Policy Notes: Travel Meals

The University pays reasonable and necessary meal expenses incurred in the course of University-related travel. The primary purpose of a Travel meal is to defray the cost of meal expenses when traveling away from home for Stanford business. No additional justification is needed for a travel meal as long as it occurs within the travel period.

In contrast, the purpose of a business meal is to conduct University business with guests or other employees of the University. A business meal can occur while traveling, and is treated separately from a travel meal. Learn more about types of business meals on the Business Meal Policy page.

Learn more about Business and Travel Expense Reimbursement Policy.

On this page:

Preferred Payment Methods

Stanford Travel Card is the University's preferred method of payment for travel meals.

Whether you use a Stanford Travel Card or request reimbursement after using personal funds, the same guidelines must be followed for meal expenditures and documentation.

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Reimbursement Options

Stanford travelers may be reimbursed for actual meal expenses up to a daily maximum or be paid a per diem rate for meals. The method selected must be used for the entire trip. When using a sponsored award, Stanford travelers must use the Meals Per Diem option. Under the IRS accountable plan rules, non-Stanford travelers (including visitors) are reimbursed for actual travel expenditures up to the Daily Maximums as described below, regardless of the funding source.

Meals Per Diem

Stanford uses per diem rates recommended by the U.S. government to take advantage of governmental cost studies and to ensure general equity with grant and contract requirements. The per diem reimbursement method is required for Stanford travelers on trips using sponsored funds. When creating an expense report in the Expense Requests system, per diem rates are automatically calculated and applied based on the city visited. See Resources: Per Diem Rates.

Daily Maximum

The Travel Meal Daily Maximum allows Stanford travelers to be reimbursed for their actual expenses up to $75 a day for domestic trips, and $125 for international when traveling on non-sponsored funds. Non-Stanford travelers (visitors) must always be reimbursed through this option regardless of funding source. The reimbursement includes the cost of food (meals and snacks), tax, tip and any alcohol. Receipts are not required in Expense Requests System (ERS), unless there is an individual receipt that exceeds $75 (which would only apply to an international trip). This option is only for trips using non-sponsored funds. There are no exceptions above these limits.

Travel Meal Reimbursement Options Per Diem (Standard Option)
(Required for sponsored awards)
Daily Maximum Per Person (New Option)
Domestic GSA rate (varies by location) Actuals up to $75
International Dept. of State rate (varies by location) Actuals up to $125
Policy Details
Receipts No receipts required in Expense Requests System. Individual schools and units may require receipts Only required in Expense Requests System for individual receipts over $75. Individual schools and units may require receipts
Alcohol Cannot be charged to sponsored awards No longer need to itemize separately
Exceptions No exceptions No exceptions
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Deducting a Meal Provided by a Conference, Hotel, Meeting or Event

When a meal is provided as part of a conference, included in a hotel rate, or is part of an event or meeting where another party pays for the cost, a deduction must be made from the applicable reimbursement method. This includes when a business meal occurs while traveling.

Deducting a Provided Meal from Meal Per Diem

When reporting travel meal per diem expenses in the Expense Requests system, check boxes are provided to indicate meals included in conference registration fees or hotel rates. The system will automatically deduct the applicable per diem rate. The deductible amount varies based on the rate for the applicable city and may be found at the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) web site. Select the "M&IE (Meals and Incidental Expense) Breakdown" tab.

Deducting a Provided Meal from Travel Meal Daily Maximum

When reporting expenses with the travel meals daily maximum option, it's reasonable to use the following amounts to deduct the provided meal from the daily maximum.

If Conference / Event Provides: Deduct from Daily Maximum:
Breakfast Lunch Dinner
Domestic Trip
($75 daily maximum)
$15 $25 $35
Foreign Trip
($125 daily maximum)
$25 $35 $65
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Group Travel Meals

When a group of employees is traveling together and shares a meal, the best method to use for reimbursement is the Business Meal expense type. This way, a meal expense can be reimbursed to show the number of attendees. Group travel meals should adhere to the per person travel meal limits, which are significantly lower than Business Meal maximums. The meal would be expensed by one participant and the travel meal would be deducted from each of the attendees' expense report. For reasonable travel meal guidance for individual meals, please reference the Deducting a Meal information on this page.

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Non-Business Days

Weekends, holidays, and other necessary standby days may only be counted as business days if they fall between business travel days. If a traveler chooses to arrive early or to stay longer for non-business reasons, the University does not pay for expenses during additional personal days. The only exceptions are when travel is at a lower total cost if the traveler stays over a weekend or holiday, with department approval and/or when traveling more than 8 time zones, travelers may arrive one day ahead of the event (for example, the conference starts on Monday, it is ok to arrive on Sunday). The traveler must document the reason for this extra expense in order to support the non-business-day payment.

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Local Travel

Local travel is defined as less than 50 miles one way from Stanford or the traveler's residence, whichever is greater. Barring exceptional business reasons, the University does not pay for personal meals during local travel. A bona fide business meal is generally eligible for payment. Such meals should be reported as business meals, with number and names of attendees included.

If a trip exceeds the local travel limit but the traveler chooses not to stay overnight, personal meals will be eligible for payment. Per diem rates may not be used for local travel.

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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 relevant supporting documents attached must be completed for all expenses paid by the University. For expense reports that include meals, itemized receipts for meals costing greater than $75 must be provided. No receipts are required when per diem is claimed for meals.

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