NEWS | Nov. 29, 2011

Arranging your official travel

By Michael Simmons Joint Base Charleston Traffic Management officer

When the Traffic Management Office arranges official travel, the primary consideration is to ensure mission requirements are satisfied based on Department of Defense and each branch of service's transportation and travel policies. We do this with the help of a contracted Commercial Travel Office.

Here at Joint Base Charleston, we have two official CTOs. On the Air Force Base, Alamo Travel provides this service and is located in the AMC Passenger Terminal, Bldg. 174.
SATO Travel is our travel partner on the Weapons Station and they are located in Bldg. 302 along with Pass and ID. The CTO responds to travel requests for hotel, air, rail, rental car and ship or ferry reservations and ticketing made through the Defense Travel System, unit travel managers or traditional TMO Passenger Travel Office. They are required to make all travel arrangements by the most economical routes. Besides utilizing available military airlift, they are mandated to use the General Services Administration Airline City Pair Program unless a negative mission impact warrants otherwise.

To deviate from the use of GSA city pair fares, travelers must provide sufficient justification when there are flights available that offers contracted fares to and from the primary or an alternate airport serving your local area. However, final determination rests with the orders approving official and not TMO or the CTO. We determine the most cost effective flight available and provide the information to the AO for them to make a decision. Travel under this exception must be preapproved by the AO and annotated in the travel orders. Keep in mind there must be a critical travel circumstance and not personal preference driving this decision and it must never become the standard.

Often we are asked why government fares are so costly or why we can't purchase cheaper tickets via the internet or directly from the airlines. The answer is simple; the government's contracted fares are based on the condition that there can't be any penalties or additional charges if changes or cancellations are made after the ticket is purchased. Also, we must be able to get a full refund for all unused portions of a ticket. Unlike restricted tickets, the DoD must be able to change or cancel a reservation in whole or part as needed without penalty. A few years ago this stipulation proved to be invaluable. During a travel audit, some 58,000 unused tickets valued in excess of $21 million and more than 81,000 partially unused tickets worth about $62 million dollars were discovered. Fortunately, the government was able to initiate refund action to recover the unearned charges.

Travelers might see the purchase of a restricted, nonrefundable ticket as the idea way to save on travel cost. However, consider the more than $83 million in unused tickets that would have been lost had the choice been made to purchase the cheaper restricted tickets. Don't be fooled into thinking the same thing can't possibly happen today. Each quarter, we receive on average, approximately $12,000 in refunds for unused airline tickets.

As a final note,immediately notify TMO or the CTO of any unused tickets. The sooner the refund process is started, the more funds your unit will have available for travel. Remember, DoD directed the mandatory use of a contracted CTO for all official travel arrangements. Do your part by utilizing the services they offer and take a major step towards helping to reduce or eliminate problems with travel voucher payments or any reimbursement issues.

For more information, contact TMO Passenger Travel at 963-3059/3066 or the Passenger Travel Office on the Weapons Station at 764-7321/7331.