Employees must secure authorization to travel from their immediate supervisor and in accordance with travel policies and procedures established by their department or college. Employees are expected to make travel arrangements in compliance with applicable laws and in a manner that excludes consideration of personal gain. All travel and related expenses must have a business justification and the traveler must exercise reasonable judgment to ensure that travel is conducted in a cost-efficient manner. These guidelines apply for expenses being purchased either personally for reimbursement or on the Iowa State University Travel and Hospitality Card (T&H Card).

Note: Traveler's cannot seek personal reimbursement until after travel has concluded. Only T&H Card charges should be reconciled before travel.

Iowa State University has structured its travel policies so that, with only one exception noted below, reimbursements are qualified business expenses for tax purposes and, therefore, do not have to be reported as income to the traveler. As a general rule, the Accounting Office staff must rely on the representations of the traveler and the oversight of the supervisor approving travel reimbursement to ensure that only allowable business expenses are submitted for reimbursement. Particular care should be taken when combining business and personal travel.

The Internal Revenue Service defines meal reimbursements for trips that do not involve an overnight stay as taxable. Reimbursements in this category are subject to withholding and are reported on the employee's W-2. University reimbursements and vouchers are public records, and travelers should be aware that their expenses are subject to public scrutiny. To maintain the public's trust, it is advisable to be conservative in incurring expenses or requesting reimbursement.

Formal travel authorizations, called “spend authorizations” in Workday, are not required for domestic travel. A spend authorization is recommended for all foreign travel. Employees traveling abroad are required to register through the Risk Management Terra Dotta portal prior to departure. Furthermore, travelers purchasing air tickets both foreign and domestic are expected to book only economy or coach fares. More specific details, provisions, and exceptions are outlined in the Air Travel Policies and Procedures section (link to ‘Air Travel Policies and Procedures.’ Travelers may not select air carriers for the purpose of obtaining frequent flyer miles or other premiums that benefit the traveler personally.

Departments should consider using the university's preferred travel vendor(s) before looking elsewhere for tickets. While "special" fares sound tempting, our experience has shown that fewer that 1 in 4 fares which have been represented as being less costly than those provided by our contract agency actually were. There are no national or international standards which regulate or test the proficiency of travel agencies, consolidators, or ticket brokers. Procurement Services has very limited options to assist you if a travel agency or consolidator, not under contract with ISU, defaults on its obligations.

Authorization to travel is a matter requiring the concurrence of the traveler’s supervisor subject to any departmental or college travel policies. The Accounting Office does not require travel authorizations. The determination of the business purpose of the travel and the business justification of claims for expense reimbursement requires an intimate understanding of the nature of the activities carried out by the traveler and can only be reasonably determined at the departmental level. In addition to establishing departmental policies related to travel, the supervisor or department chair should use the following criteria when reviewing and approving travel authorizations and travel reimbursements:

  • The travel expense was incurred while conducting university business
  • The information contained on the expense report and in the attached documentation is accurate and in accordance with university policy.
  • The travel is charged to the proper account or funding source.
  • The expense meets sponsor restrictions if funded by a sponsored program.

Note: The supervisor or department chair may no longer delegate approval authority. Spend authorizations will route to the employee’s supervisor. Expense reports however do not automatically route to the employee’s supervisor as these instead go to the Cost Center Manager. In some instances this could be the same person. There is an option for the Cost Center Manager to inform the employee’s supervisor by selecting the “add approver,” button when viewing the “review expense report,” screen.

All expense reports will either originate with the Procurement and Expense Specialist (PES) or will route through the PES. It is the responsibility of the PES to review and verify the accuracy of these reports and ensure compliance before approving. Specific instructor led training is provided to employees in this role periodically. It is expected that the PES will correct any errors prior to approval and avoid relying on the Controller Department auditors to deny unallowable charges.

If you have the role of approver (or proxy) for your department you have the important responsibility of determining whether the expenses to be reimbursed are allowable and appropriate.

Although we have online edit checks to reduce some routine errors, approvers and those who enter expenses on behalf of the employee have not been absolved of their responsibility to perform a thorough review of the expenses being claimed, including a review of whether expenses are supported by required receipts.

The approval process needs to be more than just a "rubber stamp." If you have doubts about the appropriateness or reasonableness of an expenditure you should withhold approval of the reimbursement until you receive an adequate explanation from the employee. If you do not understand the explanation offered, ask again and require the explanation to be made clear. Even with a full explanation you may find a particular expenditure unallowable.


  • Contact the Office of Compliance, 515-294-3790