JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii (AFNS) --
Recently, the Air Force started implementing two temporary duty policy changes that will impact travel reimbursements for Airmen.
The first change, which took effect Oct. 1, made changes to the Joint Travel Regulations, Reimbursable and Incidental Expense Policy. The second will be a change in long-term TDY per diem expenses and take effect Nov. 1.
Under the new policy, Contiguous U.S. laundry expenses, tips to baggage handlers by uniformed members and ATM fees are now considered incidental expenses and are no longer reimbursable as separate miscellaneous expenses. These expenses will now be added to the current list which includes such items as tips to porters, baggage carriers, bellhops, hotel maids, stewards and stewardesses.
"(These changes will) simplify the travel regulation policy to align the Department of Defense with industry best practices and to reduce travel costs for DOD," said Kevin Banuilos, the Headquarters Pacific Air Forces Financial Management and Comptroller office chief of financial operations branch. "There have been studies on these areas, and this implementation should have minimum impact on members."
The rate for incidental expenses will remain at $5 per day for CONUS locations and vary according to Outside Contiguous U.S. locations.
In a review of travel vouchers, the Defense Travel Management Office found only 13.27 percent claimed ATM fees, 4.2 percent claimed CONUS laundry and .04 percent claimed transportation tips.
If incidental expenses go over the set amount and travelers can justify the expense, they can work with their Defense Travel System Approving Officials to authorize Actual Expense Allowance.
For those who began travel before Oct. 1, these new items can still be reimbursed under the old policy as long as the expense was accrued before the new date.
Flat-rate per diem
This policy change will encourage travelers to take advantage of cost saving opportunities for long-term travel -- spending 31 days or more in a single location.
Banuilos said this change is to urge travelers to work with hotels that have discounted rates for extended stays, usually more than 30 days, thereby saving the government outlays.
The new regulation will provide for a flat-rate per diem expense based upon length of stay. The flat rate will be as follows:
- On travel day to location: 100 percent of lodging per diem at the locality rate and 75 percent of meals and incidental expenses
- For TDYs that are 31 to 180 days: flat rate of 75 percent of the locality rate (lodging/M&IE) for each full day, starting day two through the end of the TDY
- For those TDYs approved by the appropriate authority (per JTR) for greater than 180 days : flat rate of 55 percent locality rate is authorized for each full day, starting day two through the end of the TDY
"The DOD believes that for extended TDYs there are opportunities to obtain a better hotel rate," Banuilos said. "And, when you forecast out and see that after 30 days you're going to get 75 percent of per diem, you can gear what hotel you're going to stay in to meet that cost."
However, there are exceptions to the policy.
"It depends on if you're staying in government quarters or not. Also, if you're going to an area where the cost for all hotels is going to max out your lodging, and you can't get a reduced rate, approving officials can authorize 'Actual Expense Allowance' in DTS only after confirming there are no other lodging with the Commercial Ticket Office," Banuilos continued. "So, there are methods to paying the higher cost in situations where you can't get that reduced rate. There are certain areas that are high-cost areas, and they get the full rate because the hotel may not want to negotiate with you."
In all instances, the traveler should work with the local Commercial Travel Office to secure a hotel, Banuilos stated.
When given this flat rate, travelers will not be required to submit a lodging receipt, but approving officials may request validation of stay.
To help members better plan for their TDY cost, Staff Sgt. Victor Gonzales, PACAF Financial Management and Comptroller office command travel pay analyst, offers the following tip.
"I would recommend travelers go to the DTMO website that has a per diem query where travelers can see their projected per diem entitlement," Gonzales said. "Use that information to project anticipated spending."
Some other rules that will apply under this policy change are as follows:
- Flat rate does not apply when government or contracted government lodging is available or provided at no cost to the traveler.
- If meals are provided or government meals are available and directed, the traveler will be paid the Government Meal Rate, Proportional Meal Rate or Incidental Expense portion of per diem
- If the traveler is staying with friends/relatives in the TDY location, they will not receive the lodging portion of per diem
Banuilos said further guidance will be forthcoming during the month of October to explain how these new procedures will be implemented, as DTS can't accommodate them yet.
According to DTMO, the Department of Defense estimates they will save on both policy changes more than $37 million annually. The DTMO website can be found at http://www.defensetravel.dod.mil/