The General Services Administration recently announced its per diem rates for federal travelers that are effective October 1, 2017. These rates set the average lodging cost that employees can charge the government for using.
The major change with these guidelines affects the standard per diem rate, which was increased from $91 to $93. Unless a town or state is specified, employees cannot spend more than $93 per night on lodging. Furthermore, the meals and incidental expenses (M&IE) portion remains at $51 unless specifically stated.
This lodging per diem allowance and the M&IE rates fluctuate significantly by location, and you may be allowed to spend more (or restricted to spending less) depending on where you travel. By knowing why these numbers change and how you can check them, you’re sure to find the lodging you need without going over budget when you travel.
What Factors Determine Per Diem Rates for Federal Travelers?
Per diem rates fluctuate depending on the average price for lodging and cost of living in various cities and states across the country. The cost of living in Buffalo, New York is significantly lower than New York City, which means it will be harder for visitors to find a hotel room in Manhattan for only $93 per night. This is why the GSA adjusts the lodging rate to $300 for New York City during high-travel seasons.
Despite the dramatic difference in lodging allowances, the M&IE rates tend to stay close to the set guidelines. In Buffalo, the M&IE rate is $64 per day while the New York City M&IE rate is $74. This is based on the idea that travelers can spend roughly the same amount on food and other expenses wherever they travel.
How Can You Check Your Per-Diem Rates?
The GSA created an interactive map that you can use to check the per diem rates for federal travelers.
Site users will select the fiscal year along the state where they are visiting, and the map will produce a list of cities. Users can also input their information in a set of fields to determine their exact per diem.
Along with cost-of-living adjustments, the GAS sets per diem rates for federal travelers based on seasonal demand. Knowing the exact dates of your travel is critical as many cities change their rates during busy travel months.
Florida is an optimal example of this. The per diem for Cocoa Beach is $121 each month except for February and March where it jumps to $149. This is typically a peak spring break travel season for civilians, which means federal employees might have to spend more to find accommodation. Meanwhile, Miami’s prices vary between $140 and $176 in the winter and summer, but then drop to $119 in the fall.
Check the GSA Website for a M&IE Breakdowns
Once you have your lodging booked, follow the GSA guidelines to understand your meals and incidental expenses breakdown. The government created a chart for travelers to better understand the expenses they’re likely to encounter on the road.
For example, a traveler following the standard $51 M&IE rate would spend $11 on breakfast, roughly $12 for lunch, and $23 for dinner. This leaves $5 for other costs like an afternoon coffee to push through meetings.
Naturally, these expenses aren’t set in stone. You might only spend $30 one day or spend $5 on breakfast with $30 for lunch. However, by sticking to these expected guidelines you can reduce the risk of overspending on food.
GSA Rates Do Not Apply to International Travelers
The Department of Defense sets rates for Alaska, Hawaii, and U.S. Territories, while the State Department sets foreign rates. International travelers can check the foreign per diem rates by searching for the country and cities that they plan to visit.
Confirm Your Rates Before You Travel
Even if you visit the same area throughout the year, it’s important to confirm the per diem rates for federal travelers before you book your lodging or spend your meal allowances. While the per diem for many towns has remained the same (or even increased), a few locations have decreased their regular allowances. Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Youngstown, Ohio; and San Angelo, Texas are just a few. Even confirming your per diem throughout the year will ensure you find lodging that meets your needs without going over budget.
If you have concerns about your travel options, contact the team at MyFedBenefits. We can help you speak with the right person concerning your per diem to make sure your travel is covered.