governmental requirements. Any request for exception based on extraordinary circumstances must be approved, in advance of the travel, by the Provost.

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