Original Issuance Date: March 9, 2015

Last Revision Date: November 11, 2022

Effective Date: July 1, 2020

1.   Policy Purpose

The purpose of this policy is to establish the general parameters for conducting university-sponsored travel and accounting for expenses.

University travel policies are designed to ensure:

  • “University sponsored travel“ and related activities are appropriately planned, approved, purchased and paid in accordance with policy
  • Budget or funding is available prior to incurring expenses
  • Productivity and safety of those traveling on University business
  • Fair and equitable compensation for all who travel on University business. Travelers neither personally gain nor lose funds as a result of University business travel
  • Compliance with external and internal requirements
  • Use of required contracts to consolidate purchasing volume, contain travel costs, achieve best pricing and offer the highest degree of services
  • Prudent and efficient use of University resources
  • Collection of data to support University decisions for future enhancements & efficiencies

2.   Responsible UW System Officer

Vice President for Finance and Administration

3.   Scope

This policy applies to the general operations of University sponsored travel, including the procurement and payment of travel sponsored by the University, regardless of traveler affiliation or funding source.

4.   Background

This policy has been issued under the authority of the Board of Regents as it relates to the governance of university travel and expense policies created under Wis. Stat. s. 36.11(56).

5.   Definitions

University Sponsored Travel: Travel that is:

  • paid for in full or in part by the University;
  • paid directly or indirectly by the University;
  • organized by the University with participants or sponsors paying;
  • organized by others outside the University and paid for by the University;
  • sponsored by the University in the form of name, organization, communication, management, staffing, transportation, or space provision.

6.   Policy Statement

The University expects travelers to use UW funds and resources prudently, understand and follow the travel policies and submit timely travel reporting to ensure the University meets all applicable compliance requirements. Business travel expenses will be promptly reimbursed by the University when they are reasonable, necessary and meet policy and compliance requirements.

University travel policies are established through the system wide travel governance process and have been designed to meet the business objectives as defined above. Policies apply to all faculty, staff, visitors, students, guests and other non-University personnel, including consultants/contractors traveling or using funds and/or resources administered by UW System Institutions. As such, all travel policies and operational standards must be consistently applied at each UW System institution.

For travel expenses funded by sponsored programs (e.g. grants or contracts), the terms of the applicable grant or contract will take precedence if more restrictive than University travel policies.

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

UW Sponsored Events and hospitality are an integral part of the University’s business but may or may not have a travel component associated with it. The Headquarters City & UW System Sponsored Events Policy covers requirements and rate maximums for University sponsored events, hospitality and hosted meals. This policy must be consulted prior to the purchase and payment for related goods and services.

A.      Pre-Trip Approval

Prior to making travel arrangements, travelers must obtain approval for business travel from the traveler’s designated approving authority. Pre-trip approval requirements vary by institution and often by division/department. It is the traveler’s responsibility 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 leaves (e.g. Leaves with or without pay, sabbatical, research, etc.) is not guaranteed and will need to be approved in advance of incurring costs. Institutions have the authority to approve or deny travel during leaves or during periods of non-employment in accordance with the need for the traveler to represent the institution. Each case will be evaluated by the institution and must be approved at the division level or higher.

B.      Special Considerations for International Travel

While critical in meeting the University’s mission, international travel presents certain inherent risks to the University and those that travel on behalf of the University.

Special identification, passport, visa, customs, insurance, and other University, travel industry or government imposed requirements may apply to international travel, whether traveling individually or as a group. Travelers and those departments that arrange travel are responsible for determining what documentation and other special circumstances apply to international travel for the specific destination(s).

Travelers must ensure that any federally funded travel adheres to the Fly American Act/Open Skies Agreement. Other Sponsored Program restrictions, policies, and procedures may apply.

C.      Determining the Appropriate Mode of Transportation

The approving authority has responsibility to determine the most appropriate and cost-effective means of transportation consistent with the authorized business purpose of the trip, and considering all associated costs (e.g. employee work time, overnight lodging, meals, mileage).

For determining if vehicle transportation makes the most economic sense, MapQuest or Google Maps are the standard applications for calculating time and distance.

D.      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. Reasonable accommodations can take various forms such as additional payments for porter/Skycap assistance, extra service fees imposed by a vendor to make necessary accommodations, etc. Each institution’s Travel Office should consult with their respective institution department (i.e. Human Resources, Affirmative Action, etc.) to obtain approval for reasonable accommodation requests.

E.       University Maximum Travel Rates

The University’s maximum travel rates and eligibility requirements are based upon the federal government’s rate tables which vary by location & 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 (regardless of source) and resources are used.

University travel policies, process standards and rates have been designed to fairly and uniformly compensate travelers conducting business for the University with minimal administration. Travel payments and reimbursements must conform to policy, including documentation requirements, ensuring compliance with IRS requirements. Payments made or costs reimbursed in accordance with University travel policies and operational standards are not considered tax reportable income unless specifically notated.

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(s) requirements, documentation supporting these exceptional requirements must be approved as an exception provided prior to payment.

F.       Non-Employees Under Contract or Agreement

For non-employees providing services under agreement or contract with the University, related 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 paid as fee for service. Institutional staff responsible for arranging non-employee services are responsible for informing the non-employees of University travel policies and payment or reimbursement requirements. It is strongly recommended that the institutional Purchasing Office be consulted on agreements and contracts ensuring that they meet the travel policy requirements.

G.      Expenses of Chancellor’s or President’s Spouse/Partner

University funds may be used for travel and related expenses of the chancellor’s or president’s spouse/partner when the spouse/partner is required to appear as an official representative of the University. Payment or reimbursement for travel and related expenses of the spouse or partner must be documented by providing a formal announcement of program or event, or business agenda along with an explanation specifying the official business capacity in which the spouse or partner was acting as the reason s/he was required to attend the function.

Travel and related expenses of the chancellor’s or president’s spouse/partner must be approved by the institution’s Chief Business Officer.

H.      University Requirements for 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.

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.  All exceptions to the Accountable Plan granted for employees must meet the following requirements:

These exceptions will be considered tax reportable to the employee unless extenuating circumstances apply. Extenuating circumstances for employees are defined as a serious illness or other unforeseen emergency out of the control of the employee. Employee negligence and busy schedule/workload are not considered extenuating circumstances.

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.

I.        Ethics

As employees of a public University, accepting items of value for personal benefit 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 (airline frequent flier, hotel stay programs, etc.) earned from University paid travel must be applied toward future business travel. Any benefits or services earned as a result of personal travel must be used for future personal travel and should not be applied to University business travel. Travelers will not be compensated for use of travel program rewards.

J.        Accounting for Travel and Related Expenses

Regardless of payment method, all claimed travel related expenses are to be substantiated in a timely manner, fully supported on a travel expense report, and documented with an official University business purpose. Required documentation may include items, such as agendas and itineraries, to support dates, times, and purposes of claimed expenses. Total accounting of all trip expenses is preferred.

Some institutions utilize the purchasing card log as part of this accounting, so travelers must use their institution’s process to account for both purchase card prepayments and reimbursements. For travelers with pre-paid transactions on another person’s purchasing card, at minimum the cardholder’s name must be included on the expense report and the expenses recorded as prepaid on the travel expense report for record keeping purposes.

Expenses recorded on a travel expense report must be recorded by travel expense type, location of expense, supplier (if required for the expense type), date expense was incurred, payment method (i.e. University pre-paid/ Purchasing Card, corporate travel card, personal forms of payment, personally paid expenses and/or cash advance). Accounting for trip expenses in this manner satisfies IRS requirements for business travel record keeping.

Travelers may not claim travel or related expenses for other travelers. When traveling together, each traveler must pay for their own travel expenses. 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.

K.      General Receipt and Supporting Documentation Requirements

In most cases supplier provided original, itemized receipts must be submitted for business travel expenses if the individual expense is greater than $25. Review receipt level requirements by expense type as in some cases, receipts are required regardless of amount. Receipts and/or other supporting documentation in foreign currency must be converted to U.S. dollars for documentation purposes. See Currency exchange requirements for foreign conversion of receipts. Documentation and receipts in foreign language must be translated prior to submitting. Google Translate is the standard for completing this requirement.

Registration fees that often include other types of expenditures must include the following information on the receipt:

  • Dates of conference, convention, seminar, etc.
  • Location and title of event
  • Amount of fee and a breakdown of specific costs (meals, etc.) covered in the fee.

Note: This may require obtaining both a payment receipt and a copy of the applicable page from the registration website, registration form, brochure, application etc.

L.       Purchase of Travel Services

Under the direction of Board of Regent Policy 21-5, the University has adopted a travel supplier consolidation methodology for all University sponsored travel.

The University’s travel management company and other strategic travel partners have been selected to assist in the administration of the University’s travel program by providing the lowest cost options for business travel with the highest degree of services including; University dedicated account management and support, consulting services, data reporting, communications, traveler tracking, alert notifications, after hours and emergency assistance.

Each expense-based travel policy identifies required contracts and process standards for utilizing contracts.

M.    Sales Tax Exemption

Purchases by Wisconsin governmental units, including the University of Wisconsin System, are generally exempt from Wisconsin sales and use tax. Those that travel or arrange travel for others are expected to request and receive Wisconsin sales tax exemption for travel related services. The University also has sales tax exemption in other states and travelers should make a reasonable attempt to obtain sales tax exemption according to the tax authority’s requirements.

N.     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, including:

  • Travel prior to or subsequent to the required business travel dates
  • Using transportation methods that are not the most efficient or cost-effective (i.e. 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 (i.e. staying over a Saturday or flying on a particular day) 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.

Additional travel costs related to attending optional excursions or other outings which were not included as a business necessity with the payment of the registration or program fee will be considered personal and will not be paid or reimbursed by the University.

O.     Payment of Travel Costs

Approved payment methods for University travel and related costs are University Purchasing Cards approved for travel, institutional or individual liability Corporate Travel Cards. These card products reduce or eliminate out-of-pocket costs and generate rebates for the institutions, increasing travel savings and efficiency. Per cardholder agreements, only policy compliant expenses are allowed to be pre-paid using University Purchasing Cards.

P.      Currency Exchange (International Travel)

Internationally incurred expenses paid and receipted in foreign currency must be submitted for payment or reimbursement in U.S. dollars using the exchange rate in effect on the date of payment. Include documentation indicating what exchange rate was used to make the conversions (i.e. credit card statement, bank receipt etc.). For cash conversions, currency exchange rates can be found at OANDA , the University’s standard application for conversion. When converting cash, choose the +/- 0 (zero) interbank rate for the conversion. If purchases were made via credit card, use the exchange rate provided on the credit card statement.

Q.     Pre-Paid Expenses

The following policy compliant expenses are allowed to be pre-paid or pre-reimbursed (at institution discretion) using University issued cards:

  • Airline tickets and related charges
  • Conference & Meeting Registrations, including any pre or post events for business purposes
  • Lodging deposit when documented as a requirement by the supplier (to hold reservations)
  • Lodging and Vehicle Rental guarantees (to hold reservations)


Lodging costs may be paid using University Purchasing Cards upon completion of the stay but cannot be paid in advance.

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

R.      Non-Reimbursable/Payable Expenses

The following is not intended to be an all-inclusive list, but includes typical expenses that will not be paid or reimbursed by University funding sources:

  • Expenses which are not UW business related
  • Expenses not filed within the 90 day requirements, or not resubmitted within 90 days of being sent back
  • Expenses paid or reimbursed from outside sources
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Spouse, family member’s or travel companion costs (Chancellor’s and President’s spouse/partner may be allowable under separate policy)
  • Any expenses incurred as a result of voluntary cancellation of travel reservations (air, car, hotel, etc.) or supplier assessed penalties unless formally justified as exception.
  • Domestic phone calls
  • Lost/stolen cash or personal property
  • Personal items and services, e.g., toiletries, luggage, clothes, haircuts, etc.
  • Expenses for social events or non-business related activities, such as sightseeing tours, sport outings, excursions, etc.
  • Real IDs
  • Traffic citations, parking tickets and other fines
  • Additional charges incurred for personal reasons involving vehicle rentals
  • Locksmith charges for personal vehicles
  • Repairs, towing service, lubrication, etc. for personal vehicles
  • Excess cost of circuitous or side trips for personal reasons
  • Parking costs at the assigned headquarters
  • Meals included in business meetings, conference registrations, etc.
  • Pay for view movies in hotel/motel room
  • Personal entertainment
  • Additional costs for extra person(s)
  • Charges incurred for late lodging checkout
  • Lodging costs incurred at unlicensed facilities
  • Lodging within 50 miles of the home or headquarters city
  • Flight insurance
  • Trip Insurance
  • Extra baggage charges for personal items, such as golf clubs, skis, etc.
  • Airline, car, hotel, corporate club or other membership dues
  • Childcare costs
  • Kennel fees
  • Late payment penalties and interest on corporate card
  • Greeting cards
  • Flowers
  • Gifts
  • Any incidental expenses included in the per diem

S.       Roles & Responsibilities


A traveler on 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 embarking on travel and/or incurring travel expenses.
  • Utilizing contracted suppliers when required
  • Providing required travel information, including emergency contacts, prior to entering travel status.
  • Exercising the same care in incurring expenses and accomplishing the purposes of the travel that a prudent person would exercise for a personal trip.
  • Not incurring excess or avoidable costs including but not limited to extending business trips for leisure; use of circuitous routes; altering travel plans for personal convenience etc.
  • 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.
  • Timely accounting for cash advances and prompt repayment of any excess advance.
  • Returning promptly to either the headquarters or home when University business is completed.
  • Obtaining and retaining receipts and/or other supporting documentation, including those prepaid from purchasing card transactions
  • Compliance with the above if traveler chooses to delegate travel arrangements and expense report preparation to another

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
  • Advising students and non-employees of required purchasing methods, policies, and rate maximums.
  • Making reservations, travel purchases and payments in accordance with travel policies and rate maximums.
  • Collecting and providing traveler information as required by policy.
  • Ensuring receipts and other supporting documentation are provided to traveler to document the use of University issued purchasing cards.

Traveler’s Supervisor and/or Delegated Approving Authority:

The traveler’s supervisor or the delegated approving authority for the traveler is responsible for:

  • Reviewing proposed trip expenses, appropriateness of dates of travel, and business purpose of the trip.
  • Ensuring that travelers have provided required information prior to entering travel status.
  • Verifying budgeted funds are available, or identifying the level to which costs will be covered for the intended trip.
  • Reviewing expenses incurred and submitted for reimbursement for consistency with pre-approved travel plans, and that they are reasonable, necessary and in compliance with University Travel and Expense policy.
  • Verifying that the travel was procured and paid for in accordance with the University Travel and Expense policies.
  • Denying reimbursement if the expense was not approved, appropriate, is extravagant or 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 expenses pre-paid on purchasing cards, advanced, or submitted for reimbursement have been timely accounted for in accordance with accountable plan rules, approved, substantiated with the appropriate receipts or other required documentation, are in compliance with budget requirements and the University Travel and
  • Expense policies.
  • 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 or reimbursed in advance by the University when found not to be in accordance with policy.

T.       Non-Compliance

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.

U.     Procedural Standards

Specific travel expense related policies in addition to standard operating procedures are integral to meeting the business objectives of this general travel policy. Adherence ensures the effective management of the University’s travel program.

7.   Related Documents

8.   Policy History

Revision 3:                   November 11, 2022

Revision 2:                   June 9, 2020

Revision 1:                  January 11, 2018

First approved:          March 9, 2015

9.   Scheduled Review

January 2023