Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

Home Back Issues No. 52: On NIH/NSF grants, who controls the frequent flyer miles?

Nov 01

No. 52: On NIH/NSF grants, who controls the frequent flyer miles?

Posted by: PIA in

Tagged in: Untagged 

Sign Up to receive free weekly articles like these

Grants and Funding

On NIH/NSF grants, who controls the frequent flyer miles?

Reader Question: I travel as part of my NIH grant. My department chair wants my frequent-flyer miles to go into a departmental fund. I'll do it, but are there any NIH/NSF rules on this? If NIH or NSF is paying for the travel, who owns and/or controls the frequent-flyer miles?

Expert Comments: NIH doesn’t have any say over the use of a grantee's frequent flyer miles. Because the university is purchasing the ticket (with NIH funds), it is the university that decides how the miles should be credited — either to an institutional account, a departmental account, or the flyer’s account.  All that NIH requires is that the institution follows a consistent practice in handling the miles.

Expert comments: Megan Columbus, acting director, Division of Communications and Outreach, NIH Program Manager for Electronic Receipt of Grant Applications and Agency Integration, Office of Extramural Research, NIH, HHS.

Additional Comments: The miles are earned by the account holder. If the university has a business account with us, the flyer would give that number when making their reservations and the points would go into that specific account. If it’s an individual account, the airline would credit the miles to the individual account.

Comments by Ashley Merrell, American Airlines, Advantage Customer Service.

Editor’s Note: Policies vary among institutions. Here's how three universities handle frequent flyer miles:

  • The University of Minnesota's policy is that, when the university pays for travel, even if the funds originated from grants, the miles must “accrue to the benefit of the university” and cannot be used for personal travel.
  • Emory University in Atlanta allows the miles to accrue to the individual account holder if that person paid for the ticket and was reimbursed by the university. If the university’s travel account was used, then the miles go to the university. So if a PI buys the ticket, he or she gets the miles — even when reimbursed.
  • At Yale University, a PI cannot be reimbursed for business travel paid for with frequent flyer miles.

The department chair in the original question can set up an account for the miles. All that's required is that the matter be handled in a consistent manner.

This eAlert is brought to you as an informational training tool by the Principal Investigators Association, which is an independent organization. Neither the eAlert nor its contents have any connection with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or the National Science Foundation (NSF), nor are they endorsed by these agencies. All views expressed are those personally held by the author and are not official government policies or opinions.

Comments (7)
Professor, PI on NIH grants
written by Jarnail Singh, October 25, 2010
Frequent miles earned while traveling on a NIH funded grant belong to the PI not to department or head of Department. Because the PI wrote the grant and if funded, one of the objective of the research is to disseminate the results of the research.PI's travel is related to objectives of the grant. Therefore, the department has no claim to frequent flier miles by the PI.
Mr. PI, stay your ground. Thanks and good luck.
written by Victor, October 27, 2010
I heard on multiple occasions that miles belong to the PI and are his to keep. I am not aware of any existing mechanism to transfer miles to any other person/entity if the ticket is paid by the PI's credit card, which is typically the case (and reimbursed from the grant after the travel). The real question, therefore, may be: can PI use these miles only for the business-related travel, or for any personal travel? The latter is, actually, the rule at my organization.
Scientific consultant
written by KV, October 27, 2010

Is flying a real requirement to do science nowadays?. on 15 years of life sciences background I am sitting at a Starbucks Coffe somewhere in middle east and follow all my field on-line. However, if I have to fly to present my work somewhere in the world as a requirement It should be paid by the grant. The accumulated miles are public property my coworker or the PI can have them.

Irrelevant but a more important question. What will happen to the peer-review system in 2014 when most of the diseases are decoded on genes and global diagnosis functions on databases. Can any PI follow up that?. Where will the classical grants fit into that picture?. Any preparation for that? Don't say that it is miles away. The PIs should consider this rather than the accumulated miles.
written by Curious Investigator, October 28, 2010
The NIH and NSF send their many staffers on trips worth hundreds of thousands or millions of air miles per year. All paid by funds originating from taxpayers. Who gets the fregquent flyer miles from all this NIH/NSF etc staff travel? Or did they negotiate a big bulk purchase with airlines in which they got lower ticket prices in return for not receiving any FF miles?
written by J, November 01, 2010
First consult the specific airline's policies, as they vary; often the miles are nontransferable.

As to institution policies, they vary, but remember that there is no extra charge for the miles,they are built into the fee structure, and one can accept them or discard them by not participating. The real question for the institution which does not want people traveling needlessly in order to accumulate FF miles is "What business travel is reasonable?". Regulating use of FF miles is an inaccurate indirect means when there are better tools for this.
Finance Director
written by Joe Delaney, November 01, 2010
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2002 (P.L.107-107) was signed into law by the President on December 28, 2001. Section 1116 of the legislation repealed Section 6008 of the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994. As a consequence, Federal employees and military personnel are allowed to retain and make personal use of promotional items, such as frequent flyer miles, earned while on official Government travel.

The General Services Administration (GSA) issued guidelines for official Federal travelers using frequent traveler benefits. Federal Travel Advisory Number 5 was issued December 31, 2001 and can be found on GSA's Web site. In addition, GSA has issued two final rule amendments to both the Federal Property Management Regulations and the Federal Travel Regulation to reflect this legislative change. See 67 Federal Register 17649-17650 (April 11, 2002) and 67 Federal Register 17946-17947 (April 12, 2002), respectively.

Likewise the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Announcement 2002-18, "Frequent Flyer Miles Attributable to Business or Official Travel," which discusses the taxability of frequent flyer miles or other promotional items that are received as the result of business travel and used for personal purposes. The announcement is part of Internal Revenue Bulletin No. 2002-10, March 11, 2002 and is available on the IRS Web site.

The bottom line is the Federal Government gives the nod to the individual, and so should the University!
Professor, Research-intensive medical school
written by an experimental scientist , November 08, 2010
The scenario makes one wonder how the Chair plans to use the miles that were accumulated by the inquiring PI (and to a lesser extent just how much the PI in question is traveling).

Some enlightened socialism in the University setting can be of some value, but if the employee is having to float a loan to the grant by using their own credit card to pre-pay and wait on reimbursement of all the expenses it is fairly reasonable (and obviously legal) that they should control usage of the FF miles. At the most cynical, though, one wonders if the Chair just wants to steal a subsidy to their own travel.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

Write the displayed characters