B-230380, Oct 23, 1990, 70 Comp.Gen. 50

B-230380: Oct 23, 1990

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General rule that discount coupons and other benefits received in the course of official travel are the property of the government does not apply in the case of benefits received by dependents of government employees or military members whose travel is paid for by the government but who are not eligible for per diem payments. USAF - Carrier Travel Certificates Received by Student Dependents on Official Travel: This responds to a request for an advance decision on the question of whether dependents of an Air Force member are entitled to retain nontransferable travel certificates received from an air carrier as the result of a 24-hour flight delay experienced while traveling on official business from the United States to Japan to attend school. /1/ We conclude that the dependents are entitled to retain the certificates.

B-230380, Oct 23, 1990, 70 Comp.Gen. 50

MILITARY PERSONNEL - Travel - Bonuses - Acceptance - Propriety - Dependents Dependent students of a military member may retain nontransferable travel certificates received from an airline as a result of a 24-hour flight delay. General rule that discount coupons and other benefits received in the course of official travel are the property of the government does not apply in the case of benefits received by dependents of government employees or military members whose travel is paid for by the government but who are not eligible for per diem payments.

Colonel Michael L. Carr, USAF - Carrier Travel Certificates Received by Student Dependents on Official Travel:

This responds to a request for an advance decision on the question of whether dependents of an Air Force member are entitled to retain nontransferable travel certificates received from an air carrier as the result of a 24-hour flight delay experienced while traveling on official business from the United States to Japan to attend school. /1/ We conclude that the dependents are entitled to retain the certificates.

BACKGROUND

Colonel Michael L. Carr, USAF, sponsored three dependent children to attend school in Japan. /2/ A travel order (AF Form 937), was issued on October 15, 1986, authorizing the dependents' transportation at government expense. Passenger tickets were issued by United Airlines for transportation from Lincoln, Nebraska, to Japan. On December 20, 1986, when the dependent students arrived in Los Angeles for a connecting flight to Tokyo, their flight was delayed 24 hours. As a result of the delay, the carrier offered and each dependent accepted nontransferable travel certificates, valued at $100 each, which were valid toward the purchase of any fare on scheduled United Airlines flights. The dependents also were provided lodging at airline expense.

Colonel Carr's claim that his dependents should have been permitted to retain the certificates is based on the theory that the compensation for delay in the case of his children is analogous to compensation provided for voluntarily relinquishing a seat. /3/ In such circumstances a traveler on official business is allowed to retain penalty payments received from carriers.

Colonel Carr cites Charles E. Armer, 59 Comp.Gen. 203 (1980), and various regulations which provide that travelers are allowed to retain payments resulting from voluntary relinquishment of reserved confirmed seats. contends that his dependents' situation should be treated in the same manner. He points out the government incurred no additional expense, such as per diem or leave, since students are involved, and the travelers, rather than the government, incurred the inconvenience.

DISCUSSION

As a general rule, discount coupons and other benefits received in the course of official travel are the property of the government, which authorizes and provides reimbursement for such travel, and may not be retained by persons engaged in official travel. See Discount Coupons and Other Benefits Received in the Course of Official Travel, 63 Comp.Gen. 229 (1984). Where future free or reduced cost travel is provided, agencies are expected to integrate such benefits into agency travel plans. Exceptions to the general rule have been allowed where official duty travelers implement a government policy by accepting compensation for voluntarily relinquishing confirmed seats (Armer, supra); where travel bonuses provide optional benefits of no use to the government, such as free upgrades to first class (Discount Coupons, supra); or where items of nominal value are provided (Discount Coupons, supra).

In John B. Currier, 59 Comp.Gen. 96 (1979), we dealt specifically with denied boarding compensation like that involved here, holding that the compensation received by a Forest Service employee traveling on official business belongs to the government and must be surrendered to it. We gave two reasons for this conclusion. First we said that it is the government which could be damaged by the delay in an employee's travel because it must reimburse him for any expenses associated with the delay. Second we reaffirmed our long held view that a government employee cannot, in general, be reimbursed from private sources for expenses incurred in the performance of official duties.

In our view neither rationale is applicable here. Colonel Carr's dependents, while entitled to transportation to their school at government expense, are not eligible for per diem while traveling or for reimbursement from the government for expenses incurred because of a delay in that travel. Neither are they on official government business for which compensation from private sources is improper.

We therefore conclude that Colonel Carr's dependents may retain the bonus coupons received by them as denied boarding compensation while traveling under circumstances which entitled them to payment by the government of only their transportation costs and not per diem or other costs of the trip.

/1/ The request was made by the Accounting and Finance Officer, 18th Comptroller Squadron (PACAF), Department of the Air Force. The per Diem, Travel and Transportation, Allowance Committee assigned Control No. 88-2 to the request.

/2/ See 20 U.S.C. Sec. 921 et seq. and 32 C.F.R. Part 71 (1986), concerning dependents' education overseas.

/3/ An Air Rorce determination that the certificates should be surrended to the government was sustained by our Claims Group by Settlement Certificate Z-2865145, September 21, 1987. The Air Force noted, however, that none of our decisions relating to the matter specifically considered dependent travelers.