A lodgings-plus per diem system applies worldwide. Under the lodgings-plus system, travelers are reimbursed for the actual cost of lodging, supported by receipts, within prescribed limits plus a flat daily allowance for meals and incidental expenses (M&IE) that ranges from $56 to $76.
The General Services Administration sets maximum per diem rates for about 325 localities within the contiguous United States; in many cases the lodging portion varies seasonally. For other locations, a standard rate of $96 for lodging and $55 for M&IE applies. See FTR 302-2 through 302-5.
The applicable rate is determined by the location of the temporary duty assignment. Unless otherwise specified, the per diem locality is defined as “all locations within, or entirely surrounded by, the corporate limits of the key city as well as the boundaries of the listed counties, including independent entities located within the boundaries of the key city and the listed counties.”
The M&IE rate is payable without itemization of expenses or receipts. The meals portion is designed to cover expenses for breakfast, lunch, dinner and related tips and taxes (alcoholic beverages, entertainment expenses and expenses incurred for other persons are excluded). The incidentals portion is designed to cover fees and tips related to porters, baggage carriers and hotel staff. Certain other fees and tips are separately reimbursable as described in Miscellaneous Expenses in Section 1 of this chapter.
The first and last calendar days of travel are reimbursed at 75 percent of the applicable rate (note: for government-provided meals on travel days, the entire allocated meal amount must be deducted from the decreased 75 percent rate; see www.gsa.gov/mie).
Rates for travel to foreign destinations are determined by the Department of State (see https://aoprals.state.gov/web920/per_diem.asp). Rates for non-foreign travel (such as to Alaska, Hawaii and U.S. possessions and territories) outside the contiguous states are set by the Department of Defense (see www.defensetravel.dod.mil/site/perdiem.cfm).
For travel within the contiguous United States, travelers generally must deduct from their M&IE allowance the value of meals that are part of a registration fee or otherwise paid for by the government, in conjunction with attendance at conferences or other events while on official travel, plus an additional $3 from the incidentals portion. See Federal Travel Regulation Section 301-11.18. Employees may receive the full M&IE allowance, with agency approval, if they are unable to consume furnished meals because of medical requirements or religious beliefs or if they were unable to take part in a government-furnished meal due to the conduct of official business.
GSA uses the “average daily rate,” a lodging industry performance measure, to determine lodging rates in the continental United States. Rates are based on “fire safe” properties that fall within a mid-price range during business travel dates of Monday through Thursday. Federal agencies may request GSA to review the costs covered by per diem in a city or area, or to establish a new area, when travel to that location is repetitive or on a continuing basis and travelers’ experiences indicate that the current rate is inadequate. Requests must be submitted by the agency travel manager or equivalent official, following procedures described in the FAQ section at www.gsa.gov/perdiem. Any such changes are made in the form of an FTR Bulletin and posted at www.gsa.gov/ftrbulletin.
Note: Certain agencies reduce lodging, M&IE or both rates for temporary duty at a location exceeding a designated length, in order to encourage use of less expensive “extended stay” lodging; check with your agency for its policies.
Actual Subsistence Expense Reimbursement
Under FTR 301 subpart D, an agency may authorize necessary actual subsistence expense reimbursement not to exceed 300 percent of the applicable maximum per diem rate for travel within the continental United States:
• when lodging and/or meals are procured at a prearranged place such as a hotel where a meeting, conference or training session is held;
• when costs have escalated because of special events (for example sporting events, conventions, or natural or man-made disasters), lodging and meal expenses within prescribed allowances cannot be obtained nearby, and costs to commute to/from the nearby location consume most or all of the savings achieved from occupying less expensive lodging;
• because of mission requirements; or
• for any other reason approved by the agency.
Rules at 41 CFR 310-74 state that for conferences, when lodging is not available at the applicable per diem rate, travelers should compare all associated costs, including round-trip ground transportation, between finding lodging at the applicable per diem rate away from the conference locality and using the actual expense method at the conference facility. If the cost comparison shows that obtaining lodging at the conference facility results in the lowest total travel costs, the agency may authorize actual expense reimbursement. In cases of natural or man-made disasters or other emergencies, GSA may issue a government-wide FTR bulletin authorizing actual subsistence expenses and waivers of certain other provisions of the Federal Travel Regulation for temporary duty or relocation travel to designated areas for a specific time. The bulletin may also advise delaying all non-essential travel and relocation to the affected areas. Such authorities are posted at www.gsa.gov/ftrbulletin.
Agencies also may pay actual subsistence expense reimbursement to protect law enforcement/investigative employees and their families when their lives are placed in jeopardy as a result of the employee’s assigned duties. See FTR 301-31.
You should seek approval for actual subsistence expense reimbursement before beginning travel, but approval may be granted afterward under limited circumstances.
There are two ways an agency may calculate actual expense reimbursement. The amount and reimbursement method authorized for each day must be stated on the travel authorization or in a written addendum to the authorization.
Under the full-itemization method, the lodging and M&IE portions each are multiplied by 300 percent. You must itemize all costs on the travel voucher to indicate the amount spent each day for lodging, each meal, and other allowable expenses. You must provide receipts for each expense of more than $75. When the actual expenses incurred during any one day are below the increased daily maximums, you will be reimbursed only for the actual expense.
Under the no-itemization method, the lodging and M&IE portions also are multiplied by 300 percent but you must itemize only the lodging costs, and the M&IE portion is paid at only the standard daily rate for that location with no itemization needed. The effect is to allow applying a larger amount toward the lodging portion while still remaining within the 300 percent limit, the two components combined.
See FTR Bulletin 18-09 at www.gsa.gov/ftrbulletin.
Per diem rates are set on a fiscal year (October 1-September 30) cycle. Some rates may change during a fiscal year. Annual and periodic rate changes for locations within the contiguous states are at www.gsa.gov/perdiem. That site also has links to per diem rates for foreign areas and to rates for non-foreign travel outside the contiguous states, which are set by the State Department and the Defense Department, respectively, as described above.