Can you use the government rate for personal travel?

Taking a vacation or booking a hotel room can be expensive. Many travelers look to save money on accommodations and flights whenever possible. Government and military employees who travel frequently for work are eligible for government rates at hotels and discounted airfare. These reduced rates are meant to ease the burden on taxpayer dollars by lowering travel costs.

But can government and military employees also take advantage of government rates for their personal, non-work related travel? This is a common question among civil servants and military personnel planning a vacation or leisure trip. The rules can be confusing, but in most cases, the answer is no – government rates are only meant for official business travel, not personal trips.

Here is a comprehensive overview explaining who is eligible for government rates, the rules and restrictions around using government rates for personal travel, how to find and book government rates, and tips for maximizing personal travel savings.

Key Takeaways:

  • Government and military rates are meant for official travel only, not personal leisure trips. Using them for non-work travel is against regulations.
  • Eligibility for government rates varies by agency and company but is usually limited to federal employees on business travel or military on orders.
  • Booking government rate leisure travel under false pretenses like lying about business travel can lead to serious consequences.
  • Alternatives like corporate and membership discounts can help maximize personal travel savings instead.
  • Knowing the guidelines and policies for government rate usage is crucial to avoid violations and penalties.

Who Is Eligible for Government Rates?

Government rates are reserved for federal employees traveling for government business purposes or active military personnel on orders. Eligibility to access and use government rates can vary depending on your federal agency, military branch, job title, and reason for travel.

Here is a breakdown of common eligibility requirements:

Federal Employees

Most civilian federal employees are eligible for government rates when traveling for work. This includes:

  • U.S. federal government direct employees (except Postal Service)
  • U.S. federal court employees
  • U.S. Congress members and staffers
  • Federal contractors/business travelers on official orders

State, county, and local government employees are generally not eligible.

Military Personnel

Military personnel on official orders, including:

  • Active duty service members
  • Reserve and National Guard on active orders
  • Military retirees with ID card
  • Military family members with orders

Government Contractors

Contractors and grantees can access government rates only when traveling for official business on federal contracts/grants. Leisure travel is not eligible.

Eligibility credentials like a Common Access Card (CAC), agency ID, travel orders, or government contractor letter are typically required at booking and check-in.

Rules for Using Government Rates

Government and military rates are strictly regulated and audited for compliance. Here are the basic rules employees and personnel must follow:

  • Official Business Only – Government rates are only permitted for official travel related to your federal job duties or military orders. They cannot be used for personal vacations, getaways, or leisure trips not funded by the government.
  • No Secondary Gain – You cannot benefit financially from government rate savings or earn rewards points for personal gain.
  • Follow Agency Policies – All government travel must comply with your agency’s specific policies on lodging rates, per diem allowances, and reimbursement procedures. Know the rules.
  • Proper Identification – Eligibility credentials must be shown at booking and on arrival to receive government rates.
  • Stay Within Per Diem – Lodging rates must conform to government per diem limits for the destination. Exceeding caps requires justification.
  • No Group or Friends Booking – Only the government employee or military member traveling for official purposes can book and stay on a government rate. You cannot book for family, friends or groups.
  • No Resale – Government rates cannot be resold to third parties or transferred.

Violating government travel policies can carry serious penalties including loss of travel privileges, blocked government charge cards, disciplinary action, and fraud investigations.

Can Government Rates Be Used for Personal Travel?

With few exceptions, government and military rates cannot be used for personal vacation travel, family trips, getaways, or other leisure activities not approved as official business.

Attempting to manipulate the rules or misrepresent personal travel as government business is unethical and fraudulent. Consequences can include:

  • Loss of government travel charge card and travel booking privileges
  • Disciplinary action and employment termination
  • Government fraud investigation
  • Fines or criminal prosecution for misuse of taxpayer funds

In limited cases, some government rates may be used for personal travel with proper authorizations and documentation, such as:

  • Retired military personnel may qualify for “space available” leisure rates at underutilized DoD facilities if rooms are likely to go unoccupied.
  • Federal or military spouse leisure travel may be eligible for discounted rates at select hotels if the employee is simultaneously staying on official business.
  • Senior executive service government employees may be granted personal travel benefits as part of established compensation packages.

However, all personal travel exceptions require pre-authorization and audit review to ensure proper and ethical use of government discounts. Never assume government rates apply to leisure travel without explicit approval.

Attempting to manipulate the rules or misrepresent personal travel to fraudulently obtain government rates can backfire with serious consequences. Follow agency guidance to avoid trouble. When in doubt, ask!

How To Book Government Rates

Booking eligible government and military travel at reduced rates requires following proper procedures through approved channels.

Booking Lodging

Exclusive government room rates are available through three avenues:

  • GSA Per Diem Program – U.S. General Services Administration maintains hotel contracts with discounted government lodging rates for official travel in top markets. Book via the online booking portal for eligible travelers.
  • DoD Preferred Program – U.S. Department of Defense has contracts with economy to luxury hotels providing government rates for official DoD travel. Book online or by phone through SATO travel.
  • Individual Agency Programs – Some federal agencies like State Dept. or FBI negotiate custom lodging programs accessed through internal travel management processes.
  • Military Discounts – Active duty, reserve, guard, retirees and dependents use ID cards to obtain on-the-spot military discounts where accepted. No pre-booking needed.

It’s illegal to book government rates through these channels for personal travel by misrepresenting the trip purpose.

Booking Airfare

Many federal travelers use a government contractor travel agency like CWTSato, Travelocity Govt or ResTravel to book discounted government airfares on major carriers:

  • City Pair Contracts – Provide discounted airfare between designated city pairs flown frequently for government travel.
  • Resale Rates – Enable government contractors to resell airline tickets to federal travelers at reduced rates.
  • Space Available Flights – Allow eligible personnel and dependents to occupy unused seats on DoD aircraft on a space available basis.

Again, government airfares may only be booked for official travel by eligible personnel. Personal vacations do not qualify.

Review internal agency policies and speak with your travel coordinator to understand the proper procedures for booking eligible government travel, both for lodging and airfare.

Maximizing Personal Travel Savings

While government rates don’t apply to personal leisure trips, you can still maximize travel savings through other means:

Take Advantage of Corporate Rates – Many hotels and rental car companies offer lower unpublished rates for companies with business accounts. Government employees can benefit through corporate discounts offered to their agency.

Use Membership Discounts – Memberships like AAA, AARP or warehouse clubs provide special travel rates. Military can access VFW, Legion, or DAV discounts. Student/teacher discounts are also available.

Book Directly – Avoid third party booking sites and book directly through hotel, airline, or rental car company sites to find the lowest prices.

Travel Off-Peak – Lodging prices are lower on weekdays and outside peak season. Avoid holidays and high summer.

Price Compare – Use comparison sites like Kayak or Expedia to find the best deals across multiple providers.

Use Points and Miles – Apply accumulated credit card or loyalty program points and miles to lower personal trip costs.

Rent Private Accommodations – Services like Airbnb, VRBO, and HomeAway often beat hotel rates, especially for families.

Watch for Sales and Coupons – Sign up for travel provider emails to receive exclusive promo codes and flash sale deals.

Ask About Discounts – Don’t be shy. Ask if any discounts are available when booking or checking in.

Travel in Low Cost Areas – Avoid pricey destinations. Search for more affordable off-the-beaten-path locales.

While government rates don’t extend to personal trips, being flexible on dates and locations along with using typical consumer savings strategies can help cut costs.

Government Rate Usage Guidelines

Using government and military rates improperly by applying discounts meant for official travel to personal leisure trips is unethical and in many cases illegal. Here are some key guidelines all government and military personnel should keep in mind:

✔️ Know Your Agency Policies – Every federal agency and military branch has specific rules, procedures and restrictions for travel discounts. Review them thoroughly. When in doubt, ask!

✔️ Clarify Eligibility – Not all personnel qualify for all types of government rates. Confirm you are eligible before booking.

✔️ Document Business Need – Be able to clearly demonstrate how the travel supports your official duties if audited.

✔️ Provide Proper Credentials – Have necessary ID/credentials ready at booking and check-in to avoid hassles.

✔️ Never Misrepresent – Being dishonest about personal vs. business travel to get lower rates is fraud.

✔️ Seek Permission – Request prior written authorization for any exceptions to use government rates for personal trips.

✔️ Avoid Appearance of Abuse – Perceived misuse of government travel benefits creates problems.

✔️ Know Consequences – Policy violations can carry severe penalties, even criminal charges in serious cases.

✔️ When In Doubt, Ask! – Don’t risk trouble. Seek guidance from supervisors on appropriate government rate usage.

Following the rules and being completely transparent ensures proper use of government discounts. Avoid confusion or misinterpretations around appropriate business vs. leisure travel savings.

Frequently Asked Questions on Government Rates for Personal Travel

Can I book a government rate hotel for a family vacation?

No, government rates are only for official travel by eligible personnel, never for personal leisure trips like family vacations. Using government rates fraudulently can mean serious penalties.

What if I will “work a bit” while on a personal vacation?

The primary purpose of the travel must be official business in order to use government rates. Incidental work tasks while on a personal trip do not qualify you for government discounts.

Can my spouse book government rates if I’m on a business trip?

No, only the federal employee or military member on official orders can book government rates. Any companions on personal travel must pay full price.

What if the hotel has empty rooms anyway?

It is still illegal to knowingly book unused rooms at government rates for non-business travel. Availability does not change the rules against misuse.

If I pay out of pocket, can I still use the government rate?

No, government rates apply based on the official business purpose of the trip, not the payment method. Personal travel does not qualify no matter who pays.

Won’t it benefit taxpayers if I save money on personal trips?

Misusing government travel programs for financial gain violates budgets and accountability rules. Proper internal controls must be followed to prevent fraud and abuse of public funds.

Can’t I just show my government ID to get the discount?

You must be on official business travel to receive government rates. Showing ID out of context to receive unauthorized discounts is improper and fraudulent.

Key Takeaways on Government Rates for Personal Travel

  • Government and military discounts apply exclusively to official travel, never for leisure or personal trips.
  • Misrepresenting personal vacations as business travel to get lower rates is unethical and illegal.
  • Know your agency’s policies on appropriate government rate usage and eligibility.
  • While government rates don’t extend to personal trips, other savings strategies can help lower vacation costs.
  • When in doubt, seek guidance from supervisors to avoid misuse and preserve travel benefits.

Following the rules ensures government rates serve their important purpose of reducing taxpayer-funded travel expenses. With proper transparency and compliance, government employees and military personnel can avoid problems and continue accessing exclusive travel discounts.