You made a journey by train, where the ticket cost $100 and no additional costs arose.

Afterwards somebody (who is in no way liable to give you a cent for the journey) is so kind as to give you some amount of money nevertheless. Consider the following cases:

a. You get $200, because you had all the labour travelling from A to B.
b. You get $100, because that is the sum which you did pay yourself.
c. You get $80, because you probably had some fun travelling, which is rated as $20.
d. You get $10, because more money is not available for this.

(The reasons are just examples. The relation between actual cost and contribution is of greater importance.)

Is this in all four cases called "travel allowance", or what are the correct terms? Although travel allowance is an accounting term, this question is not about accounting. I just do not know the right term for it.

4 Answers 4


In an answer to an earlier, now deleted version of this question at EL&U, I wrote:

All four examples probably do fall into the purview of travel allowance, but for some of them other terms may better apply. The first example might be termed a travel bonus, and the fourth, a token payment or favor. Note, some organizations might use other words in place of allowance: stipend, grant, assistance, remuneration, compensation, subsidy, honorarium, and benefit (or "bennie").

Expanding slightly on the above, let me note that the terms reimbursement (“The act of compensating someone for an expense”, or compensation for an expense) is a general term that applies to all four cases. Remuneration also is general. Stipend, grant, assistance, subsidy, and honorarium are less general, and more likely to be used (than more-general terms) in the cases where they apply.


There are three different answers:

  • There is what the donor calls it; if it is made pursuant to some formal policy, it will be named in the documentation.
  • There is what you (and your accountant or lawyer, if either is involved in making out your tax return) decide is the most favourable characterization.
  • There is what the taxman who reviews your return decides it really is.

In none of these does anybody else get a vote, unless you take the taxing authority to court; then the magistrate gets the final word. That's probably why ELU regarded it as Not Constructive.

  • +1 for… a very relevant comment, I guess ? Feb 3, 2013 at 20:01

Is this in all four cases called "travel allowance" or what else are the correct terms? Although travel allowance is an accounting term, this question is not about accounting. I just do not know the right term for it.

English does not have a single "right term" for such compensation. The wording could vary, depending on if the traveler worked for Google, General Electric, or the Australian government. As StoneyB mentioned, the "most correct" term partly depends on who is talking, and what is written in company policies and regulations.

If the money is meant to cover or defray the out-of-pocket expenses for a traveller, then travel allowance is indeed one term that could be (and is often) used. From my experience, though, travel allowances only cover reimbursable expenses (such as parking fees, cab fares, toll expenses, tickets, rental cars, etc.), so I would say that "travel allowances" would only be correct for examples b, c, and d. Because example a includes money above the cost of the ticket, I would call that "travel expenses plus per diem," but that wouldn't be the only legitimate way to refer to that money using words from the English language – there are plenty of others.


From an accounting perspective, an allowance is a set amount of money which the person is allowed to claim for expenses, irregardless of the actual expenses.

  1. $ 200 is an allowance because it is not based on actual expense, but instead is calculated to be generous enough to cover your actual time and expense.

  2. $ 100 is a travel expense reimbursement, not an allowance.

  3. $ 80 is a travel expense reimbursement, not an allowance, with more careful auditing of expenses so that personal expenses are recognized and not reimbursed.

  4. $ 10 is an allowance, just not a very generous one.


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