Top 10 most expensive, US business travel cities (and their GSA per diem rates)

If you’ve ever submitted an expense report for a business trip, you might be aware of what your per diem [daily] spending allowances are for the cost of the hotel you’ve booked and your meals. Have you ever wondered who sets these amounts? And how these rates have changed in recent years? We have a brief overview for you, plus some charts of average lodging per diem rates as well as meals and incidental expenses rates for recent years, as the cost of business travel has continued to rise.

 

United States General Services Administration

The U.S. General Services Administration sets maximum per diem rates for business travelers using three different allowances for the contiguous United States (“CONUS”) annually. For non-contiguous U.S. and foreign regions, the Defense Travel Management Office usually manages these rates, which can vary greatly from what the maximum rates are for CONUS due to local cost differences. These allowances include the lodging allowance, the meals allowance, and the incidental expense allowance. The last two types are often denoted as “M&IE.” These rates always exclude taxes.


For the 2015 fiscal year, the GSA has determined that there are approximately 400 areas with per diem rates higher than the standard CONUS rate. These areas are considered “non-standard.” It can be a challenge to to keep these areas and rates fresh in your mind, but having an automated travel and expense management system to automatically import these rates can help your company’s accounting department a great deal. Being able to configure travel and expense management software with these maximum allowances means that your business has full visibility into what they’re spending and where. If you use Concur Travel & Expense Professional edition, you have the option to turn on the feature to import these GSA rates.


The GSA publishes occasional bulletins revising previous daily allowance rates for existing per diem localities, so checking back on their website monthly may be helpful. If you’re on the road and curious about rates in your area, the GSA has a mobile app to allow you to look up the maximum rate by the city and state or by zip code.


We looked at the 2014 Corporate Travel Index by Business Travel News to see which cities were the top 10 most expensive to travel to for business in the United States.  

 

Here are the top 10 most expensive business travel cities in 2014:

1. San Francisco
2. New York
3. Boston, MA
4. Washington, DC
5. Los Angeles, CA
6. White Plains, NY
7. Honolulu, HI
8. Miami, FL
9. Seattle, WA
10. Newark, NJ

 

 

Here are the average GSA per diem rates for lodging from 2011 to 2015:*

Lodging Averages Mar 2011 Mar 2012 Mar 2013 Mar 2014 Mar 2015
1. San Francisco $162 $174 $174 $203 $233
2. New York $238 $250 $250 $239 $262
3. Boston, MA $185 $197 $197 $216 $227
4. Washington, DC $194 $206 $206 $203 $202
5. Los Angeles, CA $123 $125 $125 $133 $138
6. White Plains, NY $142 $136 $136 $139 $145
7. Honolulu, HI $177 $177 $177 $177 $177
8. Miami, FL $122 $122 $122 $144 $155
9. Seattle, WA $139 $137 $137 $152 $167
10. Newark, NJ $116 $120 $120 $132 $134

 * rates were determined by taking the annual average of all seasonal lodging rates published by the U.S. General Services Administration and Defense Travel Management Office.  

 

average lodging GSA per diems  

You can see the general rise in maximum lodging allowances, with San Francisco making the largest increases from 2013 to 2015, with Boston not far behind with nearly equal increased allowances. This is no surprise as Business Travel News named San Francisco as the most expensive business travel city in the U.S. in 2014, with Boston at seat #4. Los Angeles, at #5, and Honolulu, at #7, remained relatively stable over the course of the last five years, with the remaining cities at a slow, but noticeable increase.  

 

Here are the average GSA per diem rates for MI&E from 2011 to 2015:

M&IE Averages Mar 2011 Mar 2012 Mar 2013 Mar 2014 Mar 2015
1. San Francisco $71 $71 $71 $71 $71
2. New York $71 $71 $71 $71 $71
3. Boston, MA $71 $71 $71 $71 $71
4. Washington, DC $71 $71 $71 $71 $71
5. Los Angeles, CA $71 $71 $71 $71 $71
6. White Plains, NY $71 $71 $71 $71 $71
7. Honolulu, HI $116 $116 $126 $114 $111
8. Miami, FL $66 $66 $66 $66 $66
9. Seattle, WA $71 $71 $71 $71 $71
10. Newark, NJ $61 $61 $61 $61 $61

* rates were determined by taking the annual average of all seasonal lodging rates published by the U.S. General Services Administration and Defense Travel Management Office.

 

average GSA MI&E per diems  

 

Despite the variances in the lodging allowances from the previous graph, the meals and incidentals expenses stayed between $61 - $71 for all but one of the top ten most expensive cities. Honolulu saw an uptick in 2013, but has since lowered to $111 for 2015.


We hope that this information has been useful for you and that your company has systems in place to keep track of the G.S.A.’s maximum per diem rates. Interested in staying current with the latest GSA rates with Concur Travel & Expense Professional? Take a test drive here.

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