Contrary to popular belief, US government rules for travel reward points allow personnel traveling on official business to retain travel rewards, upgrades, and other perks offered to them by airlines as long as these perks are not at an additional cost to the government.
The National Defense Authorization Act
Section 1116 of the National Defense Authorization Act replaced the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994 as the authority regarding US government rules for travel reward points. Under the previous rules, any airline points earned for purchasing tickets for official travel were required to be surrendered to the government. Since the government was the purchaser of the ticket, it made sense that the government should benefit from any perks given to travelers on official orders.
This not only included points earned from purchasing airline tickets using a government issued credit card, but also those earned for tickets purchased by personnel with their own credit cards if the cost of the tickets would later be reimbursed. Personnel who did not reveal the acquisition of the points and who tried to hide them for personal use were subject to administrative action.The same rules applied to obtaining access to VIP club areas within airports and free airline tickets obtained by accepting a later flight.
This is no longer the case. Government travelers, including military personnel and federal employees, are now allowed to keep their points and use them for personal travel.
Rules exist regarding how personnel can accept these travel points as well as what they can do to obtain the points. Here are some examples of these rules:
- Personnel must pay for their own enrollment in airline travel point programs if applicable.
- Personnel are responsible for any fees incurred when points are redeemed for travel or upgrades.
- Personnel cannot select an airline for official travel based solely on the prospect of earning travel miles.
- Personnel cannot accept travel points or other perks that will incur fees the government will have to pay for.
These rules pertain to official government travel and do not pertain to personal travel that is paid for by the individual traveler. For example, an active duty military member traveling on vacation at his or her own expense is not obligated to follow these rules regarding selecting an airline, but military personnel or a government service employee traveling on official orders or business will have to follow these rules.
US Government Rules for Travel Reward Points Resources
Rules can change, and sometimes there are special exceptions to rules depending on the situation. The best resource for answers regarding any reward points earned during official government travel is the person designated as the government travel credit card program coordinator. If you do not know who the program coordinator is, speak to your supervisor.
Calling the phone number on the back of the government issued credit card probably will not yield answers to these types of questions since the customer service representatives at the credit card company may not have access to the rules and regulations pertaining to government travel. Go straight to the source and find out the official answer so you do not wind up breaking a rule and getting in trouble, because saying you were told to do something by the credit card company will not be a viable excuse if you break the rules.
The Federal Employees News Digest also offers more information regarding these policies and can point you in the direction of the Acts and revisions that you can read for further clarification.