Vassar College Travel and Entertainment Policy
Many members of the Vassar community travel or entertain at college expense in the normal course of performing their duties in service to the college. The purpose of this policy is to guide employees engaged in official travel and entertainment on behalf of Vassar in a manner that is consistent and fair to the employee while managing costs and ensuring compliance with Federal regulations regarding reimbursement for business expenses.
Vassar recognizes that business travel can put special demands on the personal time and lives of an employee (and their families) and these policies have been developed to guide the employee in how to appropriately travel while on college business, but also some of the choices and comforts available to the employee serving as representatives of the college. Vassar wants traveling employees to be cost sensitive, but also to be safe and comfortable. It is the intention of this policy that college employees and authorized guests who incur travel and entertainment expenses should neither lose nor gain personal funds as a result.
Employees of Vassar have a responsibility to use institutional and grant funds wisely and carefully in furtherance of Vassar’s educational mission. These guidelines apply to ordinary and reasonable costs incurred by members of the Vassar community and invited visitors such as speakers and candidates who travel at Vassar’s expense. The guidelines are designed to assist you in appropriately identifying which expenses can be paid by the college, documenting travel and entertainment expenditures, and how to properly describe and document a legitimate business purpose according to the IRS rules. Where latitude is available to the college these guidelines have been crafted to remain sensitive to the time demands and distractions of compliance. Although these guidelines apply to all Vassar employee travel and entertainment regardless of the source of funds, in some cases alternative restrictions or privileges may exist if the expenses are grant funded travel or entertainment, or faculty professional travel (see Faculty Handbook). When planning grant funded travel or entertainment, please consult with the grant guidelines as to the special rules and procedures required as defined by the granting agency.
There will likely be situations when the employee will have questions about whether an expense is reimbursable or there may be the need to gain special prior authorization or seek an exception to the guidelines. Requests for exceptions must be brought to the appropriate senior officer for consultation and approval in advance of travel. Once approval is granted, the documentation of the approval (such as email) should be attached with your reimbursement request (or maintained with your credit card statement and receipts if the expense was paid with a Vassar issued credit card).
Obtaining Travel or Entertainment Authorization (‘Prior Approval’)
When the need for college business travel or entertaining is identified, employees should secure prior approval from the appropriate manager or senior officer indicating the purpose of the expense, the estimated total cost, and the source of funding. For non-faculty situations where the anticipated cost is more than $1,000, the prior approval authorization request should include dates of travel and estimated costs of transportation, lodging, meals, registration fees, and other anticipated expenses. Faculty members should follow procedures outlined in the Faculty Handbook. Throughout these guidelines, some options for employee travel logistics require the prior approval of a senior officer and such approvals most efficiently can be obtained during the initial planning, costing, and authorization process.
Paying for Business Travel or an Official Entertainment Event
The college encourages all non-faculty employees who regularly travel on college business or are responsible for business entertaining to obtain a Vassar credit card to use for all approved college business expenses. View a complete description of the Vassar College Credit Card program. Use of the Vassar credit card is the preferred method of payment for all travel and business entertainment expenses. Faculty members should consult with the Dean of the Faculty Office about special circumstances that might warrant issuance of a Vassar credit card.
Some services and business expenses cannot be reasonably obtained with the use of a Vassar credit card and may require that employees pay by cash or other means (E-Z Pass, etc.). In these cases employees should use personal funds or other means to pay for these special or incidental expenses and seek reimbursement immediately following the travel event.
Petty Cash. Vassar College no longer maintains petty cash except for established retail service offices or establishments on campus. Employees or offices needing special assistance should contact the office of the Vice President for Finance and Administration to review and explore circumstances and alternatives.
Submitting Receipts and Seeking Reimbursement. At the conclusion of a business trip or entertainment event, the employee should submit all receipts connected to Vassar credit card charges and any receipts for out-of-pocket expenses to their manager using the Vassar College Travel Expense Report. The reimbursement form and all relevant documentation should be reviewed and approved by the appropriate manager or senior officer and then forwarded to the Controller’s Office for processing. Electronic receipts and Expense Report are preferred to a paper report. For those expenses for which a receipt was not available, please complete a ‘Missing Receipt’ form for each occurrence. Completed and approved documentation should be submitted within 14 days of the completion of travel and never longer than 30-days from the conclusion of travel or than the review and approval of the monthly credit card statement, whichever comes first.
If the reimbursement request relates to a grant, it must be reviewed and approved by the principal investigator.
For reimbursement to employees, once the Travel Expense Report as been submitted and approved the Controller’s Office will process the incurred out-of-pocket expenses and reimburse the employee by Electronic Funds Transfer to the employee’s bank account. For reimbursement to non-Vassar employees, once the Travel Expense Report as been submitted and approved the Controller’s Office will process the out-of-pocket reimbursement value and any speaker fees or other contract payments and send payment in the form of a check to the address of record or by contract.
Delayed Submission of Receipts and Seeking Reimbursement. Under the IRS rules, qualified travel and entertainment expenses are non-taxable to the employee so long as the employee completes the necessary documentation within a reasonable time frame as defined by the employer’s ‘Accountability Plan’. The college has set a threshold of 30 days from the conclusion of travel for the employee to prepare the documentation and seek reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses. Should the employee require longer than 30 days from the completion of the trip, then an additional 30 days is granted under the college’s accountability plan. Failure to supply required documentation within 60 days of the conclusion of the trip or entertainment event will mean that the reimbursement falls outside of the college’s accountability plan and any reimbursements following the 60 days will be treated as taxable income under the appropriate IRS rules and regulations.
Planning Travel and Lodging
Employees have the option to plan their own business travel or to be aided by Vassar’s travel service provider as shown below. Employees should only organize their own trip and make direct reservations for travel if they are experienced travelers, as changes to reservations and tickets are both costly and usually not reimbursed by the college.
Hooker Avenue Travel
271 Hooker Avenue
Poughkeepsie, NY 12603
Monday-Friday 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM Eastern Time
Toll Free: 1-800-545-8747
Employees who are not frequent and experienced travelers are encouraged to use the travel agency to obtain the best pricing and most convenient itineraries. Use of the travel agency will also provide the employee with access to the travel agent hotline for any assistance needed during the trip or should special problems occur.
General Criteria for Reimbursable Travel and Entertainment Expenses
Vassar provides full reimbursement for actual documented travel and entertainment expenses as described below. For business expenses not described by these guidelines, please contact your senior officer.
Employees should retain receipts for all travel expenses regardless of whether the expense is directly charged to the college by means of a college issued credit card or has been paid through the use of personal funds. The only two regular exceptions to this rule are reimbursement for small tips during travel and personal automobile mileage. In the case of tips, employees should include the cost of the tip on the meal charge or other receipt, or record the date and amount for completion of the reimbursement request.
Electronic Receipts (e-receipts). The college now encourages employees wherever possible to use a paperless or e-Receipt strategy to document travel and entertainment. Many travel providers (airlines, hotels, etc.) provide e-receipts via email and these are acceptable (preferable) to the college. The employee may also choose to use photographs of paper receipts (such as with a personal cell phone) as appropriate documentation for college travel and entertainment expenses. Simply relying on entries on a credit card statement is not considered appropriate documentation and a paper or e-receipt should always accompany any expense.
For non-faculty travel, Vassar provides full reimbursement for economy airfare. (Faculty members should consult the Faculty Handbook for information regarding travel allowances.) Should the travel itinerary and dates be firmly established, non-refundable economy tickets are usually less expensive than full fare and refundable economy tickets and would result in a lower expense for the college. Although uncommon, the college may provide reimbursement for higher classes of airfare, such as business economy or full business-class travel, only when air travel is scheduled for flight time of ten hours or longer. All business-class airfare must be approved by the appropriate senior officer prior to the trip and must be separately itemized and reported to the IRS in the college’s financial filings. The college does not reimburse for private aircraft leasing or charters.
When booking air travel and selecting the optimal itinerary, cost is only one of many factors in selecting the appropriate ticket. In addition to the cost of the ticket, the traveler much determine and balance the number of stops in route, required changes of plane, times of departure and arrival, how reasonable the connection intervals are when connecting flights are required, choice of airports, distance from the airport to the location of the meeting, and extra fees for items such as checked baggage, meals, and other expenses. The college benefits from and seeks the lowest cost ticket, but also recognizes that other factors may occasionally result in a slightly higher cost ticket selection but also results in a superior itinerary or overall travel result.
Frequent Flyer Programs. Employees are allowed to gain frequent flyer points on airline loyalty programs during official Vassar travel, although airline selection for gaining points in a loyalty program should not outweigh other factors mentioned above or result in added expense to the college.
Wi-Fi and Meals. Inflight Wi-Fi services may be reimbursed by Vassar with prior approval for trips lasting 2 flight hours or longer and where business purposes necessitate the use of Wi-Fi. Inflight meals can be reimbursed under the same policies and rules as other business travel meals (see Meals Expenses). Vassar does not provide reimbursement for alcohol purchases on domestic or international flights. The college will reimburse the employee for checked baggage fees up to 2 bags per employee.
Airport Lounges and Clubs. The college does not provide reimbursement for annual memberships to airline lounges or clubs. For international flights with layovers requiring the employee to wait for more than 3 hours in transit, the college will reimburse the cost of an airline lounge or club daily fee not to exceed $50. Particularly for international travel, airline lounges and clubs can provide reasonable food, business centers, showers, rest areas, etc.
Getting to the Airport & Use of Airport Car Services. It is usually less expensive for the employee to drive their personal vehicle to and from the airport and the entire cost of round trip personal car mileage and airport parking fees and both reimbursable expenses. Employees must have the prior approval of a senior officer to receive full reimbursement for an airport ‘car service’ to or from Poughkeepsie and any of the major regional New York area airports. In those cases where the employee chooses to use a car service purely as a personal convenience instead of driving a personal automobile to the airport, the employee may receive partial reimbursement for car service costs for that portion of the expense equaling the cost of personal car mileage and airport parking which would have otherwise been born by the college.
The college has negotiated a discounted fee arrangement with the following car services for official college business travel and one of these services should be used for transportation to and from the airport when this means of transport is selected.
Classic Coach 845-229-1000
Mahogany Ridge Transportation 845-724-4403
Rental Cars and Other Forms of Local Transportation
Once the employee arrives at the destination city, local travel may include mass transit, rental car, taxis, or some combination depending on the itinerary of the employee. As with air travel costs, a balance of cost versus flexibility and efficiency is important in determining the local transportation strategy.
Rental Cars. Travelers are encouraged to choose compact or mid-sized cars whenever possible unless business purposes, such as transportation of other employees or guests of the College, require use of a larger vehicle. The college receives discounted rates from several car rental agencies and wherever possible employees should take advantage of these discounted contracts (more information can be found on the Purchasing web site). In addition to the daily or weekly rental fees, other reimbursed costs include fuel, parking, and tolls. The College will reimburse the cost of an additional driver to the rental car agreement if the other licensed driver is also traveling on college business or prior approval has been obtained from the appropriate senior officer. As with personal vehicles, the college does not pay for any fines or tickets and employees must obey all traffic and parking laws and regulations. If the employee drops the rental car at a different location from the pickup location, the rental car company ‘drop fee’ will be paid only if this results in a lower cost to the college when compared to alternative transportation options, or with advance approval of a senior officer.
Rental Car Insurance. Employees should decline the offer of rental agency provided loss damage coverage (LDW) and/or personal accident (PAI) or additional liability insurance (ALI) when renting a car. The college maintains separate institutional comprehensive, collision and liability insurance on all vehicles rented or leased for official business. It is preferable to enter "Vassar College" as well as the employee’s signature on the rental forms. If a rented vehicle is involved in an accident, the employee must notify (a) the insurance office (845-437-5467) and (b) the car rental agency as soon as possible, but in no case later than within 24 hours of the incident.
As a general rule, travelers should return the rental car ‘full’ by refueling near the airport to avoid the expensive ‘refueling’ surcharge required by the car rental agencies. If the employee will be driving the rental car more than 200 miles during the rental, the employee may purchase the ‘full tank’ pre-pay option at the time of rental and return the car without refueling.
Taxi, Uber, Lyft, and Other Alternative Car Services. For local transportation to or from the airport or train station, or for local travel in a distant location, the use of taxi and alternative car services are permitted when this is the most practical option available. Employees are permitted to register their college issue credit card with Uber, Lyft, and other alternative car services (no cash accepted) for use on official business travel, and the electronic receipts sent by email from these services are acceptable documentation.
Use of Personal Automobiles
The use of a personal automobile is encouraged for regional travel. Personal vehicle travel will be reimbursed at the applicable IRS rate ($0.54 per mile during calendar year 2016; consult IRS web site for updates). Travel mileage must be documented by providing a description of the starting and ending locations and a calculation of the total round trip business mileage using an online mileage calculator (such as Google Maps). Parking fees and tolls will be reimbursed and should be itemized separately. Toll rates for programs such as E-Z Pass can be found on the appropriate web sites or the employee can submit a copy of the E-Z Pass statement with the tolls noted as acceptable documentation.
When selecting the method of travel to a distant location, reimbursement for the use of a personal automobile should not exceed the cost of commercial transportation, where available. For two or more persons traveling together in the same vehicle, only one person will be reimbursed for mileage. When submitting a reimbursement request for mileage on your personal automobile, do not include the cost of fuel as the mileage rate covers fuel costs as well as wear and tear on your automobile.
Insurance for Personal Automobile Use. Should an employee experience an automobile accident while using a personal automobile for business use, the employee automobile policy is the primary insurer. If, while traveling on college business, there is an accident, theft of property, or other insurance related items for which a claim may be filed or investigated, the employee should immediately notify the employee’s insurance company and the College’s insurance office at (845) 437-5467, and no later than 24-hours from the incident.
Employees may be reimbursed the full cost of hotel or motel accommodations at appropriate mid-market business hotel chains while on college business. Examples of this class of business quality hotel would include hotels affiliated with Hilton, Marriott, Wyndham, and Doubletree. Employees should avoid luxury hotel chains, such as Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, Mandarin, unless required as part of a conference package, at a deeply discounted conference room rate, or approved in advance by a senior officer.
Itemized hotel receipts, in paper or electronic form, are required for documentation for all hotel accommodation reimbursement.
Staying with Family or Friends Instead of a Hotel. If an employee reduces the cost of travel to the college by staying with family or friends, the employee may provide for a gift or meal (but not cash) at a value not to exceed $100 per stay. The gift or meal should be documented by attaching a paper or electronic receipt and an explanation of the avoided lodging cost as part of the travel documentation.
Meals and Business Guest Entertainment Expenses
When traveling or entertaining away from the campus, the college pays for reasonable and appropriate meals and incidental business expenses. The college pays the actual cost of three meals per day for business travelers. On partial days or on of travel to or from the destination, the individual's departure and return times should determine whether a meal was incurred during the period of travel. All meal reimbursements, including tips for servers, whether paid by college credit card or by personal payment to be reimbursed should include itemized restaurant receipts in paper or electronic form. In the situation where employees are traveling together or attending an authorized meeting meal together, the senior employee should pay for the entire meal for all employees and seek reimbursement. Always list the business purpose of the meal, including both guests and employees, and the topic of business discussed.
In the case of meals for business meetings with employees, students, alumni, donors, colleagues, speakers, business associates or colleagues from other institutions, or other invited guests, a primary business purpose must be evident. Business meeting meals for employees who routinely work together usually do not generally meet the test of an IRS approved business function and should be approved by the senior officer on a case-by-case basis. IRS regulations do not allow for the reimbursement of meal charges incurred by employees who are not traveling away from home (i.e. their travel does not include an overnight stay) unless 1) the primary purpose of the meeting is to conduct business, and, 2) there is a clear and compelling reason to meet outside the office over a meal.
The college permits departmental units to hold special event meals or entertaining (related to a college program or employee milestone, such as a retirement) and holiday meals or celebration gatherings on a limited and very selective basis with prior approval of the senior officer and at a cost generally not to exceed $15 per person. For more elaborate celebrations, particularly those related to an employee retirement or a holiday event, should costs exceed the authorized threshold it is up to the employees to collectively contribute to the cost of the event from their personal funds which would not be reimbursable by the college. These types of events should be inclusive of and welcoming to all of the employees in that organizational area when any college funds or facilities are used.
Purchases of Alcohol. Modest alcohol consumption at an approved business event or with an approved business meal may be included as a business expense with approval from a senior officer.
Bulk purchases of alcohol are generally prohibited. They may not be charged to college budgets, endowments, or other college accounts and will not be reimbursed except with the advance approval of a senior officer. Given potential legal liability and State laws regarding underage alcohol consumption, alcohol may only be served at college functions by a caterer holding a valid liquor license. Employees or other individuals who purchase alcohol for consumption by others should be aware that they assume significant personal legal and financial liability regardless of whether or not Vassar reimburses the expense. It is the policy of the college to not provide any form of alcohol to any individual who may be under the legal drinking age.
Please note that federal regulations and rules governing use of private grant funds may prohibit alcohol purchases.
Per Diem Reimbursement Method No Longer Used. The College no longer provides a per diem option for employees. Under special circumstances, the college may provide a per diem reimbursement rate for official college guests, such as job candidates, to be determined by the senior officer authorizing the per diem on a case-by-case basis. Exceptions may also be made for travel by employees in foreign countries where credit cards are not accepted.
Conference Fees & Registration Costs
All approved conference or meeting registration fees will be paid by the college and the employee should provide either e-receipt or registration confirmation documentation including the cost of attendance. Wherever possible, the employee should plan ahead and secure the typically lower cost ‘early registration’ if it is available. As with other travel expenses, payment by a Vassar issued credit card is encouraged for non-faculty employees.
Expenses of Authorized Invited Visitors to the College
The college hosts many official business and professional visitors each year requiring travel and other hosting expenses. All travel, lodging, incidental and other expenses related to the travel of an authorized guest should be handled and documented in the same manner as employees. Please contact the appropriate senior officer or the office of the Vice President for Finance and Administration with questions, special situations, or concerns.
The college maintains basic travel insurance for official business travel outside of the United States. The college does not pay for or reimburse employees for separate trip insurance. Contact the insurance office (845-437-5467) for an overview of the College’s international travel coverage and should special circumstances exist for which an employee believes that special insurance accommodations should be made, these should be discussed with and approved by the appropriate senior officer or the Vice President for Finance and Administration.
Vassar College is Tax Exempt for Certain Travel Expenses
Vassar College is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization and is exempt from all sales tax in the states of New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Texas. This exemption applies to hotels/motels, restaurants, rental cars and retail purchases. Contact the Controller’s Office or the Purchasing Office for a copy of the appropriate Tax Exempt documentation.
Spouse/Partner Travel and Business Entertaining Expenses
In certain cases, participation of a spouse of partner of the employee is helpful to the business purpose of the college and can, with prior approval, be included cost of the travel or event. If the spouse or partner participation is for a bona fide business purpose and benefits the college, this is a permissible expense so long as it is approved in advance by the appropriate senior officer.
The college will pay for appropriate and customary business incidental expenses including hotel internet charges, charges for baggage handling and storage, and server and housekeeping tips if appropriate. Employees traveling on college business are encouraged to use either a personal cell phone or Skype and, unless special circumstances exist, long distance telephone charges to hotels or airlines (in flight calls) will not be reimbursed by the college. The cost of official calls made on a personal cell phone while traveling abroad will be reimbursed.
The College will pay routine and customary gratuities of 15-20% of the total bill for catering, meals and other travel services. Employees should investigate tipping outside of the United States where international standards and customs regarding tipping may vary.
The college has moved to the use of a Vassar credit card to pay for all non-faculty travel and business entertainment. The college does not support traveling with large amounts of cash as a safety and security threat and no longer provides cash advances for travel. Should special circumstances exist or the lack of a travel advance present a unique challenge, please consult with the office of the Vice President for Finance and Administration. Members of the faculty should please consult with the Dean of the Faculty Office.
Expenses that Usually Fail to Meet a Business Purpose
Unless approved by a senior officer on a case by case basis, the college does not routinely pay for or reimburse employees for the following types of expenses unless a business purposes can be documented:
- Personal entertainment expenses (movies, games, spa visits, health clubs, golf outings, optional social activities not included in the general conference fee)
- In-room mini-bar purchases
- Valet parking, unless the hotel or venue prohibits guests from parking their own vehicles
- Travel accident insurance premiums
- Costs incurred by failure to cancel transportation or hotel reservations within the allowed time frame
- Traffic and/or parking violation fines, towing charges, legal fees, or other payments resulting from illegal actions
- Vehicle fuel purchases when mileage is being reimbursed
- Repairs to personal vehicles
- Family members’ expenses, including child or elder care and pet-sitting services
- Commuting costs between home and the College
- Laundry service unless the trip is longer than five days
- Donations to other non-profit organizations or political organizations, including tickets for political fund-raisers (which are prohibited by law given Vassar’s tax-exempt status)
- Celebratory events where there is no business purpose, including employee and student birthday events and cakes, baby and wedding showers, and gifts
- Lunches and dinners without a primary business purpose. The fact that lunchtime or dinnertime is a convenient time to meet does not convert a personal expense to a business expense under the IRS rules and regulations.
- Gifts or flowers for individual employees. Holiday decorations (e.g. poinsettia plants) may be ordered for public, common areas if approved in advance by the senior officer.
- Gifts or prizes to students or other employees (including gift cards) without prior approval from a senior officer
- Gifts from a department to other offices on campus
- Bulk purchases of alcohol (advance senior officer approval is required)