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SLK Contractor

Employee requested aisle seat, $29 surcharge being rejected?

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As contractor we have to provide detailed travel receipts - our prime has rejected one based on a $29 charge to an employee who requested an aisle seat.

This (an aisle seat request) seems a reasonable one to us - we were surprised that they were charged for it, and now surprised that the prime is having an issue with it.

Obviously we know significant upgrades (to first class for example) are unallowable.

But this seems over the top.

Any thoughts on this from the group? Is there any discussion on this kind of charge in some clause you could point us to?

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Great question! I look forward to others weighing in on this, but I'll take a stab based on how we analyze these costs typically.

Based on GSA Federal Travel Regulation guidelines (found here,) SS301-10.121 defines coach class as "the lowest fare offered..." and 10.122 states that "coach-class fare must be used except as provided in 10.123 and 10.124." Those sections basically outline exceptions based on special needs including security or medical related.

However, since you're not traveling on official government business, I assume, I would recommend that you review the Prime's travel policy, which should be included (or referenced) in your subcontract agreement. Travel must be in alignment with the requirements set forth in your contract. If your contract refers to the FTR's, which many do, then you have to make the case that there's a special need, as discussed above. Otherwise, they probably have grounds for disapproval.

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I would never charge a client for any extra. If I wanted something extra, like business class on a long distance overseas flight, or better coach seats, I would make that part of the bargain, and if they were not willing to pay the extra I would decide whether or not to pass on the work.

We all know the conditions of air travel these days. Make your travel requirements part of your offer. If they don't like your offer with the extra, decide whether or not to take the job. If you take it on their terms, don't complain. $29 isn't worth arguing with a client about.

These days I never accept work when the client wants me to bill separately for travel reimbursement. I charge a price, and do what I want with the money.

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SLK Contractor,

The $29 fee was charged, not simply for an aisle seat, but for an upgrade to a "premium" coach seat that happened to be on the aisle. Your company's travel policies should specify whether or not an employee will be reimbursed for upgrades to "premium" coach seating. Regardless of whether or not you reimburse the employee, it is not an allowable cost unless it meets one of the allowability criteria found in 31.205-46( B).

Hope this helps.

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Following H2H's comments, note that the travel cost principle limits allowable airfare to the lowest airfare available to the contractor. If the prime is applying the cost principles to travel costs, you need to show that the airfare claimed was the lowest available. This can get complicated, because of the air lines ticketing practices such as the day the reservation was made, the time of day for the travel, etc. In any event, you will need to convince the prime that the charge is allowable in accordance with the terms of your subcontract.

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That amount looks familiar - Delta's Economy + (also known as "Comfort+") seats often cost $29 per segment and include free drinks, wider seats, more leg room, etc. As a government traveller, I would have to pay myself for such upgrades. I don't think that aisle seats per se cost more. I think that the "aisle seat" happens to be in an economy + row of the aircraft with a couple of extra inches of leg room and an upgraded service level. In addition, you get to board earlier under Sky Priority boarding

I was on the same flight a couple of times from Washington DC to Huntsville, Alabama with Senator Richard Shelby, who is something like 6'4" tall and he was able to bear sitting in a window, non-exit row seat in coach.

Your employee or company should be able to afford to suck up the upgrade fee...

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The OP drew a distinction between upgrades within the same fare class (e.g., coach to premium coach) and "significant upgrades" to a different fare class (e.g., coach to business or coach to first class). The FAR cost principle at 31.205-46 does not make that distinction.

But should it?

After all, the upcharge for moving to a better seat in the fare class is a relatively new phenomenon. I don't think it's any more than 2 years old. Is it time for the FAR Councils to address this new trend in the cost principle?

If they do, I assume they'll make it unallowable for the same rationale Joel used -- i.e., if government employees don't get reimbursed, why should contractors? I tend to resist that apples-to-oranges comparison, myself. But I acknowledge it's a common comparison and it is usually the winning argument, especially when travel is discussed.

So ... is this something the FAR Councils should tackle?

H2H

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Government travel is a huge cost and one that the government has been trying to reign in, especially lately.

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So ... is this something the FAR Councils should tackle?

No. Why should they? It works in the government's favor as it is. But even if they should, they wouldn't.

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The change to the travel cost principle a few years back to limit allowable air fare to the lowest available to the contractor was made to solve one problem without thinking about other problems that could be created. Previously, air fire was limited to the lowest standard coach fare available during normal business hours. However, some of the big contractors had negotiated special rates for their employees that were less than the standard coach fare. In some instances, those companies were claiming the lowest standard coach fare even though their actual costs were lower. The change in the cost principle was designed to prevent this from happening. However, the FAR councils did not think about all the ramifications of changing to the lowest fare available to the contractor and what it would take to demonstrate this to DCAA.

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Adding to this old topic as this is related -

Just received a bulletin from Deltek claiming that DCAA is now looking for contractors to have a comparison of at least three different airlines for a similar seat, as part of it's travel expense voucher support. It references FAR 31.201-2(d) at the top of this bulletin. Reading that clause I don't see anything specifically requiring 3 airline quotes, it just talks about "adequate support".

We just went through a 4 year ICS audit (passed with no findings) and this (3 airfare quotes) didn't come up during that audit.

Is this something new? We do have in our travel policies that employees are to shop around to find the lowest fare possible, but nothing requiring them to provide 3 quotes as proof that they did so.

Wondering if we need to take this bulletin's advice seriously or if our current travel policies & procedures (which recently passed audit) are sufficient as they stand.

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No, it is not something new. It's been something DCAA has had in place since the rule was revised, several years ago.

There is no regulatory basis for DCAA's position and it is not often enforced by the auditors. That said, it is what it is.

H2H

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