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Business Travel and Expense Policy

The intent of this policy is to support the comfort and convenience of those individuals traveling for College business in a way that  is economically effective and achieves institutional consistency, discipline, and accountability. This policy also provides flexibility for President’s Staff members to effectively manage travel within their divisions/departments, through permitting exceptions in certain circumstances. All individual travel and business expense activity for the College is governed by this policy regardless of funding source or payment method (invoice, PCard, or reimbursement to the traveler).

Travelers are expected to be aware of any travel policies or guidelines their department(s) may have in addition to this policy. Note that such departmental policies or guidelines may be more restrictive than those set forth in this policy. If there is any discrepancy between this policy and a specific departmental policy, or policies required by an external granting agency (e.g. the federal government) or donor, the more restrictive policy will govern that particular situation or issue.  Exceptions may be made in cases where this policy is more restrictive and the disagreement/discrepancy is specifically allowed and/or required by the external granting agency or donor.

All expenses covered under this policy are subject to budget availability and the approval of the applicable financial manager(s). The College reserves the right to reject any reimbursement requests or require reimbursement to the College for PCard expenses that do not adhere to this policy.

General Expectations | Payment Methods and Reimbursement | Travel | Transportation | Lodging | Meals, Entertainment, Gifts, and Alcohol | Audit and Review | Definitions

General Expectations

Sustainable Travel

At Swarthmore, we recognize that transportation is a key contributor to our campus carbon footprint, and we think critically about how we can reduce our impact. The Office of Sustainability provides sustainable travel guidelines to assist travelers in reducing the College’s scope 3 emissions. 

To account for the climate impact of air travel, the College will levy an air travel carbon fee on non-personnel department budgets based on the number of flights taken in the prior calendar year beginning with the Fiscal Year 2023 budget.​​​​​​

Expectations for Travelers
  • Every effort should be made to schedule travel arrangements to keep College expenses to a minimum, while allowing a reasonable level of comfort and convenience.
  • Flights, hotel arrangements, and registrations (to take advantage of early bird pricing) should be made at the earliest possible date once a travel itinerary is approved to assure lowest costs. In an instance where any travel arrangement expenses are incurred in one fiscal year and the travel takes place in the succeeding fiscal year, the “expense description” in Chrome River Expense must be noted so it can be allocated as a prepaid expense and posted to the proper (i.e. the succeeding) fiscal year.
  • If a travel itinerary is altered to accommodate personal travel in addition to business travel, the traveler is required to document the differences between the business travel-only itinerary and the adjusted itinerary and will be responsible for any additional costs incurred.
What is Considered a Legitimate Business or Travel Expense

The College generally considers items to be legitimate travel or business expenses if they would qualify as deductible by the IRS. The IRS provides the following guidance:

“Travel expenses are the ordinary and necessary expenses of traveling away from home for your business, profession, or job. You cannot deduct expenses that are lavish or extravagant or that are for personal purposes. You are traveling away from home if your duties require you to be away from the general area of your tax home for a period substantially longer than an ordinary day's work, and you need to get sleep or rest to meet the demands of your work while away.” See IRS Topic No. 511: Business Travel Expenses for further details. 

Permissible and Impermissible Expenses

As financial stewards of College funds, travelers are expectedresponsible to be aware of permissible and impermissible expenses.

Most Senior Level Attendee As Expense Owner

For any business meals involving multiple College employees, generally the most senior level attendee must be the expense owner (i.e. pay for the expense) for any/all such expenses incurred to avoid an instance of that most senior level attendee approving an expense in which they took part. This policy applies to meals, entertainment, retreats and any group travel expenses.

Payment Methods and Reimbursement

Expense Reconciliation Timeframe

Travel expenses on PCards must be reconciled by the seventh (7th) of the month following the statement period for the PCard transaction(s), in accordance with PCard policy. Out-of-pocket reimbursement requests must be submitted via Chrome River Expense within 60 days of the last date of travel for which reimbursement is being requested. Guidelines for using Chrome River Expense can be found on the Chrome River Expense website.

Payment Methods for Business and Travel Expenses
  • Purchasing Card (PCard): College PCardholders should use the PCard for all travel and business expenses except in cases where a merchant only accepts cash, or for tips and other minor but legitimate incidentals. Employees are eligible for a PCard if they annually spend $2,500 or more on travel and other expenses. For information on eligibility or on how to request a PCard, please contact the expense management coordinator. PCard transactions are governed by this policy and the purchasing card policy

  • Personal Funds: Travelers not eligible for a PCard, or preferring to use personal funds, can submit their travel expenses for reimbursement after the completion of their business travel. Advance-paid items such as flights, registrations, or hotel accommodations requiring prepayment cannot be reimbursed until after the completion of travel. ​​​​​

Chrome River Expense

All travel expenses must be reconciled or submitted via Chrome River Expense, the College’s expense management platform. Please refer to the Chrome River Expense page for further information on this tool or contact the expense management coordinator for assistance with Chrome River Expense. ​​​​

Expense Documents and Receipts

A detailed expense description is required for all transactions reconciled on PCards or submitted for reimbursement. Additionally, an electronic version of the original itemized receipt is required for all expenses of $10.00 or greater. Receipts are not required to be added to Chrome River Expense for expenses under $10.00.

Missing receipts for expenses $10 and greater must be rare or the employee risks losing PCard privileges. Additionally, reimbursement may be refused if an original itemized receipt is not submitted for an expense. In the event of a missing receipt, the traveler must complete the Affidavit for Missing Receipt Google form and print the confirmation email to be uploaded to Chrome River as the receipt for the transaction. 

Individual expense types may require additional information for the expense description, or supporting documentation, in addition to the original itemized receipt. In these situations, the additional requirements are included in the individual travel-type sections in this policy. 

Expense Approvals

Expense reports in Chrome River will be routed for approval to the respective financial manager, for the appropriate budget(s) to be charged. In the event a financial manager is also the expense owner, the approval will be routed to the expense owner’s supervisor (for staff members) or the Provost’s Office (for faculty members). No one may approve their own expense report. ​​​​​​


International Travel

For insurance and safety purposes, international travel must adhere to the policies of the International Travel Risk Management Committee. International travelers are required to complete an international travel registration detailing the location(s), purpose, funding, and all attendees for the trip.​​​​​​ The International Travel Registry can be accessed here.

Travel Pre-Approval Requirements

Pre-approval of travel by the financial manager of the budget to be charged is never required for academic scholarly research; however, it is suggested for all trips (that are not academic scholarship research-related) exceeding $2,000 in total expenses and/or lasting more than five (5) days. Departments are strongly encouraged to implement their own pre-approval policies. 

Combining Business With Personal Travel

When combining a business trip with personal travel, the expense reimbursement should be split so that only the business portion of the trip is submitted for reimbursement or charged to a PCard. 

Spouse/Partner/Companion Travel

Generally, the College does not pay for or reimburse the travel-related or entertainment expenses (e.g., airfare, hotel, meals, etc.) of an employee's or other authorized person's spouse/partner/companion. There may be an occasional exception where the College will pay for the costs associated with such travel for a spouse/companion, but in such cases the spouse/partner/companion’s travel arrangements must receive prior approval from the president or the appropriate president’s staff member and meet IRS guidelines.

In order for spousal/companion travel to not be taxable to the employee or authorized person, the presence of the spouse/companion must be essential (not just beneficial) to the College employee or authorized person being able to carry out that individual's business purpose for the College. A determination of whether an employee's or authorized person's spouse/companion serves a bona fide business purpose, as defined by the IRS, will be based upon the following criteria:

  • The degree to which the "dominant purpose" of the spouse/partner/companion’s travel is to aid the employee's or authorized person's College business purposes.
  • The spouse/partner/companion's presence on the trip is necessary for the employee or authorized person to effectively carry out College business.
  • The extent to which the spouse/partner/companion's presence on the trip is to provide more than "incidental" business-related services to the College employee or authorized person (e.g., socializing and attending luncheons/dinners, typing notes, or attending to ministerial or scheduling matters, etc. are considered incidental) for the duration of the travel.
  • The time spent by the spouse/partner/companion on personal activities in comparison to the activities related to the business of the College.

​Based on current documentation from the IRS, the following purposes for spousal/companion travel are not likely to be considered bona fide business purpose:

  • The spouse/partner/companion's performance of an incidental service or ministerial task or accompanying the employee or authorized person to luncheons and dinners (e.g., socializing and attending luncheons/dinners, typing notes, or attending to ministerial or scheduling matters, etc. are considered incidental) .
  • An expectation that the spouse/partner/companion will be present at related social functions or that their presence will promote goodwill with the other attendees.
Travel Agents

The use of a travel agent is not required for traveling on College business. However, assistance from an agent is suggested for complex and/or international travel to ensure comfort, convenience, and value. Only the College’s contracted travel agents are permissible for use without prior consent by the director of procurement

The College's current travel agent is Avenue Two Corporate. Contact Beth Heckman at 215-243-1120 or

First/Business Class Travel

The Board of Managers’ stated travel policy for College officers permits first- or business-class travel for the president. Travelers will not be reimbursed for use of any affinity program points for an upgrade to first or business class. In general, it is Swarthmore College's policy that first- or business-class travel is not authorized for College employees traveling on College business. For all other employees (faculty and staff), first- or business-class travel must be pre-approved by the president or their designate. ​​​​​


Fleet Management

The College’s Fleet Management program administers the use of all passenger vehicles on campus and is a convenient resource for employees in need of a vehicle for conducting local business travel. Each Fleet Management vehicle is equipped with E-ZPass and a fuel card. If Fleet Management does not have a College vehicle available, they will attempt to acquire the appropriate rental vehicle (if provided adequate lead time) for the employee’s use. There is no cost to the employee’s department when reserving a vehicle through Fleet Management. Employees who choose to rent a vehicle on their own will incur the cost of the rental to their department’s budget.

Commercial Rental Vehicle Usage for College Travel

Employees are permitted to choose a compact, intermediate, or standard/full-size sedan when renting a vehicle. Rentals of all other vehicle classes (including, but not limited to, premium vehicles, SUVs, minivans, pick-up trucks, etc.) must have pre-approval from the appropriate President's Staff member. The College’s preferred vehicle rental contracts can be found here [PDF]. Rentals from non-preferred vendors will need to purchase collision and comprehensive insurance for vehicle rentals.​​​​​​

Personal Vehicle Usage for College Travel

The College will reimburse travelers for mileage driven at the current IRS standard mileage rate. The suggested maximum daily personal vehicle mileage, minus commuting miles, is 150 miles. Travel exceeding 150 miles per day is typically best conducted using a commercial rental vehicle . 

Tolls and parking are permissible expenses when using a personal vehicle for business travel. The following are not permissible expenses when driving a personal vehicle: 

  • Fuel 
  • Parking tickets 
  • Moving violations
  • Tow trucks 
  • Expenses resulting from an accident or breakdown (e.g. repairs, lodging, impound fees) 
  • It is also impermissible to link PCards to E-ZPass/Toll-by-Plate accounts. 

The traveler’s personal auto insurance is responsible for any accidents occurring while they are driving their personal vehicle on College business. It is the responsibility of the owner of the vehicle to carry adequate insurance for the driver and passengers. In the event of an accident in a personal vehicle on College business, the traveler’s own insurance is primary on any accident. The College is not required to cover any damages, medical claims, or deductibles associated with the accident.

Air Travel

The standard airline accommodation for air travel is economy/coach class. Commercial air travel should be selected based upon lowest available airfare available assuming a reasonable level of comfort and convenience for the traveler. Economy-plus seating is permitted for flights with a duration of more than four hours. The president and division vice presidents/appropriate president’s staff members have the authority to pre-approve airline class upgrades to business class for employee flights at their discretion. The pre-approval must be granted via email and that email must be included as supporting documentation when reconciling the expense. The Board of Managers’ stated travel policy for College officers permits first or business class travel for the president. Travelers will not be reimbursed for use of any affinity program points for an upgrade to first or business class. All chartered flights must be approved in advance for reporting requirements of the College’s insurance policy. 

Supplemental Airline Fees

Early bird check-in and premium seat selection are considered personal expenses and are not permissible. Luggage fees (including checked and/or carry-on luggage, depending on the itinerary and airline) are permissible. Excessive baggage is permissible when necessitated by a legitimate business purpose. Purchasing flight insurance is generally not advisable due the limitations providers of the insurance place on cancelations. However, purchasing refundable airline fares is permitted in cases where the traveler has a reasonable expectation of travel disruption.  

Rail Travel

Coach accommodations are the College standard for rail trips shorter than 50 miles. President's staff members may pre-approve Amtrak Acela service for employees at their own discretion.​​​​​​

Other Modes of Transportation

Reasonable expenses for taxis, rideshares, and mass transit local to the traveler’s College business are permissible (including tips not exceeding 20% for taxis and rideshares). Car services/limousines are only permissible in extenuating circumstances wherein the traveler documents the reason via email to the expense management coordinator at the time of the trip and also receives approval from the president or the appropriate president's staff member. Car-sharing services (e.g. Zipcar) are permissible. However, the College will not reimburse for membership costs for car-sharing programs.

Travel Affinity Programs

Travelers may retain the benefits for frequent flyer or hotel rewards programs that may accrue from business travel. In no circumstances, however, may the traveler choose a reservation at a higher cost in order to accumulate additional program credits. Employees will not be reimbursed for flights purchased with frequent flyer points nor hotel reservations made with hotel rewards points.  


Hotel Accommodations

The College’s standard for hotel accommodations is the single-occupancy rate at full-service and mid-market hotels. This list of full-service and mid-market hotel chains [PDF] is intended to provide examples of hotel brands in the suggested range. Accommodations at luxury hotels are not permitted unless the hotel is the host property for a conference/event the traveler is attending. In such a case, the room must be booked at the conference rate. Incremental upgrades for deluxe, double, suite or concierge-level rooms are not permissible. The complete hotel folio, detailing all expenses billed to a traveler’s room, is required as the original itemized receipt.

Inn at Swarthmore

The President and the appropriate president's staff members have the authority to pre-approve overnight stays for College business at The Inn at Swarthmore, or other properties in close proximity to campus, at their discretion.   ​​​​​​

Short-Term Vacation Rentals

Short-Term Vacation Rentals (STVRs) (e.g VRBO or Airbnb) are permissible if the total cost of the accommodations is equivalent to a permissible hotel stay in proximity to the traveler’s destination. Travelers should be aware of add-on fees for STVRs such as those for cleaning and service when comparing STVRs to hotel accommodations.

Supplemental Accommodation Expenses

Incurring charges for hotel internet access is permissible to the extent that it is necessary to conduct College business. Valet parking is permissible when it is the required or primarily available means of parking at a hotel. Hotel laundry services are permissible for travel lasting five (5) days or more. The appropriate president's staff member may be asked to review these expenses if they appear excessive. Hotel resort fees are permissible only in instances where the property is the host of the conference/event the traveler is attending. In-room movies, hotel spa treatments, golf fees, and in-room minibar expenses are impermissible.​​​​​​

Meals, Entertainment, Gifts, and Alcohol

Permissible Meal Expenses

Expensing meals is generally permissible when overnight travel is required in order to conduct College business or the traveler’s ordinary workday is reasonably impacted by travel. 

Impermissible Meal Expenses

It is impermissible to expense a meal, regardless of meal accounting method, if that particular meal is provided as part of a conference/event which the traveler has paid a registration fee to attend. For example, if lunch is provided on a particular day at a conference, the traveler can only expense breakfast, dinner, and incidentals for that day.​​​​​​

Meal Expensing Methods

When traveling for College business, the College generally permits travelers to choose between itemizing meal expenses or using a per diem based on the federal government’s per diem rates by location (for further information, please see the entry on per diem in the Definitions section, below). However, departments may choose whether or not to allow their travelers to use the per diem or continue the historical practice of itemizing meal expenses. Departments choosing not to permit the use of a per diem for travelers are asked to notify the expense management coordinator of their department’s policy.

Even in cases where a per diem is allowed, travelers may not blend the two methods of meal accounting on a single trip. 

  • Per Diem: Per diem will be reimbursed to travelers upon completion of a trip for College business. The per diem includes alcohol, taxes, tips, and services fees (including room service fees), and can be specified to individual meals (i.e. breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner) or applied to a full day. Specifying the per diem to individual meals is preferred, given that some meal expenses may be impermissible, as detailed above. Chrome River Expense includes the federal government’s per diem database to simplify calculations for the traveler when reconciling expenses.
  • Itemized Meal Expenses: Departments and travelers may choose to forgo the per diem and continue to account for individual meals. In these instances, the original Itemized receipt is required for each meal. Meal receipts showing only the total amount, tip amount, and signature line are invalid as the primary receipt for meals, but may be included as supporting documentation to show the tip amount. Non-itemized receipts will not be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses and also are not acceptable if submitted with a PCard transaction. It is impermissible to expense meals that have already been paid for via a conference/event registration.
Suggested Meal Amounts for Domestic Locations

While there are not strict caps on meal expense reimbursement amounts, the following are suggested meal amounts for most domestic locations (including tip – not to exceed 20%) when conducting College business:

  • Breakfast:    $15.00
  • Lunch:           $25.00
  • Dinner:          $40.00 
Business Meals for First and Last Day of Travel

Regardless of the meal accounting method chosen for the particular trip, meals on the first and last days of travel are permissible expenses, based on the meals missed at home due to the traveler’s itinerary. The chart below provides example travel times on the first day and last day to determine permissibility. Note that breakfast is always permissible on the last day of travel. 


  • Breakfast: Prior to 11 a.m.
  • Lunch: Prior to 3 p.m.
  • Dinner: Prior to midnight
Departmental Meals and Functions

Departmental gatherings that are social in nature may generally be expensed with College funds if they are celebrating a holiday, end-of-year, or a major departmental accomplishment, and have the pre-approval of the appropriate President's Staff member. A campus reception to welcome a new employee, in honor of a retiree, or to celebrate an employee’s departure are acceptable events for reimbursement and PCard usage. Such gatherings should be hosted and approved by a divisional Vice President and should be of reasonable cost. Events on campus must adhere to the catering policy and all related policies. Events to celebrate birthdays, baby showers, or other individual employee life events are generally not permitted to be expensed. College funds may not be used for meals/catering of frequent or routine department meetings (e.g. monthly staff meeting, etc.).

Entertainment Expenses

When meeting guests of the College, entertainment expenses are acceptable when a business discussion takes place immediately before, during, or after the event. These expenses differ from business travel meals since they include multiple people and not just an individual employee. A traveler’s per diem does not apply to entertainment expenses and original itemized receipts are required for all entertainment expenses (except those under $10.00). The expense description for any entertainment expense must clearly state all attendees, including the traveler, plus a thorough explanation of the business purpose of the expense. If multiple employees participate in the event involving an entertainment expense, the most senior level attendee must incur all expenses and submit the expense report.

Gifts, Flowers, and Gift cards/certificates

Gifts under $50.00 for retiring or departing employees and flowers acknowledging significant life events (excluding birthdays and annual holidays) for employees may be expensed. The expense owner must be a member of the department leadership and the expense is subject to the approval of the appropriate President's Staff member. 

Purchases of gift cards/certificates are permitted in the situations outlined in this policy, but are discouraged given that the IRS treats cash or cash equivalents as taxable income. Employees wishing to purchase gift cards/certificates for any purpose must complete the gift card/certificate authorization form. Additionally, the recipients of any gift card/certificate should be made aware that they are required to complete a gift or gift card/certificate acceptance agreement [PDF]. Both of these forms will need to be uploaded to Chrome River Expense as additional supporting documentation along with the original itemized receipt for the applicable expense.


With departmental permission, a reasonable amount of alcohol is permitted to be expensed by travelers choosing to itemize meal expenses. Travelers choosing a per diem are not subject to this alcohol policy. Departments may institute more restrictive guidelines with respect to the purchase of and reimbursement for alcoholic beverages at their discretion. 

For events on campus, employees must complete the alcohol agreement and registration form for faculty and staff and any alcohol purchased for the event must be purchased in Pennsylvania. Alcohol is an impermissible expense on all government grants.

Audit and Review

The College has an obligation to properly review, approve, and record every transaction within its accounting system. All travel expenses of any College employee are audited internally by the expense management coordinator and are also subject to external audit. All expenses outside of this College policy will be presented to the department’s president’s staff member and/or the vice president of finance and administration for review. At a minimum, employees who do not adhere to the college’s business travel & expense policy risk having PCard privileges rescinded and/or have reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses denied. The misdirection of College funds or the reimbursement of business expenses outside of the approved policies of the College constitutes a serious breach of internal controls and a falsification of records. This type of serious employee misconduct may warrant immediate discharge. 


Appropriate President's Staff Member

The President’s Staff is made up of the division vice presidents plus other College leadership as designated here. The appropriate member for this policy is the individual on the President’s Staff who has oversight of a particular employee/traveler’s department.

Business Expense

A reasonable, appropriate, and necessary expense incurred while conducting approved business on behalf of the College.

Commuting Miles/Cost

The normal costs for employees to commute to campus or other primary work location via personal automobile (including mileage and tolls), mass transit, etc. Employees cannot expense commuting costs.


For the purposes of brevity and clarity, when used in this policy, department refers to divisions, departments, offices and centers of the College either individually or collectively.

Division Vice President

Individually, the chief of staff, provost, and vice presidents of admissions, advancement, communications, human resources, finance & administration, and student affairs. All are direct reports of the president.


Generally, a faculty or staff member of the College. Students may be considered employees if the nature of their travel is College business.


Meals or other permissible activities where a College employee incurs expense(s) involving a guest of the College where business is discussed. 

Expense Description

A detailed explanation of each individual expense providing the who, what, why, and when to show the legitimacy of the item as a business expense.

Expense Owner

The individual who pays for an expense whether with a PCard or with personal funds.

Financial Manager

The employee designated in Banner as having responsibility for a budget or budgets. The financial manager is also the approver of all expenses charged to their budget(s) in Chrome River except in cases where they are the expense owner. In such a case, the financial manager’s supervisor or a member of the Provost’s Office will be the approver.

Original Itemized Receipt

The receipt provided by the merchant showing all purchased items and not just the total cost of the expense. For restaurant receipts, this is the initial bill provided by the server and not the credit card slip showing only the amount, tip, and signature line.

Per Diem

An allowance for meals and incidental expenses while traveling. The College’s per diem is based on the federal government’s General Services Administration (GSA) destination-based rates in the 48 contiguous states and the Department of Defense rates for Alaska and Hawaii. The State Department establishes rates for international travel.

Purchasing Card (PCard)

A corporate (i.e. College)-liable credit card administered by the Procurement Office, specifically the expense management coordinator. Employees who expense and/or purchase $2,500 or more annually are eligible for a PCard.

Supporting Documentation

Documentation that may be required when reconciling an expense, in addition to the original itemized receipt.


A College employee who may incur expenses while traveling (local or out-of-town), entertaining, and/or conducting other approved business on behalf of the College.