I use a "bonus program" for train tickets, which (allows me to buy tickets with lower fares and) provides for each ticket some "points" which are worth around 2% of the ticket value. I make use of this also when I travel for academic purposes (otherwise the funders would need to reimburse a higher amount). However, for each reimbursement I feel the moral obligation to explain that in some sense I actually paid less for the ticket than what is on the receipt.

How should I deal with this situation? Is there a common practice regarding this? (I guess some institutions may have official policies regarding such situations because many people who are traveling often take part in such programs.)

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    Airline miles are a vastly larger issue in the same category. Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 18:12
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    And it needs to be noted there's no accident in how airlines/train operators do their business. They play on conflict of interest - although I am pretty sure their PR departments can convince anyone it's a win-win-win situation. Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 22:43
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    The workhours required to keep track of all these would exceed the value of what is gained by a lot.
    – o4tlulz
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 5:48
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    In the course of the so-called 'air miles affair', a number of German MPs had to step down after a tabloid newspaper published their practice of using 'air miles' that were collected on business trips for private traveling. The prosecution office conducted an inquiry, but didn't press charges. Some companies then started to request that 'miles' collected on business trips be spent only for business purposes, but I am not aware of any such directive in a German university. Wikipedia Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 6:50
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    On a similar note, the US Federal Government previously claimed frequent flier files from Federal Employees, but changed its policy because of logistical constraints and because most private companies let employees keep their frequent flier miles. The letter implementing the policy might provide insight for your question. Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 16:36

3 Answers 3


Unless the funder has a specific policy (which they should tell you about), common practice is that "reward points" (including frequent flyer miles, etc) are yours to keep, and don't deduct from your reimbursement.

You're right that there is something a little shady about this, but basically, nobody has figured out a better way to handle it, and travelers are used to keeping their points and would get mad if they weren't allowed to.

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    When I worked in Germany (of course, if someone has a rule about it, it's the German :) ), on our travel reimbursement forms there was the provision that all rewards gained with work trips would have to be used for work trips only. Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 18:51
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    @FedericoPoloni Yes, and judging from German court decisions in similarly structured cases, utilising work-earned miles for anything but work trips could lead to immediate termination. I wouldn't be surprised if there actually would be cases like that. Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 18:57
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    @smci It's a federal law ([BRKG](www.zbb.brandenburg.de/media_fast/4055/BRKG201509.pdf), article 4 and clarification 4.2.3), so it is still in effect after you leave your job. Not clear to me what happens after you leave Germany, though, but IANAL and IANAGerman. So they just have to stay here until they expire (and the law specifies you can't use them even if they are about to expire). The law also states that you have to consider all possible reductions to the travel price, so I presume not spending your reward points on work trips is also against it. Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 7:09
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    In Germany miles earned by business travel belong to the employer, but the employer can allow employees to use them for personal purposes. In that case the employee has to pay some income tax when they use such miles, unless it's below a threshold or the airline already paid them (Lufthansa apparently does). Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 9:22
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    I'm not sure about the terminology, but it's only for people working for the governement, be it Beamte, Staatsbedienstete or anything similar. §1 (1) Dieses Gesetz regelt Art und Umfang der Reisekostenvergütung der Beamtinnen, Beamten, Richterinnen und Richter des Bundes sowie der Soldatinnen und Soldaten und der in den Bundesdienst abgeordneten Beamtinnen, Beamten, Richterinnen und Richter. -- I think there would be similar regulations for staff that doesn't fall exactly under these terms, but does similar work, but that would be a different law or local regulation or thelike
    – DonQuiKong
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 13:09

I've never encountered the idea of doing anything other than pocketing the bonus and counting one's self lucky. In the US, it's normal for credit cards to included similar bonus programs, so any time I make a purchase on my credit card and am reimbursed, I profit. I'm not sure how I would even avoid it, since all my credit cards have this feature, and most reimbursed purchases have to be made by credit card.


Ask yourself: would you have chosen a different service/product if the reward hadn't been there?

If you would have chosen the same, then keep the reward. If not, then ask your funder what to do.

Rationale: It's the same as cash back on a credit card. Would you have used a different credit card that didn't offer cash back on the same thing, or would you have chosen something else instead? Or alternatively, would you have chosen a different service if it hadn't been eligible for cash back?
If you would have chosen the same service, then it is none of your funder's business what credit card you used. But if you would've chosen something else, then it is.

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