Travel Budget Savings

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» Posted by on Jul 15, 2014 in Airlines, Business Practices, Electronic Travel Systems, Hotels, Rental Cars | 0 comments

The Bureau of the Public Debt performs reimbursable administrative services to other Government agencies.  Our office administers travel services that include GovTrip E-Travel services and travel policy. 

In the current economic climate with all the focus on cost savings and reduced budgets, saving travel dollars is taking center stage. Agencies are faced with reduced funding for travel and using video conferencing wherever feasible. The Government is tracking the ‘carbon footprint’ of their trips and setting targets for reductions.  This stemmed from a Presidential Executive Order last year and has been highly visible since reporting began. Also centralizing reporting for adherence to Federal and agency travel policies is appearing with the new GSA TravelTrax system.  Just recently, GSA issued a Federal Travel Regulation Bulletin (10-06) providing agency guidance for sustainable travel.

The public and Congress are also interested in the amounts spent on Federal travel with many independent investigations and audits being done.  Further, the press is now involved with a journalist conducting numerous Freedom of Information (FOIA) request for travel data from almost every Governemnt and military organization. The information is being consolidated for public consumption at a webstie called ‘Junket Sleuth’. 

Yet with all the focus on these initiatives, there is still something very obvious that the Government can do in order to reduce travel costs – train travelers and approvers to scrutinize trip  costs.

Over the years, it has been our experience that like anything in life, there are some people that approve travel or incur expenses that take this responsibility seriously.  Likewise, there are also those that have no idea what their responsibility is when it comes to traveling or approving travel documents. To that end, travelers and approvers can do many things to reduce travel costs. 

The Federal Travel Regulations (FTR) mandates that travelers incur, and approvers authorize expenses as would a “prudent” person.  In other words, spend the Government’s money like you were spending your own money.  Not only will doing this save travel budget dollars, it also saves taxpayer dollars as well.  Unfortunately, there is not yet a mandate in the FTR for traveler and travel approver training.

When it comes to air travel, approvers should select the departure and arrival airports not only for cost considerations, but also for mission requirements.  This year, the searchable General Services Administration (GSA) City Pair Fare website includes prices from alternate departure and arrival airports.  In some markets, the savings can be considerable.  One example includes fares ranging from $85.00 each way to $600.00 each way. Since many Government offices are located in cities with multiple airports, and go to destinations with multiple airports, careful consideration to airport selection can save a great deal in an office’s travel budget.

There are two Government City Pair Fares in GovTrip to choose from.  Negotiated contract airfares are coded green in GovTrip with the YCA fare basis code.  Discounted contract airfares are coded yellow in GovTrip with the –CA (dash CA) fare basis code.  While the discounted fares are limited in number, they can and should be used if available as they cost less than the regular YCA fares.  The earlier you book, the more likely you will see the discounted contract –CA fares.

In addition, City Pair contact fares are fully refundable if not used and often are cheaper than discounted, non-refundable commercial airfares.  The City Pair contract fare should be selected, especially when travelers or approvers think their travel plans are subject to change. 

A recent development with airlines has been baggage fees. With a few exceptions, gone are the days where carriers allow baggage at no charge.  Commercial baggage fees also apply to the City Pair program.  Even so, travelers and approvers should use common sense while traveling with baggage.  For a trip lasting two or three days, one bag fee under the weight limit is normally sufficient.  Travelers may also opt to bring a carry-on bag and eliminate baggage fees.  For longer trips, two bags may be the norm, depending on whether or not the traveler requests reimbursement for laundry and dry cleaning. Travelers should also consider joining the airline frequent flier programs since with a certain level of points, there are no bag fees. 

In the current economic environment, there seems to be an overabundance of unsold hotel rooms.  Many hotels that participate in the official Government lodging program, FedRooms have reduced their FedRooms rates to much lower than the Government per diem rate, or even their own “best available rate”.  These lower rates still include amenities such as breakfast, Wi-Fi, shuttle service, upgrades, or other offers. 

Even though travelers should give first consideration to FedRooms properties, GovTrip requires a justification for not using a FedRooms property.

Travelers should remember that the ‘government rate’ is not the same as the FedRooms rate. Hotels set their own ‘government rates’ and offer them to Federal, state, and local governments, and are normally set at the Federal per diem rate, or higher.  The FedRooms rate is guaranteed to be at or below the per diem rate.  Offices can save a considerable portion of their lodging travel budget by selecting FedRooms properties. In addition, FedRooms satisfies the requirement for travelers to stay in fire-safe facilities.  FedRooms also has some negotiated benefits such as cancellations up to 4 p.m. the day of arrival with no penalty, no reservation deposits needed, and travelers can still earn frequent stay points while using FedRooms properties.  There are more FedRooms properties than ever before with a focus on locations that are closer to Federal business needs.

Travelers and approvers should give first consideration to using a Government automobile (GOV), if available, prior to using a rental car.  If driving to a regional airport, a one-way car rental may be less costly than renting a car for a week or more and paying for parking and the rental cost during the time the traveler is away.  Most car vendors offer one-way and round-trip rates and free shuttle service to and from the airport. 

Rental cars while at the temporary duty location must be authorized in advance.  Travelers may not just decide they want a rental car at the TDY location. In either situation, rental cars should be rented from a vendor that participates in the U.S. Government’s Car Rental Agreement managed by the Defense Travel Management Office (DTMO).

Travel approvers should only authorize Global Positioning Service (GPS) charges when required for agency mission.  GPS charges for personal preference may not be reimbursable.

Airport parking is another consideration for travelers and approvers. Most airports offer a choice of parking lots with varying daily rates.  Travelers should choose, and approvers authorize the least expensive parking option.  Recently, there has been a growth in off-airport parking locations that offer a lower daily parking rate than their on-airport counterparts, but also offer free shuttle transportation to the airport terminal. 

Taxi cabs are expensive.  Often there is courtesy hotel transportation available at no cost, or airport shuttle type services for a reduced cost.  Public transportation can also be an option. 

There are extra costs associated to combining personal travel with official travel.  While not normally a problem is the amount of leave requested is reasonable, approvers still need to look at the appearance to outsiders when approving this type of travel.  Naturally, any costs higher than the official travel costs are the responsibility of the traveler. Because the Government only pays up to the cost of official travel, a cost comparison must be done when creating a travel authorization if a traveler intends to deviate from the official itinerary.  Another cost comparison should be done for the travel voucher as well.  Even if a travel approver authorizes something against the FTR, the expense is not reimbursed, or is collected from the traveler if paid and audited.

The FTR mandates travelers to use the E-Gov travel system adopted by their agency.  An E-Gov system is defined as the automated travel authorization, voucher and booking software, but can also be defined as a travel management center (TMC), or travel agent.  These methods allow many, but not all of the cost savings mentioned above to be implemented, or at the very least justified in the case of exceptions.  However, travelers and approvers still need to be cognizant of the reasonableness of amounts authorized and claimed.

Our travel policy office recently looked at a hypothetical trip to Las Vegas with an approver who really does not look at the authorization and the trip ends up costing $1,756.00. This was contrasted by an approver looking at the same trip for the same dates, which ends up costing $ 763.00. The difference was comprised of: 

  • Authorizing POV mileage expenses to the airport versus taking a GOV;
  • Approving lodging the night before the trip at the regional airport (outside the local area)    instead of seeing if the traveler could take a flight later in the day;
  • Approving airport parking at a more expensive lot;
  • Using the YCA fare when a –CA fare was available;
  • Approving two checked bags for a five day trip; approving rental car at the TDY location when a shuttle or taxi would have been less;
  • Approved the higher government lodging rate over the lower FedRooms rate;
  • Approving taxi and rental car at the TDY location;
  • Approving an extra night’s lodging at the TDY location when the conference ended by      mid-day.

Certainly, most travel authorizations and vouchers will never be at either extreme, but the idea is to show how much of a difference there can be.  Most documents will be in the mid-range of these amounts.

As can be seen, there are many choices that can and should be made when incurring official travel expenses.  By following this guidance and using these Government-mandated programs, you can actually have a big impact on your office’s travel budget while enjoying all the benefits and rewards of these programs, while at the same time, be in compliance with emerging regulations and guidance.

By: Dan Carozza

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