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Index > Operations Policies > Business Travel - Transportation Policy

Business Travel - Transportation Policy


The purpose of this policy is to provide departments, supervisors, employees, and non-employees with specific policies and procedures regarding RISD’s business and travel expenses to ensure the appropriate use of college funds and compliance with IRS regulations related to business expenses.


This policy covers the approved methods of transportation while traveling. The policy applies to all faculty, staff, students and others who incur expenses while engaged in RISD business or related travel.

Policy Statement

RISD is a non-profit institution and a charitable tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Because of this special tax-exempt status, RISD must ensure that its funds are used to further its charitable purposes and that all expenses are reasonable both in nature and amount. Students and their parents, donors, governmental parties and the public are increasingly sensitive about appropriate activity and expenditures on behalf of tax-exempt organizations, and it is very important that RISD manage its resources in an appropriate manner.


Please refer to the Procure-to-Pay Policies Glossary for the following terms:

  • Accountable Plan
  • Away from Home
  • Foreign Travel
  • Incidentals
  • Business Travel
  • Travel Expenses
  • Per Diem Rates
  • Personal Expense
  • Proof of Payment
  • Receipt
  • Sponsored Project
  • Substantiated Expenses
  • Sufficient Documentary Evidence


All travel must be approved in advance by the employee’s supervisor.

  1. Air Transportation
    • Class of Ticket - The class of air travel chosen is expected to be the lowest-priced or most efficient, i.e., non-stop, coach airfare ticket. Fees for a seat reservation are permissible but not for upgraded seating (i.e., extra leg room, early check in). In rare cases, premium (i.e., first class, business class) fares may be an appropriate business expense subject to budget. Examples may include, but are not limited to, the following:
      • Flights exceeding eight (8) continuous hours
      • Flight by a traveler with a medical condition -- proper documentation must be secured from the Office of Human Resources.
        Premium fares must be approved in advance by the employee’s Vice President/Provost.
    • Frequent Flyer Plans - Travelers may personally retain frequent flyer plan rewards or other bonuses that may accrue from business travel; however, in no case may the traveler choose a reservation at a higher cost in order to accumulate additional plan rewards. RISD will not purchase frequent flyer miles from travelers or reimburse them for tickets purchased with frequent flyer miles. Any membership fees to join frequent flyer clubs are considered personal expenses and will not be reimbursed by RISD.
    • Baggage - Charges by airlines for checked baggage when traveling on RISD business are a reimbursable business expense. Excess baggage expenses are reimbursable if the traveler is transporting college materials.
    • Lost Baggage/Items - RISD does not maintain any lost baggage/items insurance coverage for any loss of personal belongings of its employees while on RISD business travel. College employees are encouraged to make their own arrangement for this type of insurance coverage either through their personal homeowners/renters’ insurance company or with their travel agent at the time of travel. RISD will not reimburse for this type of insurance or loss of personal belongings.
    • Airport Parking - Long-term airport parking, generally longer than three days, will not be paid for/reimbursed with College funds unless the costs of long-term parking is lower than the cost of public transportation, a cab, or a car service (proper documentation must be provided). Scheduled car service is authorized for long-term trips with flights exceeding 6 hours.
  2. Ground Transportation
    Travelers are expected to use fiscal responsibility when travelling to and from air, rail, or bus terminals. Ground transportation is an appropriate business expense (including a tip) to the extent that such service is necessary for business purposes. Public transportation, cab/car service, or bus are acceptable modes of transportation.Scheduled car service is authorized for long-term trips with fights exceeding 6 hours.
    • Auto Travel -When driving on RISD business, drivers must adhere to and follow all laws and regulations of the state or country in which they are driving.
      • Personal Automobiles - When the use of a personal automobile is necessary for RISD business, reimbursement for its use will be made at the mileage rate published by IRS and GSA/FTRs, or in accordance with other federal regulations. Gas in lieu of mileage is non-reimbursable. It is the responsibility of the traveler to ensure that the proper mileage rate is being used and the distance is based upon actual driving distance using the most direct route. Mileage will be reimbursed for the round-trip distance between RISD and the location of the business function being attended. If employees depart from or return to their residence instead of RISD, only the miles in excess of the normal daily commute can be claimed as an expense. However, if the trip is outside normal work hours, mileage can be computed from your residence to business destination. Tolls and parking fees are separately reimbursable. RISD will not reimburse employees for parking tickets, fines for moving violations, vehicle towing charges, or auto repairs and maintenance. If more than one authorized traveler is transported in a personal vehicle, mileage is payable to only one person. The owner of the personal vehicle will not be reimbursed for transporting multiple authorized travelers.
      • Rental Cars - In all circumstances, the use of a rental car should be thoughtfully considered and the relevant costs and convenience associated with the use of available ground transportation such as taxis, hotel and airport shuttles should be weighed against the cost and need for a rental car. Standard vehicles are the recommended vehicle size for rental purposes. Employees who rent a car on RISD business should, when possible, choose a RISD preferred rental car provider for discounts and automatic insurance coverage. Insurance is a required/reimbursable expense for all international car rentals , but will not be reimbursed on domestic rentals. Upgrades to full-size cars are permissible if the individual’s supervisor provides approval, a detailed explanation (e.g., number of persons, luggage accommodations) must be included in the business justification.
    • Rail Travel -Generally, seating on rail transportation is expected to be lowest-priced ticket for the type of train taken.
      • Standard Train - The class of rail travel chosen on standard train is expected to be coach-class rail ticket. In some cases, premium (e.g., business-class) fares may be an appropriate business expense subject to budget availability.
      • Extra-Fare Trains -Whenever practical, travelers should determine the appropriateness of booking rail travel on an extra-fare train (Acela or other trains that are described as faster speed or fewer stops). If scheduling constraints, a demonstrated need or the traveler’s mission requires travel on Acela, then seating should be at the basic accommodation on that train, which is Business-class. All premium and extra fare trains should be approved in advance by the employee’s Vice President/Provost.

Non-compliance with this Policy may result in disciplinary action. Actions that may be taken include, but are not limited to:

  • reduction of purchasing card limits
  • termination of purchasing card privileges temporarily or permanently
  • removal of travel privileges temporarily or permanently
  • further disciplinary action up to and including suspension without pay or termination of employment, in accordance with applicable disciplinary procedures.


Pre-Approval Requirements

All business travel must be pre-approved by the department head.

Timing of Reimbursements

Travel expenses will be paid only after the trip is complete. Expenses should be submitted within 30 days of completing the travel or incurring the expense. Expenses submitted for reimbursement longer than 90 days after completing the travel or incurring the expense will not be accepted.

Substantiated Expenses

All expenses must be properly substantiated and include proper receipts and proof of payment; Traveler is required to provide sufficient documentary evidence to justify the expense as Business Travel.

Procedures and definitions for this policy can be found on the Accounts Payable site.

Additional Notes

This policy pertains to travel and business expenses supported by any source of RISD funds including, but not limited to general operating budgets, designated funds, restricted gifts, endowment income, sponsored agreements and student organizations. Where sponsor, agency, or other regulations are more restrictive than prescribed by this policy, the sponsor, agency, or other regulations will apply.

Use of Preferred Suppliers

Travelers are expected to book travel with and through College Preferred Suppliers. Please visit the Procurement webpage for details and contact information.

International Travel

All of RISD’s policies and procedures pertaining to travel apply to foreign travel. Actual costs are reimbursable, to the extent reasonable and necessary, provided valid business purposes and appropriate documentation are submitted with the expense report. Any travel by students or faculty conducted outside the US should be reported to and coordinated with the Director of Global Partners and Programs.

Business Travel Accident Insurance

RISD provides business travel accident protection for all active full and part-time faculty and staff members on RISD-approved and directed business travel. Prior authorization of travel is important to support claims made under this policy. RISD will not reimburse for travel insurance purchased for a traveler. Specific questions regarding the RISD business travel accident insurance coverage should be directed to the Office of Risk Management and Compliance.

Meals While Traveling

RISD will reimburse travelers for the reasonable cost of their own meals incurred during the time they are away from home (as distinguished from business entertainment expenses or local business meals covered in the Catering and Entertainment Policy). Employees can choose to be reimbursed via per diem or actual cost for meals. Non-employees are not eligible for per-diem. As a general rule, travelers are expected to incur no additional cost for meals which are provided as part of a fee for attendance at conferences, workshops, hotel cost, etc. When meals are provided in this way, the daily meal per diem must be reduced accordingly. If there is a business justification provided regarding dietary restrictions, the traveler may be reimbursed for the meal. RISD will not reimburse travelers for the purchase of alcoholic beverages.

Travelers sometimes pay for meals for others for college business reasons. These business expenses must include the name(s) of the meal attendees and the business purpose of the meal. If the attendees are not RISD employees, their affiliation with the College should be provided. For meals with five or more individuals including the traveler, the traveler can name the group instead of each attendee (example of group attendees: Apparel Dept., Alumni Club of Boston). These may be considered legitimate RISD business expenses provided the expense is pre-approved by the employee’s VP/Provost; however, they may not be appropriate on federal grants or contracts.

Miscellaneous Travel Costs

Other travel expenses may include, but are not limited to:

  • hotel internet service fees
  • fees for currency exchanges
  • tips

All such expenses must be itemized and documented in accordance with this policy.

Personal Business Conducted During Period of Travel

Personal expenses, as well as any incremental travel costs incurred for personal business during the course of a RISD business trip are the responsibility of the traveler. Incremental travel costs include expenses that would not have been incurred on the business portion of the trip, except for the fact that the traveler conducted personal business at some point during the trip. For example, gas and mileage charges for out-of-the-way travel to visit friends or relatives are personal expenses. Such expenses must be identified and deducted from the expenses reported on the expense report.

Companion/Spousal Business and Travel Expenses

Expenses incurred for accompanying companions/spouses are considered personal in nature except on occasions when attendance of a companion/spouse at an event serves a bona fide business purpose for RISD and the presence of the companion/spouse is essential (not just beneficial) to the employee being able to carry out the business purpose for RISD. In these cases, the Vice President/Provost should authorize the business and/or travel expense in writing. The written approval must be submitted with the expense report and must detail the business purpose served by the companion/spouse’s attendance at the event and how the companion/spouse’s presence was essential in carrying out that business purpose. Amounts paid by RISD for companion/spousal travel and/or business expenses must be included in the employee's W-2 as taxable wages unless the companion/spouse’s attendance at the event meets the above requirements. Departments should consult the Controller prior to making commitments to reimburse for companion/spousal travel and/or business expenses, as the reimbursement may be taxable to the employee.

Unallowable Expenses

RISD will not reimburse or pay for expenses that are inherently personal in nature. The following list of personal expenses serves as a guide and is not to be considered all-inclusive:

  • Personal grooming service, such as barbers, hairdressers, toiletries massages, manicures/pedicures, and saunas
  • Childcare costs, babysitting, and house-sitting costs
  • Pet care, including fees for boarding pets and other animal care
  • Any personal clothing and accessories
  • Prescriptions, over-the-counter medication, and other medical expenses
  • Personal reading material, such as non-scholarly magazines, books, and newspapers
  • Personal recreation or entertainment such as greens fees, sightseeing fares, theater tickets, entry fees, lift tickets, etc.
  • Credit card delinquency fees and finance charges
  • Amenities such as movies, in-room bars.
  • Personal costs such as life, medical, personal automobile loss of personal effects and baggage insurance
  • Business travel accident insurance beyond the college’s policies
  • Lost baggage
  • Loss or theft of travel advance money, airline tickets, personal funds, and/or other personal property
  • Parking tickets, traffic violations, auto repairs, or the cost of vehicle towing
  • Excessive meal costs that are not substantiated by a complete and explanatory business purpose
  • Individual meal expenses for one-day travel
  • Expenses not properly documented (non-itemized)
  • Membership fees for priority boarding, expedited screening or customs processing (Global Entry, PreCheck, Nexus, Sentri)
  • Lost/damaged baggage or personal items
  • Carbon offset credits
  • Donations
  • Room-upgrade fees
  • No-show fees
  • In-room movies
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Fees for personal expenses, such as: golf, exercise room/health-cub
  • Rooms paid with frequent-guest-program credit
  • Expenses related to an employee's spouse or other family members
  • Gift card/certificates
  • Home Office furniture
  • Sales tax for items purchased in/shipped to MA, RI, and NY

If the item being considered is not on this list, please reach out to Procurement to find out its eligibility for reimbursement.


This is a living document. This document discusses policies/procedures meant to establish an operational reference point. As data is gathered and risks assessed, the policies/processes on this document will be revised as needed and any and all updates will be communicated to the RISD community. No policy can account for every single scenario that may be encountered. If a situation arises were an exception to the policies/procedures outlined on this manual is required, a letter of authorization from the Senior Vice President Finance & Administration or their delegate will be required.

Revision history

This policy was created on: 7/20/2020

This policy was last reviewed/modified on: 10/5/2021

This policy was approved as of: 10/5/2021 and republished on 6/26/2023

Next scheduled review: As needed.


Issuing Office

Controller’s Office

Responsible Officer

Senior Vice President of Finance and Administration

Individuals/offices required for review and changes

Director of Procurement Services

Credit Card Services and Reimbursement Administrator