1201 - Travel & Expense - Purchase & Payment of Business Air Travel

Policy Number: 1201
Policy Name: 1201 - Travel & Expense - Purchase & Payment of Business Air Travel
Formerly: F36, III.
Effective Date: July 1, 2013
Revision Date: June 28, 2013
Applicability: This policy applies to all airfare paid with University funds


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

Business Objectives For This Policy

    • Define "lowest appropriate airfare" and standards for purchasing University paid airfare
    • Identify the contracted self-booking tool as the University's sole-source for booking internet based airfare
    • Identify the contracted travel management company as the University's sole-source for booking full-service reservations, when required by this policy
    • Reduce University travel costs and increase service standards by:
      • Reducing ancillary airline fees (checked baggage, priority boarding, coach seat assignments, etc.)
      • Consolidating volume with partner agency and with airlines to negotiate services, soft-dollar savings, and achieve deeper discounts
      • Reducing self-booking and travel agency fees by consolidating volume
      • Identifying those in travel status at any given time for the purpose of providing assistance in the event of an emergency
      • Tracking and salvaging unused ticket values
      • Reducing administrative processes associated with air travel purchases and payment/reimbursement processes via central payment, automation and standardization of process
      • Clarifying air and related expenses that can be paid with University funds

Policy Statement

Purchasing Airfare

When transport by commercial airline is authorized (for employees, students, or guests), the reservation must be booked through the contracted self-booking tool or travel management company if the travel is individual domestic or non-complex international airfare.

(This statement excludes UW Madison Athletics, operating an on-site agency under on-going delegation.)

When making reservations, all air travel must be purchased at the lowest appropriate fare, which is defined as airfare that meets the following two criteria:

  • non-refundable
  • coach/economy class

Whenever possible, airfare should be purchased 14–60 days prior to departure to receive optimal pricing.

The contracted booking tool offers airfare within the University’s definition of lowest available, from all major airline carriers.  The tool allows users a “one-stop” shopping experience in which to compare and purchase live airfare inventory from all reputable global sources, allowing users to select any in-policy airfare that best meets the business need.

Use of Traditional Travel Agency Services

Use of traditional travel agencies is reserved only for reservations that require professional travel agency assistance with arrangements.  Allowable examples include:

  • Complex international air arrangements
  • Group air arrangements

In these limited circumstances, travelers are free to choose a travel agency that best meets their needs. However, the recommended source for these services is the UW contract travel management company or UW System’s on-site agent because these options provide the same benefits for online users such as preferred carrier seat discounts, fee waivers, emergency services and reservation support.

Additional Travel Days

The University will not pay additional costs for travel beyond the business travel dates.  When a more favorable price can be obtained for airfare by adding additional days to the trip, e.g., staying over a Saturday or flying on a particular day, reasonable expenses for lodging and meals for the minimum necessary additional days may be University-paid if the total cost of the fare, plus the additional days' expenses (lodging, meals, etc.), are less than the lowest available airfare would have been without the additional days of travel.

When additional travel days are incurred because the traveler elects to combine personal days with business travel, the cost of the ticket without the additional personal days must be compared to the cost with the added days, and the lower of the two will be paid. Cost comparisons are required to be attached to the payment method as documentation.

Payment of Airfare

The approved payment methods for making airfare purchases are University Purchasing Cards approved for travel, institutional or individual liability Corporate Travel Cards.  These card products generate rebate for the institutions, increasing travel savings.  Only policy compliant airfare and related fees are permitted to be charged to university purchasing cards.

Air-related Payable/Reimbursable Expenditures 

The following expenditures will be paid or reimbursed with University funds:

  • Travel agency or online booking fees 
  • All federal excise taxes
  • Costs associated with booking an aisle, window or exit row seat, 24 hours prior to departure or at gate, on a standard coach/economy class ticket
  • Charges for overhead bin storage of carry-on bag
  • One piece of checked baggage - additional costs for extra or overweight baggage require justification of the added expense
  • Penalties or additional costs assessed for cancellations or changes outside the employee's control, with justification and approval.  Some examples of allowable circumstances are:  
    • cancelled conference/meeting or date changes
    • airline cancelled flight
    • unexpected illness of a direct family member
    • your own unexpected illness which kept you from taking the business trip or continuing your trip as planned
    • unexpected death of a family member

Note: Tickets purchased via the contracted booking tool, with the contracted travel management company, or through UWSA on-site can be cancelled without airline penalty up until 5:00 p.m. the next business day following purchase confirmation.

Non-Payable/Reimbursable Expenses

The following expenditures will not be paid or reimbursed with University funds:

  • Travel packages that combine airfare, lodging and/or car rental in any combination, not purchase through contract
  • Additional costs for economy plus, economy comfort, business, or first-class seat assignments
  • Additional costs for priority boarding
  • Additional costs for personal travel or offered side trips taken in conjunction with business travel
  • Additional costs for travel companions
  • Expenses for memberships in travel/airline clubs and/or daily club use
  • Expenses for flight insurance
  • Airline penalties for cancellations and changes for the convenience of the traveler

Receipt Requirements

Receipts are required for all airfare purchases and related fees over $25.  Airfare receipts must contain the following information:

  • Traveler name
  • Dates and times of flight
  • Flight itinerary
  • Class of travel (must be coach/economy)
  • Total cost, including any additional service or related fees, federal excise tax
  • Confirmation of payment

Unused Tickets 

Any value of unused tickets must be used for future University business travel.  Tickets booked through the contracted booking tool or with the contract travel management company or UW System in-house travel agent are recorded in an inventory of unused tickets for future use.

For any ticket purchased outside of these sources, it is the responsibility of the traveler to facilitate a refund or credit from the travel agency or airline to be used for the next business trip. Employees will be held personally responsible for the cost of unused tickets and will not be reimbursed unless it can be substantiated that the loss occurred outside the employee's control.  

Airline Benefits

Benefits from any airline promotion, such as free tickets for frequent fliers, merchandise, etc., that accrue as a result of UW-paid travel belong to the University and must be used for subsequent University-related business. Benefits as a result of voluntary bumping may be retained by the employee, provided the alternative travel resulting from the bumping does not involve any loss of work time or additional University travel costs.  An employee may not be compensated for business use of frequent flyer vouchers, vouchers for bumping, discount coupons, or other instruments of value. Such discounts, if earned as a result of personally paid travel, should be used for subsequent personal travel.

Fly America Act/Open Skies Agreement

The Fly America Act/Open Skies Agreement requires that Americans who fly internationally on federal funds (grants) utilize a U.S. flag carrier, with few exceptions. 


  • When there is no nonstop or direct service offered by a U.S. carrier
  • When travel solely outside the U.S. increases the number of aircraft changes en route to more than two
  • When the passenger’s travel time is extended by at least 6 hours
  • When the connecting time is 4 hours or more at an overseas interchange point

The list below details the major U.S. flag air carriers: 

  • Airtran Airways
  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • American Trans Air
  • Delta Airlines
  • Frontier Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Sun Country Airlines
  • United Airlines
  • US Airways

Read more at U.S. General Services Administration 

See additional information on the Fly America Act at click here