Meal/Lodging Per Diem

It is recommended for individual travelers to be reimbursed at meal per diem rates rather than claim actual expenses.

Meals - Per Diem vs Actual

Per Diem means "For the Day" in Latin. Per Diem meals do not require receipts. Travel must be overnight to qualify for tax free meal reimbursements. Meal per diem rates are:

1) destination based

2) determined by federal per diem guidelines

3) cover the meal, taxes, tips, and an incidental expense allowance

Travelers may not claim meals provided by a conference or third party.

Exceptions: meal payments are not required to be reduced or eliminated due to meals served on airlines or for continental breakfasts included in hotel stays. “Continental Breakfast” is defined as either:

  1. a breakfast generally consisting of juice, bread, fruit and a hot beverage (typically coffee or tea), or
  2. a light meal defined in agency policy.

See SAAM 10.40.20.d for more information.

Actual meals claimed require itemized receipts showing food and beverages ordered as well as proof of payment (cash receipt or credit card slip), and may not exceed per diem rates.

Group trips: a travel leader can purchase groceries and/or restaurant meals for the group and submit the itemized receipts for reimbursement. Alternatively the leader can provide per diem to other travelers by  handing them cash from an advance or out of pocket funds to be reimbursed. The other travelers must sign stating they received the cash from the travel leader. This signed sheet must include accurate dates and amounts. The signed sheet serves as the receipt and must be submitted with the expense report. Documentation should clearly indicate which meal(s) (breakfast, lunch, dinner) were used to calculate the cash payment. Group Advance Distribution Log

For group travel, meal attendees must be in travel status or authorized on an FBA form for Chart 1. For group meals on Chart 2 attendee authorization is optional via a FBA Form for Chart 2. Actual meal amounts are reimbursed as evidenced by receipt and may not exceed per diem rates per person. Documentation should clearly indicate which meal(s) (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and attendees the receipt covers.


Per Diem Meal Times & Breakdowns for Travel Days

Washington State reimburses travel day meals  according to the meal time. Travelers must be in travel status during the meal period in order to claim the meal:

8:01 AM Breakfast
12:01 PM Lunch
6:01 PM Dinner

For instance, a traveler who leaves home at 8:15 AM may not claim breakfast for that day. If the traveler returns home at 6:00 PM they do not qualify for dinner reimbursement.

Per diem is destination based, including the return leg of the trip. In-State/Out-of-state expense type selections are typically for the whole trip, i.e. breakfast in Seattle on your way to Portland is "Out-of-State".

Washington State reimburses individual per diem meal amounts by calculating the following percentages of the total meal + incidental rate: 

Breakfast = 25%

Lunch = 30%

Dinner= 45%

Food photo

Day Trip Meals are Taxable

Day trip meals are regulated by the IRS.

Travelers are eligible for taxable meal reimbursements on day trips when in travel status at least 11 hours regardless of the day of the week. Meal rates are based on per diem guidelines.

Use the Meals, Day Trip, Taxable expense type and note which meals you are claiming if not a full day. Taxes will be withdrawn from a future paycheck. Travel Services will send an email to travelers notifying them of which paycheck will be affected.

*If you are traveling specifically for a business meeting with a meal, a Food and Beverage Approval Form may be filed. A detailed receipt will be required. The meal will be billed as “Actual” and will not be taxable. Meals under Chart 1 (state) funds must still meet per diem per person and may not include alcohol.


Lodging Per Diem rates are:

  • Set by the federal government
  • Reflect lodging base rate and fees
  • Do not include taxes
  • Are destination based
  • Reimbursement is allowed when the travel destination is more than 50 miles (most direct route) than the closer of either the traveler's home or work. 

If the expected room rate is higher than per diem and a state-approved exception applies, you may request an exception before your trip with a Lodging Exception memo.

f the base rate will exceed per diem by 150% or more, please be sure to attempt to find less expensive lodging. A quote should be attached to the expense report to show that was the best rate available.

Travelers may request an exception to the maximum lodging rule. Allowable exceptions per SAAM rule 10.30.20 include:
  • a1) When a traveler is assigned to accompany an elected official, a foreign dignitary, or others as authorized by law, and is required to stay in the same lodging facility.
  • a2) When costs in the area have escalated for a brief period of time either during special events or disasters.
  • a3) When lodging accommodations in the area of the temporary duty station are not available at or below the maximum lodging amount, and the savings achieved from occupying less expensive lodging at a more distant site are consumed by an increase in transportation and other costs.
  • a4) The traveler attends a meeting, conference, convention, or training session where the traveler is expected to have business interaction with other participants in addition to scheduled events. Further, it is anticipated that maximum benefit will be achieved by authorizing the traveler to stay at the lodging facilities where the meeting, conference, convention, or training session is held.
  • a5) To comply with provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act or when the health and safety of the traveler is at risk.
  • a6) When meeting room facilities are necessary and it is more economical for the traveler to acquire special lodging accommodations such as a suite rather than to acquire a meeting room and a room for lodging.
  • b) The traveler is required to attend a meeting, conference, convention, or training session where the traveler is expected to have business interaction with other participants in addition to scheduled events; AND It is anticipated that maximum benefit with be achieved by authorizing the traveler to stay at the lodging facilities where the meeting, conference, convention, or training session is held; AND The lowest available advertised lodging rate at the lodging facility exceeds 150% of the applicable maximum per diem amount for the location. Documentation supporting the lodging rates is to be attached.