When traveling, there are many things that can possibly happen or go wrong that would require extra money to fix. While these things may not be directly related to the research travel one is doing, these expenses would not pop up if you weren't traveling.

For example, if one gets stuck in the airport on the way back to one's home institution, you may need to get an extra night at a hotel before you go home.

The question is the following: When is it appropriate to claim such an expense on one's grant?

There are clearly varying levels of such events. One is something out of your control like weather pushing your flight back a day. Some are completely in your control and you messed up, e.g., you miss your flight and need to pay a fee to get on a later flight. Others are due to scheduling conflicts and new plans arising, e.g., another talking engagement shows up and one needs to pay the flight change fee in order to make sure one can present at both conferences.

Are all/some of these scenarios appropriate for claiming against a grant or asking reimbursement for?

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    "if one gets stuck in the airport" - that sounds like something the airline has to fix/pay if it's their fault. Jun 2, 2015 at 10:19
  • It would appear to to me that the level of appropriateness heavily depends on the rules of the grant and/or the university. They are sometimes very restrictive and would not allow you to claim expenses for any flight rebooking, for example.
    – DCTLib
    Jun 2, 2015 at 10:28
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    @O.R.Mapper if you're not covered by the EU regulations, the airline's only obligation may be to either re-book you on another flight at no extra cost, or refund the fare. As I understand things, unless they're departing from an airport in the EU, American carriers have no legal obligation at all to give delayed passengers compensation.
    – Moriarty
    Jun 2, 2015 at 12:04
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    Travel insurance may also cover these expenses. Jun 2, 2015 at 16:30
  • @Moriarty, that is correct; the duty owed to the passenger is encompassed in the contract that both parties agreed to at time of booking. It would be off topic to discuss here, but generally the airlines outside the EU don't pay for things that weren't their fault.
    – Calchas
    Jun 2, 2015 at 17:21

7 Answers 7


These things happen, and as long as the expenses are reasonable, they should be covered by any reasonable funding body. It is a good idea to make a phone call to see whether you are permitted to spend the money, or at least to find out what budget limitations you have.

For instance, the other day my plane was diverted to a different airport. The only way I could make the PhD defence on time was using a taxi. So I took the 80 km trip and paid the 230 euro and fully expect that I'll get this money back.

If I had have purchased a used car to get me to the defence and a bottle of whisky for pain and suffering, I wouldn't expect to get that money back.

  • 4
    I think most people know what is reasonable, but I've seen a few expense reports that... there are no words. Jun 2, 2015 at 14:14
  • @Mr.Mascaro The question is... did those few expense reports get by with some, or any of it? Some people place down everything they did, even if they don't really expect most of it to pass - because there tends to be a couple borderline cases that then get by since they don't seem as... crazy. Jun 2, 2015 at 17:02
  • @DoubleDouble, I wasn't making any comment about that. Just that a few people don't know what 'reasonable' means. Jun 2, 2015 at 17:03

In general, it is always reasonable to ask for unexpected expenses to be covered. Unlike the other answers, however, in my experience, getting reimbursed for unexpected expenses almost never happens if you go over budget. For travel on large grants the PI can often shift money around to cover unexpected expenses, if he/she wants, but that money has to come from somewhere. For small grants (e.g., $1000 travel grant) or internally funded travel, there is usually a budget and there just is not any extra money to shift. When visiting another university to give a seminar, they take on the responsibility, to an extent. Sometimes they give the visitor an explicit budget and other times they deal with over spends.

I would suggest prior to spending any money, but especially money that you do not have, that you contact the "funder" to confirm. Without prior confirmation, I would assume that I will not get reimbursed for unexpected expenses.

  • I guess the main difference between my answer and yours is that I am not used to having a budget for a specific travel. Around here, there is (substantial) budget per chair for the entire year (or, for projects, for three years), and whether any individual travel gets a bit more expensive than expected isn't really grounds for much discussion.
    – xLeitix
    Jun 2, 2015 at 17:06

With few exceptions, I consider all travel done as part of my university appointment (be it project meetings, formal academic visits, conferences, etc.) as regular business trips. That is, going to that project meeting isn't my personal choice, but something I have to do as part of my job.

This means that I expect not only to get fully refunded for all expected costs of the travel, but that my employer also takes over the risk of unexpected costs. This includes cancellation or rescheduling costs, as long as the reason for cancellation is another business appointment or any other reason that is outside of my control (but not if I cancel for personal reasons - I have in the past been refunded after cancelling for personal reasons, but I saw this as a nice gesture by the grant holder more than something I would have expected). These expectations are also clearly covered by the travel guidelines of my current university (the same was true at the place where I did my PhD).

If additional costs come up due to a screw-up from your side, things get a little bit messy. In theory, my university would not be required to pay for any travel that you booked in error. In practice, my university has a tendency to cover even major screw-ups (such as booking a wrong flight on a ticket that cannot be changed), as long as these circumstances are rare, clearly unintentional and of no profit to you. They would probably be very suspicious if you, for instance, ended up in Hawaii for an additional week due to your "mistake".

  • 1
    Where does the extra money come from? My department might give me £1000 to go to a conference, but just like a grant, it is my responsibility to stay under budget.
    – StrongBad
    Jun 2, 2015 at 13:08
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    "my university has a tendency to cover even major screw-ups" - this shows quite well how differently universities/departments handle this kind of things. My department is very generous, but the travel expenses office is not, so if e.g. we fail to buy a ~50€ train ticket with the ~10% business discount, we will still only get back the ~90% discounted fare money. Jun 2, 2015 at 13:32
  • @xLeitix if I overspend on my grant the university takes it out of my pay check. Potentially, I could fight them and get the money back, but I would not count on it. They would probably claim it was not essential travel and therefore I assumed the risk.
    – StrongBad
    Jun 2, 2015 at 17:16
  • @StrongBad Interesting. I am pretty sure that would not fly in Switzerland.
    – xLeitix
    Jun 2, 2015 at 17:57
  • @O.R.Mapper I don't think the train ticket is a counterexample. Administration may cover additional unexpected expenses without discussion, but still count beans in even small expenses they see as violating some regulations.
    – silvado
    Jun 4, 2015 at 8:05

Everyone recognizes that your business trips are, well, business and not for leisure. Consequently, everything that can go wrong is part of what you do for work and should be reimbursed (and typically will). For example, I have missed the plane from Houston to my home town more often than I care to count (either because my inbound flight was late, or because the connecting flight had been cancelled altogether because of weather). In such cases, I rent a car for a day to get me home. Nobody has ever asked me to justify this: everyone understands that it would be unreasonable to hang out at the airport for the night to take the next flight in the morning. This is simply the cost of doing business.

  • How lucky. Last week I slept the night on the floor Copenhagen airport (in a suit). I didn't even consider driving 7 hours overnight to be home in time for breakfast. Jun 2, 2015 at 13:21
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    @DaveClarke That is absurd. Were there no hotel rooms available?
    – Calchas
    Jun 2, 2015 at 17:16
  • @Calchas: That's what the airline person said as they handed me a blanket and pillows. The whole of Copenhagen was full. Jun 2, 2015 at 18:52
  • @DaveClarke: No hotel rooms in what radius? I was stranded once in Beijing, and Air China's reaction was, as well, to state that there were "no hotel rooms available ... near the airport", so they drove us to a hotel more than an hour away from the airport. Jun 2, 2015 at 20:52
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    @O.R.Mapper: It was probably a money saving lie. The replacement flight was booked for 6 hours later, so driving too far would have been pointless. Jun 3, 2015 at 7:42

In the universities that I have worked, the university carried an insurance policy that covers business travel. Exact coverage details vary. Depending on the details of the insurance policy, you might have to declare the trip in advance. You might also have to contact the insurer when you incur/about incur the expenses. I suggest to check with the relevant authorities in your university.

If your university does not have such a policy, it might be a good idea to buy it when you buy your travel, especially if you go to places where you do not ordinarily have medical coverage (e.g. a foreign country). Such an expense is normally reimbursable (but you might have to go through the university's preferred insurer; check!).

  • Indeed. It is an employer's legal duty in many countries to provide adequate travel insurance; and although it need not cover delays and incidentals, actually the policies are often considerably more generous for delays and cancellations than are offered to the general public. It's worth having a quick read of your institution's policy.
    – Calchas
    Jun 2, 2015 at 17:18
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    @Calchas Legal duty? Never heard of it. Which countries, which laws? I thought it is just cheaper to negotiate insurance as an institution rather than to pay individually in each case.
    – Boris Bukh
    Jun 2, 2015 at 17:23
  • @Calchas Very interesting! Also, the original poster is in the UK, so this partly answer the specific question at hand.
    – Boris Bukh
    Jun 2, 2015 at 17:40

Not only with respect to travel, emergencies happen and money needs to go from category A to category B in your account.

For most situations, Universities won't just set up an account for sponsored research for X dollars and say "go spend it on your research". Money will be apportioned by categories as were specified in your application -- A dollars for salaries, B for bennies, C for travel, D for capital equipment, E for supplies, and so on.

Because the government can audit whenever they feel like it, most systems are set up to meet the regulatory requirements of the big government agencies, and they will audit on their own every now and again to make sure they're in compliance.

Now, most agencies will have strict rules about how much money can change categories before you're supposed to give them a ring and ask for permission. My experience is that a $200 hotel bill will generally not exceed those limits.


For the reimbursement of business travel cost, it usually won't matter whether the cost was expected or not. You had certain costs, and when you hand in your travel cost account, you will be reimbursed or not depending on regulations that should have been defined in advance.

Before going on travel, you will usually get a business trip admission from your employer that defines to what extent travel costs are covered. Usually, this definition will refer to some local regulations, that (at least in my case) try to define very specifically what cost can be covered. Sometimes, an upper limit for reimbursement may have been set, and then you're bound by that, whether the cost was unexpected or not.

If you don't get reimbursement from your employer, you may have a travel grant or stipend, which usually define an upper limit on the cost that is being covered. Again, for that limit it generally doesn't matter whether any cost was expected or not.

In case you're going over any predefined budget due to unexpected circumstances out of your control, it may be worth negotiating to have that reimbursed as well. However, I wouldn't expect that to work, unless there's other funds to reallocate from, and usually you wouldn't have legal entitlement to that.

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