Travel Expenditures

The purpose of the policy is to ensure travel expenditures are reasonable, customary, and necessary to conduct official university business. This policy applies to the travel of all employees in the performance of their official duties. Provisions of this policy also may apply to individuals other than employees who are authorized to travel at university expense.


The university’s policy is to pay for or reimburse faculty, staff or other authorized travelers for necessary expenditures incurred in the conduct of the university’s business. All payments or reimbursements must be through the university’s financial system. Certain travel expense reimbursements may require additional approval from a university dean or vice president.

University departments may adopt more restrictive policies and such restrictions must be monitored through department level controls.

Government Unallowable expenses may not be paid or reimbursed using a sponsored project account.  See

Travel Management Company

The preferred method for making business travel arrangements is through USC’s travel management company (TMC), including arrangements for official university guests (USC Travel).


Air travel

The university will support the cost of economy class (coach) commercial airfare for official university travel. When business travel necessitates the use of unrestricted air ticketing it must be the least expensive unrestricted airfare.

First class and business class air travel is only allowed under the following circumstances:

  • Advance written approval is obtained from the President or applicable senior vice president;
  • Such travel is necessary because of documented medical reasons, with prior approval from Senior Business Officer or manager; or
  • Coach class is unavailable and alternate/travel schedules would result in circuitous routing during unreasonable hours, excessively prolonged travel, or result in additional costs that would offset the transportation savings (substantiating documents must be provided).

Under no circumstances may business class or first class travel costs be paid for on a sponsored project account.  Costs in excess of the basic least expensive unrestricted accommodations must be at the expense of the university school or department incurring the travel.

When federal funds are used for foreign travel, tickets must be purchased in compliance with the Fly America Act/Open Skies Agreement. This Act stipulates that tickets must be purchased for airline travel on:

  • A U.S. flag air carrier; or
  • A foreign carrier that operates under a U.S. flag air carrier code-sharing agreement and tickets or documentation for electronic tickets identify the U.S. flag air carrier’s designator code and flight number.

Such carriers must be used unless the traveler can document such carriers were “unavailable,” as availability is defined by federal regulations. Certification of unavailability must be on file in the Department of Contracts and Grants prior to purchase.

Not all sponsors accept the Open Skies agreement; before booking any non-U.S. carriers, verify terms and conditions with the Department of Contracts and Grants.

Rail travel

The university will support the cost of economy class rail for official university travel. Use of business class rail is permitted on unrestricted accounts, when use of business class is necessary to ensure a seat reservation (e.g., Amtrak).

Helicopter service

Use of helicopter service between Los Angeles and the university’s offices on Catalina Island is permitted with advance written approval from a Senior Business Officer.

Use of all other helicopter service is only authorized:

  • In cases of emergency;
  • When it is the only mode of transportation; or
  • With advance written approval from the President or applicable senior vice president.

Privately-owned aircraft

Use of privately owned or rented aircraft for university business is not permitted, unless approved by the President or applicable senior vice president.


Privately-owned vehicles

A privately-owned motor vehicle may be used for university business when it is the most appropriate transportation mode, such as for local trips. Use of a privately-owned vehicle may not be used for long trips that result in a higher total cost (mileage + meals + lodging) to the university than round trip economy class airfare.

Individuals will be reimbursed at the current Internal Revenue Services (IRS) mileage rate. The personal mileage reimbursement covers all costs related to the operation of the vehicle, including service, maintenance, insurance, depreciation, and gas.

Rental vehicles

The university will reimburse travelers for the cost of renting a vehicle, plus associated rental car expenses (e.g., gasoline). The rental or purchase of vans and SUVs that seat more than ten passengers is strictly prohibited.

Compliance with motor vehicle driving laws

Individuals using a privately-owned or rental vehicle for travel on university business must comply with applicable motor vehicle driving laws for the region in which they are driving.

Violated driving laws that result in citations, such as but not limited to traffic or parking citations, are the personal responsibility of the traveler and any associated expenses are not reimbursable, regardless of whether the expense was incurred in a privately-owned or rented vehicle.

Meals and Lodging

When a university business trip includes at least one night of lodging, expenses for incurred meals and lodging are to be reported using one of the following four methods:

  • Method A (preferred) – actual lodging and actual meal expenses
  • Method B – actual lodging and meal per diem (domestic) or meal per diem (international)
  • Method C – per diem lodging and per diem meals (domestic)
  • Method D – per diem lodging and per diem meals (international)

The method selected must be used for the entire trip.

Lodging and meal payment requests that exceed the maximum actual allowance require approval from a dean or vice president.

All four methods are permitted on sponsored project accounts. However, sponsored project travelers should review the terms of the sponsored project to determine if special rates are required (e.g., state awards sometimes require the use of state per diem rates). Travelers are eligible to claim expenses, allowance, or per diem beginning on the date of departure and including the date of return.

Substantiating Travel Expenses

Unrestricted accounts

The university requires receipts to be used to substantiate business travel expenses when a single expense is $75 or more and for all hotel transactions. Receipts are not required for the following:

  • single expense less than $75
  • for domestic meals or international meals when claiming Method B
  • for meals and lodging when claiming Method C
  • for meals and lodging when claiming Method D

Transportation and ancillary expenses must be reported separately and are not considered part of a traveler’s lodging and meals expenses regardless of method used.

Sponsored project accounts

Receipts are required for all amounts when commercially available.

Missing receipts

When a receipt is required and cannot be obtained or has been lost, the person who incurred the expense must complete a Missing Receipt Declaration. Detailed information on this process is available on the Receipts page of the Business Services website.



Drivers using their personal vehicles for university business travel must carry their own comprehensive/collision auto insurance in the statutory minimum amounts required by the laws for the region in which they are driving. Individuals will be reimbursed for use of their personal vehicles at the university mileage rate, which is intended to include the cost of insurance.

The university requires that additional liability insurance for $1 million in coverage be purchased when transporting students via a rental vehicle that seats more than seven people (one driver + six passengers). This policy applies to all van and SUV rentals, including rentals made through the university’s contract rental car companies. Such additional liability insurance will be paid for or reimbursed by USC.

For USC employees on university business, the university has a self-insurance policy that covers vehicle rentals in the fifty U.S. states and the District of Columbia. A deductible may apply according to procedures administered by Risk Management Services. USC’s self-insurance policy covers employee rentals only.

Employees should not purchase LDW/CDW (which covers any damage to the rental vehicle) or liability insurance (which covers bodily harm and property damage outside the rental vehicle) for domestic business rental vehicles, even if using a non-contract rental car company. However, employees dependent on the university’s self-insurance policy should be in possession of Risk Management’s insurance certificate.

USC does not have self-insurance coverage for international rentals, including rentals in Canada.  Furthermore, contract rental car rates do not include international insurance coverage. Therefore, USC business travelers renting vehicles outside the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia must purchase insurance, which will be reimbursed by USC.

Illness, injuries or other emergencies

Prior to departure, USC travelers should be in possession of all contact information for USC business travel emergencies, and be familiar with the university’s business travel emergency procedures.

Travel insurance

Because the university provides significant insurance coverage for travelers, additional travel insurance will not be paid for or reimbursed by the university, except when the additional insurance coverage has been approved in advance by Risk Management or Travel Management and Corporate Card Services.

Lost or stolen luggage

University business travelers whose luggage is either lost or stolen should recoup the cost of the lost luggage and the luggage’s content through either the service provider responsible for the loss (e.g., airline) or Visa, if the ticket (airline, rail, etc.) was purchased either on a Travel Card or Purchase Order.

When all measures to recoup costs from suppliers and/or Visa have been exhausted, the university will reimburse the traveler for lost items with approval from the Senior Business Officer.

Note that the university’s insurance policy covers claims resulting from theft if over $25,000 (per occurrence) and from loss if over $5,000 (per occurrence). Risk Management should only be consulted when stolen or lost luggage losses exceed the stated thresholds.

Miscellaneous Travel Expense Restrictions

The following are examples, not an all-inclusive listing, of miscellaneous travel expenses not permitted using university funds because they are not considered necessary expenditures incurred in direct consequence of the discharge of employees’ job duties or university business:

  • Clothing and accessories
  • Companion travel – exceptions require advance written approval from the President or applicable senior vice president (If such approval is granted, the expense will be considered a taxable fringe benefit and will be reported on the employee’s W-2 as income)
  • Frequent traveler program fees – costs to participate in a frequent flier program are not reimbursed by the university
  • USC Travel card late fees – unless it can be clearly demonstrated that the university was at fault in processing payment, dean or vice president approval is required for all Travel Card late fee payment requests
  • Luggage – luggage purchased for a university trip or event will not be paid for or reimbursed by the university, except for luggage needed to transport university-owned items, such as trade show material
  • Movies
  • Personal care – such as but not limited to massages, hair care, manicures, etc., that may be undertaken while on or in preparation for a business trip (or event)
  • Personal travel combined with university business travel – the personal portion will not be paid for or reimbursed by the university

Travel to Countries with U.S. Sanctions

All USC faculty and staff must contact the Office of the General Counsel to obtain legal review and approval before engaging in any university-related activities involving countries subject to U.S. federal government sanctions, including travel or other transactions. Links to government sites with current travel warnings are provided on the Duty of Care page.

Frequent Traveler Program Participation

Participation in travel-related frequent flier or frequent stay programs is permitted. Miles and points from such programs can be retained by the individual. However, rewards earned from hotels as a result of a group booking belong to the university and cannot be retained by the individual. Furthermore, the university does not reimburse the value of any frequent traveler points redeemed for university business travel.


Travel expense procedures can be found on the Reimbursements page of the Business Services website.

Responsible Office

Business Services
(213) 740-2716

Issued by

James Staten
Senior Vice President, Finance and Chief Financial Officer