Travel Authorization (TA) and Cost Estimating

The first step to planning for official government travel, or travel performed at the direction of a Federal agency under an official travel authorization, is to determine:

  • The purpose of the trip,
  • Length of time you will be on travel,
  • Destination(s),
  • Dates of departure and return, and
  • Whether a vehicle is needed while at your destination.

Note: Account holders traveling locally and not under an official travel authorization may use their GSA SmartPay Travel Account for local travel expenses only when expressly authorized by agency/organization-level policy.

Next, fill out a Travel Authorization (TA), the official authorization to take the trip.

The TA will need to be signed by your supervisor and routed for other necessary approvals. In order to complete the TA, you will need:

  • Transportation Fares
  • Lodging Expenses
  • Meals and Incidental Expenses (M&IE)
  • Actual Expenses
  • Training and Conference Attendance Fees

Transportation Fares for air, privately-owned vehicles or train transportation:

  • Airline: GSA negotiates special reduced rates with airline companies called the GSA City Pair Program (CPP). Rates and schedules are listed at
  • Privately-Owned Vehicles (POVs): Mileage rates for using POVs are listed at
  • Train Transportation: Check with your Travel Management Company (TMC) for train transportation fares and information.

Lodging Expenses :

  • Lodging rates vary by time of year and location. To find out the per diem rate for the area you will be traveling, go to https://
  • State Tax Exemption: Depending on the type of account you are using and the state where you are traveling, you may be tax exempt. If you are traveling to a state which does not grant tax exemptions for your type of account, taxes are reimbursable by your agency. Before leaving for travel, visit the GSA SmartPay website or contact the state directly for information about tax exemption and to obtain any state tax exemption forms (if required) and other related state tax information.

Meals and Incidental Expenses (M&IE):

Actual Expenses: In situations where normal per diem rates are not sufficient to cover costs, actual expenses are allowable. This method of reimbursement must be approved ahead of time on your TA. (For additional information, refer to FTR 301-11.303, Actual Expense).

Training Events/ Forum Attendance: Special rates may apply for federal government attendance at training events/ forums. All fees must be indicated on your TA and approved ahead of time. Advance payment of a forum or training registration fee may be reimbursed as soon as your TA has been approved and after you have submitted the proper travel claim/voucher for the expenses incurred. Refer to FTR 301-74 Conference Planning for more information.

Making Reservations

Using the Travel Management System/ Commercial Travel Office for Airline, Lodging and Car Rental

As a federal government traveler on official travel, you are required to use the Travel Management System selected by your agency for all common carrier, lodging, and car rental arrangements. Only the head of your agency or his/her designee may exempt certain types of travel arrangements from the mandatory use of the Travel Management System. At most agencies, you will make travel reservations through your agency Travel Management Center (TMC), or Commercial Travel Office (CTO) if you work at the Department of Defense. The TMC/CTO may charge your agency a fee for processing the transaction. If there are several transactions, such as transportation and lodging reservations, the fee may be lower if you make all arrangements at the same time. Generally, the TMC/CTO pays for airline tickets using your agency's travel CBA, so these charges will not appear on your GSA SmartPay Travel Account. However, agency policy may require you to pay for airline tickets using your GSA SmartPay Travel IBA.

What are the benefits of the TMO/ CTO?

There are several benefits to having the TMC/ CTO make your reservations:

  • Compliance with the Fly America Act, Government-wide travel policies, contract city pair fares, electronic ticketing, and ticket delivery.
  • Compliance with the Hotel/Motel Fire Safety Act.
  • FedRooms consideration and benefits:
    • FedRooms provides Federal Travel Regulation (FTR), FEMA and ADA compliant hotel rooms for federal government travelers on official business.
    • Customers receive benefits such as best price/value (at or below per diem), policy compliant hotels, flexibility when cancelling, a variety of booking channels, and quality lodging worldwide.
    • FedRooms hotels are educated in state tax exempt policy and procedures.

For lodging reservations placed outside of FedRooms, it is particularly important to ask:

  • Is the facility is on the FEMA list of fire safe lodging?
  • What is the hotel’s cancellation policy? Be sure to cancel within the appropriate times if you will not be using the room. Most hotels charge for last minute cancellations or no-shows.
  • What is the late arrival policy?
  • When does the hotel charge your GSA SmartPay travel account? This is important because it will affect your ability to receive timely reimbursement from your agency.
  • Does the hotel honor the state tax exemption policy? Some states tax exempt for GSA SmartPay IBAs. If you are traveling to a state which does not grant tax exemptions, taxes are reimbursable. Before leaving for travel, make sure you know the tax exempt policy for your destination by checking the GSA SmartPay Website.

For airline reservations: Use of City Pair fares is mandatory unless a valid exception as listed in the FTR at 301-10.107 exists. FTR requires that the more highly discounted "CA" fare be considered first and chosen if available and meets mission requirements. In order to obtain a refund for unused or partially used tickets, the traveler is responsible for contacting the travel agent, the Commercial Travel Office (CTO) or airline (if tickets were purchased directly from the airline).