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Office of the Chief Financial Officer
USDA Travel Express
United States Department of Agriculture

Traveler/Approving Official (AO) FAQs

This section provides Travelers and Approving Officials with a streamlined and up to date catalogue of commonly asked questions and answers along with additional links for more information. Questions are reviewed periodically to ensure accuracy and relevance.

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General GovTrip

 


Questions and Answers

Why can’t I get lower-cost airline tickets through GovTrip, like the ones I can book on Web sites such as Expedia and Orbitz?

GovTrip now has access to the same flight data as commercially available booking engines like Expedia and Orbitz.  There were two issues that made it hard to find lower-cost airfares in GovTrip, which were fixed in 2010:

  • In the past, USDA policy allowed agencies to request an annual waiver to “switch on” access in GovTrip to “restricted fares” (e.g., non-refundable) like those found on commercial Web sites. Approximately half of USDA’s agencies implemented the policy making these fares available to approximately 70 percent of employees. In an effort to expand access to restricted fares, in December 2009, OCFO issued a new policy offering all agency/office heads the option to approve the use of restricted fares. All agencies and offices have approved use of these fares. In choosing to do so, they have agreed to manage the additional financial risk posed by the use of restricted fares (e.g., not reusing cancelled non-refundable tickets before they expire or the ticket owner/ employee departs Federal service, incurring fees charged for cancelling/changing trips). And we’ve are now getting a monthly report to help us track and reuse these tickets.
  • In the past, flights with the lower-cost “unrestricted” government (“Capacity Controlled City Pair” contract carrier) fares negotiated by the General Services Administration (GSA) were shown far down the list of options displayed when travelers and travel arrangers searched for flights in GovTrip. Folks often didn’t know to look for them. We made changes to the system in December 2009, and further changes with the release of GovTrip 2.0 in June 2010 to make finding these fares easy.

Please see How to Book Lower-Cost Airfares on how to use these fares, and help USDA save significant dollars. (We will soon have a 508 compliant recorded webinar on this topic available via AgLearn.)

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When should I use restricted fares?

Restricted Fares can and should be used when:

  • Your are fairly certain of your travel dates (e.g. you are going to a conference or training, or you travel frequently/to the same destination, and if cancelled, could apply ticket value to another trip)
  • The fare is less than City Pair fares, and you estimate that you could make multiple changes with fees without exceeding them
  • You meet one of the exceptions listed in the GSA Federal Travel Regulations (§301-10.107):
    • Space on a scheduled City Pair flight is not available in time to accomplish travel purpose, or use of contract service would require you to incur unnecessary overnight lodging costs which would increase the total cost of the trip
    • The contractor’s flight schedule is inconsistent with explicit USDA’s or your agency’s policies on scheduling travel during normal working hours
    • A non-contract carrier offers a lower fare to the general public that, if used, will result in a lower total trip cost to the Government (the combined costs of transportation, lodging, meals, and related expenses considered)
  • Remember:  Restricted fares often:
    • Are non refundable;
    • Have change fees;
    • Increase in cost with each change; and
    • Have advance purchase requirements.

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What is the difference between a GSA City Pair with Capacity Limits and a GSA City Pair?

GSA Capacity Limit fares provide all the same benefits as GSA City Pair fares but at a lower cost. However, airlines offer a limited number of seats at the GSA Capacity Limit fare while GSA City Pair fares offer last seat availability.

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What are the benefits to using General Services Administration (GSA) Contract Fares (City Pairs)?

GSA Contract Fares:

  • Prices are set at the beginning of the fiscal year and never increase;
  • Can be changed without incurring a change fee or higher ticket price;
  • Are fully refundable;
  • Can be purchased last minute at the City Pair price; and
  • Offer last seat availability.

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Do I have to book my flights through GovTrip?

Employees of USDA are required to book reservations through the ETS Travel System (GovTrip) per FTR regulation (§301-50.3).

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Why don't our Travel Management Centers (TMCs) (e.g., SATO) offer lower ticket prices?

TMCs have access to all commercially available airfare but usually book flights available through the GSA City Pair program. Travelers should ask TMCs to book the lowest-cost fares available, including City Pair with Capacity Limits and restricted fares.  Make sure you get your authorization approved within the booking timeframe required by the fares (often 24 hours from reservation).  Travelers must also meet one of the exceptions listed in the Federal Travel Regulations (§301-10.107-108) before purchasing a restricted fare.

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What is the difference between a Government hotel rate and the FedRooms rate?

FedRooms rates are negotiated on behalf of the Government, always at or below per diem and offer benefits that may not be available through the Government rate. The Government rate is non-negotiated rate set by the hotel and designated by the hotel for Government employees.

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What is the benefit of selecting a FedRooms rate?

  • FedRooms rates are always at or below per diem
  • $13.25 on average below the published GSA per diem rate
  • $9.08 on average below hotel provided Government rates
  • No minimum stay requirement
  • No hidden fees
  • No early departure penalties
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) compliant (fire safe) hotels within the US and US Territories
  • In properties that meet or exceed ADA Guidelines
  • No Cancellation Fee policy until 4:00pm the day of arrival for domestic hotels, 24 hours for international hotels

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Do I have to book my hotel reservations in GovTrip?

USDA employees are required to book reservations through the ETS Travel System (GovTrip) per FTR regulation (§301-50.3). Employees are encouraged to book FedRooms properties and select the FedRooms rate, which provide the greatest benefit to USDA. 

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What are the benefits of booking my rental car through GovTrip?

  • Never a need to use your personal insurance. Insurance coverage is through the $5 a day GARS (Government Administrative Rate Supplement).
  • $5 GARS covers other accompanying federal employees without adding them to the contract.
  • Established ceiling rates. Rates cannot increase without program approval.
  • Rates cannot have penalty restrictions.
  • Requirement that the vehicle must be available and the contract ready when the renter arrives.
  • No underage drivers fee for drivers between the ages of 18 and 25.
  • Unlimited mileage (except for one way rentals).
  • Claim and dispute assistance.

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Why does it take so long to get travel authorizations approved in GovTrip?

Delays are due to:

  1. Travel approvers not reviewing and approving travel authorization quickly;
  2. User errors, budget, or other issues that cause the travel authorizations and travel vouchers to be rejected by the system; or
  3. Pre-audits or
    • Resuming issuance of weekly reports across USDA to track authorizations that have not been approved more than five days after they were stamped “Signed” by the traveler, and working with agencies to improve timely review and approvals. Please contact your agency FATA for help if you are experiencing delays.

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Why does it take so long to get paid/reimbursed for my travel?

Delays are due to:

  1. Travel approvers not reviewing and approving travel vouchers quickly;
  2. User errors, budget, or other issues that cause the travel vouchers to be rejected by the system;
  3. Pre-audits or
  4. In the case of long-term travel, a system requirement that prior vouchers be processed before a subsequent voucher can be reimbursed. The system itself works instantaneously when an approver clicks “approve” to approve a travel voucher. Once travel vouchers are approved, it usually takes no more than 48 hours for the payment to process. To reduce these delays, we are:
    • Resuming issuance of weekly reports across USDA to track vouchers that have not been approved more than five days after they were stamped “Signed” by the traveler, and working with agencies to improve timely review and approvals. Please contact your agency FATA for help if you are experiencing delays.

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What is USDA doing to speed up the authorization and voucher review process?

USDA runs bi-weekly reports to track authorizations and vouchers that have been stamped signed and not yet approved and supplies that information to agencies to help improve the review and approval process.

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When creating my voucher, do I have to re-enter all of the information I entered in my authorization?

No. The voucher will automatically populate with all the information in your approved authorization. You only need to update the voucher with the true cost of your trip..

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What is the difference between an "Adjustment" and an "Amendment" in travel authorizations and vouchers?

Adjustments are made to a document prior to a document being stamped APPROVED. Amendments are changes made to a document after it has been stamped APPROVED.

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What does it mean when my authorization is "Rejected"?

While an authorization normally rejects when there is an error in the file being sent to USDA’s accounting system, the reasons for a reject can vary. For assistance with a rejected document, contact your GovTrip FATA.

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Who is supposed to approve or "stamp" my travel authorization or voucher?

To determine where your travel document is in the approval process:

  • Open your travel authorization or voucher
  • Hover over “Review & Sign” and select “Digital Signature”
  • Look under “Pending Routing Actions” to determine who are your routing officials and where your document is in the routing process.

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Whom should I contact if I have questions or problems with Split Disbursement payments not being applied to my government credit card account?

Contact OCFO’s Controller Operations Division’s Travel Inquiry Section at 1-800-421-0323 or 504-426-6515.

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What’s the $15 charge that shows up on my credit card?  Do I have to submit another travel voucher to be reimbursed?

The $15.00 is the cost to USDA for using GovTrip to voucher expenses. You do not need to enter this fee in your voucher, or submit a separate voucher because the $15.00 Travel Authorization and Voucher (TAV) fee is automatically included in your voucher and reimbursed to you. (Please note this charge may appear on a later statement than your other trip charges.).  Travelers using a centrally billed account, rather than individually billed account, will not see a TAV fee on their statement.

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What is a pre-audit flag?

Pre-audits are automated GovTrip checks which identify and let the traveler, travel arranger or approving official know when an item in a travel authorization or voucher is outside of policy or has exceeded a pre-set spending limit. Travelers must input a justification for each pre-audit flag explaining why their travel document should still be approved.

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Can I submit my local voucher through GovTrip?

No - all local vouchers are submitted through webTA, TRVL, or payments are made directly through the financial system. You agency travel staff can assist you with creating your local voucher.

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Why is my Meal and Incidental Expenses (M&IE) reimbursement different on the first and last day of a trip?

First and last day M&IE is reimbursed at 3/4 or 75% of the location M&IE. Click here to view the calculated amount for first and last day travel

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How much is deducted from M&IE when meals are provided?

Meals are deducted based on the per diem rate for the location. First and last day deductions are taken from the 3/4 or 75% M&IE reimbursement. Click here to view a chart of the meals provided breakdown

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What is included in incidental expenses?

Incidental expenses include fees and tips given to porters, baggage carriers, bellhops, hotel mg aids, stewards and stewardesses and others on ships.

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What receipts must I attach to my travel voucher?

Receipts must be electronically attached for Lodging, Airfare, Rail, Rental Car and any expense greater than $75.

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Where can I find my airfare receipt?

Airfare receipts are available at www.Virtuallythere.com. You must have your six digit reservation number to access your receipt.

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