Per Diem Allowances

Updated: July 25, 2021
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    How do per diem allowances work for military members traveling on official orders? Military service often requires official travel whether in the U.S. or overseas. Per diem is the military’s allowance for expenses related to official travel including lodging, meals, and expenses.

    Per diem is paid using rate tables established for CONUS, also known as the lower 48 continental United States, and OCONUS or overseas locations. Per diem rates are set based on “contractor-provided average daily rate (ADR) data of local lodging properties”.

    ADR calculations are described as a standard unit of measure in the travel industry that “divides room sales rental revenue by the number of rooms sold” as part of the per diem calculation.

    Who is authorized per diem and how does it work?

    Who Gets Per Diem

    Per diem is authorized for official travel. This includes Permanent Change of Station moves (PCS), and Temporary Duty (TDY) that require an overnight stay. A per diem rate has three basic components:

    • Lodging
    • Meals
    • Incidental expenses including taxes paid for lodging.

    The rate paid depends on the location of the official travel. In cases where the traveler crosses the International Date Line (traveling from west to east) one day of per diem is added. Likewise, in cases where an authorized traveler is traveling from east to west, one day of per diem is lost.

    Per Diem Rates

    You can find per diem rates at this official General Services Administration website. Click on the state you need to view that state’s rates or enter the location in the search box. Not all cities can or will be listed, it is best to search by county. In cases where a city or county is not listed on the official per diem rate page, standard CONUS rates apply.

    What You Should Know About Per Diem

    Per diem rates are not necessarily observed by lodging providers–if you are authorized a certain amount of reimbursement for lodging in the local area and the rates are higher than your per diem, you may need to coordinate with your unit to determine what is reimbursable.

    In general, the following rule applies to those who get lodging charged at rates higher than the official authorized amount for that area:

    “If the traveler is required to exceed the lodging per diem rate, “an actual expense allowance for lodging may be authorized up to 300% of the per diem rate, less meals and incidentals”.

    In cases where “only actual expense allowance for lodging is authorized, then the meal and incidental portion of the per diem rate is paid without itemization”.

    There is a common practice in the lodging industry to offer a government rate, sometimes referred to as a GOV or “gov rate”. This rate may or may not match your per diem and it is a terrible idea to assume that the government rate you pay at a hotel is identical to your authorized per diem. It may not be.

    Meals are reimbursable under per diem guidelines and that raises questions about tips. Does per diem pay for tips and similar gratuities such as paying an airport skycap to handle your luggage?

    The short answer is that yes, tips and gratuities are covered to include both tips and taxes in the final amount.

    Choosing Your Lodging With Per Diem

    Official Department of Defense travel allowance guidelines require all lodging reservations to be made “through the DoD travel system or the travel management company”.

    In cases where government lodging is not available through the DoD system, “…the traveler must use lodging “within the established per diem rate” or the traveler may “request additional reimbursement if the costs exceed the per diem rate.”

    “Alternative Travel”

    Any DoD traveler authorized per diem who does not use the “authorized transportation mode” for non-duty related  reasons will be reimbursed up to the cost of the authorized transportation ticket. In such cases, per diem is based on what the DoD would have paid the traveler “for using the authorized transportation mode, regardless of the transportation mode actually used”.

    How To Get Your Per Diem

    In most typical cases, the traveler will take the official travel and incur the expenses on a government travel card, return to the place of duty and fill out a travel voucher to claim expenses that must be reimbursed to the travel card. Without filing a travel voucher you may not be paid the per diem you have earned while traveling. Discuss questions about the travel voucher process with your unit orderly room, base finance office, or supervisor.

    About The Author

    Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News

    Written by Team