Policy 201-Travel

Statement of Policy

The definition of travel status is the period during which a traveler is traveling on official University business outside the vicinity of his/her normal work (headquarter) location or residence. To ensure the University meets all applicable compliance requirements, travelers are expected to use UW funds and resources prudently, to understand and follow travel policies and to submit travel expense reimbursement requests in a timely manner. Travelers may not claim travel or related expenses for other travelers. When traveling together, each traveler must pay for their own travel expenses. Business travel expenses will be promptly reimbursed by the University when they are reasonable and necessary and they meet policy and compliance requirements. University travel policies are established through a system wide travel governance process. UW travel policies apply to all faculty, staff, students and non-employees traveling or using funds and/or resources administered by the University.

Note: NCAA funded travel has specific requirements, some of which may be less restrictive than University policies or rates. NCAA funded travel will be governed by NCAA policy.

Note: Sponsored projects (e.g. fund 144 or 133) are subject to the terms and conditions of the specific award, as well as applicable program guidelines, which may restrict use of funds for certain types of expenses.  Please contact the RSP accountant for your award with any questions.

Business Purpose

When using University funds or requesting a reimbursement from University funds, documentation of a clear business purpose is required so an approver, auditor, site manager, and/or post-payment auditor may reasonably conclude and agree the expenditure is an appropriate business expense. The business purpose, which is defined as one that supports or advances the goals, objectives and mission of the University, adequately describes the expense as a necessary, reasonable, and appropriate business expense for the University. All expenses must support a University business purpose.

Pre-Trip Approval

Pre-trip approval requirements vary by Division/Department. Travelers are expected to follow all internal travel approval procedures prior to making trip reservations. Travel reimbursement prior to employment, following employment contract end or while on extended leave (e.g. leave with/without pay, sabbatical, research) is not guaranteed and will need to be approved in advance of incurring costs.

Exceptions to Policy for Reasonable Accommodation Needs

The University understands the need to accommodate travelers with health issues or physical limitations in accordance with state and federal disability accommodation laws.  Accommodating the specific need(s) may result in incurring expenses that are normally outside of policy or rate limitations.  For policy exemptions, travelers who seek a disability-related travel accommodation should see https://oed.wisc.edu/disability-accommodation/ for information on the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Travel Rates

The University’s maximum travel rates and eligibility requirements are based upon the federal government’s rate tables, which vary by location and date of expense. Rates are established and periodically reviewed by the University’s system wide travel governance committee and are applicable for all travel and related activities when University funds and resources are used.  

The University travel rates will be uniformly and consistently applied for all who travel on University sponsored business, including non-employees and students. System institutions, schools, colleges, divisions or departments that desire more restrictive financial controls cannot limit or change prescribed travel rates, but may limit the overall University support for a trip or related business activity.
In rare circumstances, when travel must be purchased or paid for in accordance with external sponsor requirements, documentation supporting these exceptional requirements must be approved as an exception prior to payment.

For non-employees providing services under agreement or contract with the University, travel expenses must conform to University travel policies, rate maximums and receipt requirements. Travel expenses that do not conform to University requirements will not be paid as travel, but will be included as a fee for service. University employees who are responsible for making travel arrangements are charged with ensuring that non-employees adhere to the University’s travel policies.

Departure and Return

The traveler should determine the necessary date for arrival to allow sufficient time to prepare for the business to be conducted. Arrival on the day prior to a morning start time for an event is acceptable. When business is concluded early enough in the day to allow the traveler to return to their home at a reasonable hour (e.g. by 10:00 pm), it is expected the traveler will return that day.

University Requirements for an Accountable Plan

For travel reimbursements and payments to be considered non-taxable income, the University’s travel policies and operational standards must comply with the IRS Accountable Plan Rules. To be considered an “Accountable Plan,” an employer’s business expense reimbursement arrangement must meet the following conditions:

  • Reimbursements and advances provided to travelers under the plan must be for business related expenses only.
  • Advance payments must be reconciled within 30 days of the end of the business trip.
  • To be eligible for reimbursement:
    • Travel related expenses must be submitted with the required supporting documentation within 90 days from the end of the business trip.
    • Non-travel related expenses must be submitted with the required supporting documentation within 90 days of the date the expense was incurred.
    • Tuition Reimbursement must be submitted with the required supporting documentation within 90 days from the course end date.

For extenuating circumstances, Deans, Divisional Dean’s Office Directors, or Divisional Business Office Leadership have the authority to grant exceptions for employees to allow for expense reimbursement, under the Accountable Plan, when the above requirements are not met. Extenuating circumstances for employees may be defined as a serious illness or other unforeseen emergency out of the control of the employee. Employee negligence is not considered an extenuating circumstance. All exceptions to the Accountable Plan granted for employees must meet the following requirements:

No exceptions will be granted for non-employees for either travel or non-travel related expense reports submitted in excess of the 90 day requirements of the Accountable Plan. Instead, non-employee reimbursement requests submitted in excess of the 90 day requirements of the Accountable Plan must be submitted to Accounts Payable using a Payment to Individual Report (PIR) and charged to Account Code 2620 (Services-Professional).

Expense reimbursements not in compliance with the above accountable plan requirements will be reported as taxable income for the individual reimbursed.


Accepting items of value (for personal benefit) that were obtained during the course of University business is not allowed. Unless specifically stated, University travelers cannot personally benefit from travel related contracts, utilize negotiated discount rates or receive tax exemption for personal travel.

Benefits or services from supplier rewards programs (e.g. airline frequent flier miles, hotel stay programs) earned from University paid travel must be applied toward future business travel. Benefits or services earned as a result of personal travel should not be applied to University business travel. Travelers will not be compensated for use of personal travel program rewards.

Accounting of Travel and Related Expenses

Regardless of the payment method used, all travel related expenses, including prepaid expenses charged to a purchasing card, are to be accounted for on an expense report and documented with an official University business purpose, unless there are no other reimbursable expenses, which would result in a zero-dollar expense report. Prepaid expenses on a purchasing card not in the traveler’s name must reference the cardholder’s name in the expense report.

Payment Methods

To reduce out-of-pocket expenses and related reimbursements, if allowed by the institution, use of the department’s Purchasing Travel Card is recommended for prepayment of airfare, lodging and/or required deposits and registration fees.

Documentation Requirements

Itemized receipts provided by the vendor are required for all business travel expenses greater than $25 unless stated otherwise by an expense-specific policy in the 201 – Travel series.   Receipts and/or other supporting documentation in foreign currency must be converted to US dollars.

Sales Tax Exemption

Purchases by Wisconsin governmental units, including the University of Wisconsin System, are generally exempt from Wisconsin sales and use tax.  Please see Policy 201.K – Tax Exemption for more information.


Travel Preferences and Related Costs

To ensure prudent use of travel funds, the University cannot pay or reimburse any additional costs resulting from traveler preferences or changes in itinerary due to personal reasons, including:

  • Travel prior to or subsequent to the required business travel dates
  • Using transportation methods that are not the most efficient or cost-effective (e.g. electing to drive versus fly when flying would be the most efficient and cost-effective option)
  • Electing to combine business and personal travel
  • Electing to take a travel companion(s) along on business trips

In cases where adding additional days to the trip proves most cost-effective, expenses for lodging and meals for the minimum necessary additional days may be University-paid if the total costs of the trip, including lost work time, are less than the cost of the business only portion of the trip.

Payment of Travel Costs

Recommended payment methods for University travel and related costs are Purchasing Travel Cards and My Corporate Cards.  These card products reduce or eliminate out-of-pocket costs and generate rebates for the University, increasing travel savings and efficiency.

Currency Exchange (International Travel)

Expenses paid in foreign currency must be supported by documentation containing a currency conversion to US dollars using the exchange rate in effect on the date of payment. The Oanda Currency Converter should be used to determine currency exchange rates.When converting, choose the appropriate interbank rate for the transaction. If purchases were made via credit card, use the exchange rate provided on the credit card statement.

Pre-Paid Expenses

The following expenses are pre-payable/reimbursable:

  • Airline tickets and related charges
  • Conference and meeting registrations, including any pre or post events supported by a business purpose
  • Lodging deposits (e.g. first night’s stay)
  • Lodging and vehicle rental guarantees (to hold reservations)

All other travel related expenses will be reimbursed after the completion of the trip and upon timely and accurate filing of an expense report.

Roles & Responsibilities

Traveler -
A traveler conducting official University business is responsible for the following:

  • Understanding and complying with University travel procurement and payment policies.
  • Understanding and complying with the travel rate maximum(s) for the location(s) and date(s) of travel.
  • Securing pre-trip approval or authorization prior to incurring travel expenses.
  • Utilizing contracted suppliers when required.
  • Providing required travel information, including emergency contacts, prior to entering travel status.
  • Exercising the same care when incurring expenses that a prudent person would exercise for a personal trip.
  • Not incurring excess or avoidable costs .
  • Personally paying any excess costs and/or additional expenses incurred for personal preference, convenience and/or additional expenses outside of University policies.
  • Accurate and timely filing of travel expense reports, including appropriate receipts and supporting documentation, as required by University travel policy and operational standards.
  • Reconciliation of cash advances and prompt repayment of any excess advance.
  • Obtaining receipts and/or other supporting documentation for expenses.

Travel Arranger -
A travel arranger is responsible for the following:

  • Understanding and complying with University travel procurement and payment policies.
  • Understanding and complying with the travel rate maximum(s) for the location(s) and date(s) of travel.
  • Utilizing contracted suppliers when required.
  • Collecting and providing traveler information as required by policy.
  • Ensuring receipts and other supporting documentation are provided to the traveler . 

Traveler’s Supervisor and/or Approving Authority (e.g. e-Reimbursement Approver/Auditor, Purchasing Card Site Manager) - The traveler’s supervisor or the approving authority for the traveler is responsible for:

  • Reviewing proposed trip expenses for appropriateness.
  • Verifying budgeted funds are available or identifying the level to which costs will be covered for the intended trip.
  • Reviewing expenses submitted for reimbursement for consistency with pre- approved travel plans .
  • Verifying that the travel was procured and paid for in accordance with the University travel procurement and payment policies.
  • Denying reimbursement if the expense was not approved, appropriate, is extravagant or is not in compliance with the policy.

Note:  These responsibilities apply to all University payment methods.

Institution Chief Business Officer -
The Chief Business Officer holds ultimate responsibility for designing formal processes and internal controls to appropriately meet the audit and approval requirements at their institution which include:

  • Ensuring that travel purchases have been made in accordance with University purchasing policies.
  • Ensuring that reimbursable expenses are accounted for in accordance with University travel policy and that reimbursement claims are approved for payment in a timely manner.
  • Ensuring that expenses are in compliance with budget requirements.
  • Ensuring that internal controls are in place that prevent duplicate or fraudulent payments.
  • Establishing a formal process for documentation and approvals at appropriate levels for any exceptions to policies. This process must afford consistency.
  • Establishing a formal process in which to collect funds from travelers for travel expenses pre-paid/reimbursed by the University when found not to be in accordance with policy.


Any travel related purchase that is not made in accordance with this policy will be deemed unauthorized and will not be reimbursed.Travel expenses pre-paid by the University, but subsequently deemed unauthorized, will be recoverable from the traveler.  This may include deduction from the employee’s payroll check or working with General Counsel to recover costs from students or non-employees. The institution’s Chief Business Officer will have responsibility for implementing processes to recover funds from travelers when travel expenses were pre-paid by the University, but later determined to be unauthorized.

Additional Resources
Policies related to specific travel expenses can be found in the Accounting Services Policy Index.  For System-wide policies and procedures, see UWTravelWIse.


Travelers and departmental staff should contact their respective Divisional Business Office for policy or procedural questions.
Divisional Business Offices may contact uwtravel@bussvc.wisc.edu with questions.