Commercial Airlines

This FAQ is intended to clarify allowable airfares and fees for all travel, as well as allowed airline carriers and pre-approval for International Travel in the UNM Travel policy. For special circumstances (such as travel outside of your grant approved budget, complex travel that includes personal days etc.), please contact the appropriate fiscal person in your department or college or in the core office (Purchasing, Unrestricted Accounting, Contract and Grant Accounting) for guidance.

If you have questions about this FAQ, please email

Related Policies

Related Policy: UNM Policy 4030
Section 8.2 Commercial Airlines

Policy Interpretation

The policy is intended to balance the needs of the traveler with good stewardship of University and taxpayer funds.

In practice this means that travelers should book the least expensive fare, purchased sufficiently in advance, that lack unreasonable restrictions on boarding, seating within coach, and baggage.

Policy Clarification Federal vs. UNM

Federal Uniform Guidance (2cfr 200.474) states that airfare costs in excess of the basic, least expensive,unrestricted, accommodation class offered by commercial airlines are unallowable. While Federal policy allows unrestricted fares that are refundable, easily changeable and lack restrictions on boarding,baggage, and seating within coach, UNM policy is more restrictive. UNM requires the purchase of the least expensive Economy or Coach class rate that meets the traveler's business needs.

1) What is the best way to purchase my airfare?

The best way to purchase your airline ticket is by using a UNM P-card whenever possible.

2) Does UNM prefer electronic receipts for travel purchases?


3) What airfares and fees are allowable for domestic travel?

With some exceptions (see below), the standard for airfare is economy or coach class. To accommodate the needs of the traveler, within reason, fees associated with these fares can be reimbursed with only the standard Chrome River approvals. These fees can include baggage, an aisle seat, early boarding, or other fees that meet the traveler's needs.

The domestic travel policy is intended to be flexible by allowing airline fees and upgrades within the coach cabin (i.e., not in business or first class).

The airline industry rapidly changes fee and fare structures, and what is appropriate for a long flight may be different from what is appropriate for a shorter flight, so an exhaustive list of fees that are generally considered reasonable is impossible to maintain. These examples are provided as guidance.

Examples of reasonable fees and fares as of early 2019 include:

• $15 to $25 fee to upgrade to priority boarding on Southwest at the time of booking

• Booking “Economy” instead of “Basic Economy” in order to reserve a seat and check a bag on American

Examples of unreasonable expenses include:

• $250 cost increase to upgrade to Business Select on Southwest because that is the only way to secure an early boarding position on a domestic flight

• $150 to select an exit row or bulkhead seat instead of a regular row seat without a medical justification on a domestic ticket

4) What is required to approve airline fees?

Department staff, such as the department administrator, accountant, or other department approver, can approve reasonable fees, at the time of reimbursement or purchase in Chrome River without special permissions from the core office. The approval indicates the fees are reasonable and appropriate for the purpose and length of the trip. The airline itinerary and appropriate receipts must be submitted in Chrome River.

Questions about whether fees are reasonable, or if there are extenuating circumstances, your core office approver/fiscal monitors can guide departmental staff on appropriate exceptions or documentation.

5) Can I upgrade?

Upgrades in airfare to other than economy or coach class is allowable at the traveler's personal expense. The traveler may also use personal frequent flyer benefits for upgrades.

6) Can I include personal travel with my business travel?

Personal travel can be included on business trips, however there are several caveats to consider. It cannot change the primary purpose of the travel, because this affects whether expenses can be reimbursed under IRS rules. For example, if the number of personal days exceeds the number of business days, the IRS may consider that the primary purpose of the travel is personal.

Be aware that substantial personal travel may raise a red flag for auditors.

Costs for University business must be clearly separated for the UNM employee.

If there are questions about including personal travel, please contact your core office approver.

7) When can higher classes of service be used?

7.1 Business Class or Premium Economy Savings

The use of business class or premium economy is allowed when it results in an overall savings to the University by avoiding additional subsistence costs or lost productive time. The savings should be explained in the business justification.

7.2 Business Class Medical

The use of business class or premium economy is allowed when it necessary to accommodate a documented medical disability or other special need.

7.3 Upgraded Seats

If it is less expensive to upgrade to a bulkhead or exit row seat when Business Class or Premium Economy class is allowable, such upgrades are allowed.

Note that it is the traveler's responsibility to provide documentation of the appropriate upgrade when applicable. Records should be maintained in the department for possible audit purposes.

8) Can Chrome River be used by departments to maintain the documents needed to justify purchases?


9) How should unusual circumstances be documented?

The department should maintain documentation to explain anything unusual, that if left unexplained would appear to be fraud, waste or abuse. For example, if an unusually expensive airline flight must be purchased at the last minute, the reason for that should be explained in the business purpose.

10) What approvals do I need prior to International Travel?

International travel requires pre-approval by the appropriate dean, director, department head, PI, or designate. See FAQ for Pre-approving International Travel.

11) What additional classes of service are allowed for International Travel?

Premium Economy Class

Premium economy class is allowed for international travel for flights consisting of five (5) hours or more of total travel time.

Business Class

Business class is allowed for international travel for flights consisting of fourteen (14) hours or more of total travel time.

12) What are Carrier Restrictions for International Travel?

Under the Fly America Act, transportation paid by a federal contract or grant must use American carriers whenever possible. Sponsored Research projects are subject to the terms and conditions of the specific awards, as well as applicable program guidelines, which may be more restrictive on the use of funds for certain types of expenses. Please contact the appropriate Contract and Grant Accounting office for your award with any questions.