What Are Transportation Expenses?

The term transportation expense refers to specific costs incurred by an employee or self-employed taxpayer who travels for business purposes. Transportation expenses are a subset of travel expenses, which include all of the costs associated with business travel such as taxi fare, fuel, parking fees, lodging, meals, tips, cleaning, shipping, and telephone charges that employees may incur and claim for reimbursement from their employers. Some transportation expenses may be eligible for a tax deduction on an employee's tax return.

Key Takeaways

  • Transportation expenses are a subset of travel expenses that refer specifically to the cost of business transportation by car, plane, train, etc.
  • Expenses such as fuel, parking fees, lodging, meals, and telephone charges incurred by employees can be claimed as transportation expenses.
  • These expenses may be deducted for tax purposes subject to the appropriate restrictions and guidelines.

How Transportation Expenses Work

Transportation expenses are any costs related to business travel by company employees. An employee who travels for a business trip is generally able to claim the cost of travel, hotel, food, and any other related expense as a transportation expense. These costs may also include those associated with traveling to a temporary workplace from home under some circumstances. For instance, an employee whose travel area is not limited to their tax home can generally claim that travel as a transportation expense.

These expenses, though, are narrower in scope. They only refer to the use of or cost of maintaining a car used for business or transport by rail, air, bus, taxi, or any other means of conveyance for business purposes. These expenses may also refer to deductions for businesses and self-employed individuals when filing tax returns. Commuting to and from the office, however, does not count as a transportation expense.

The cost of commuting is not considered a deductible transportation expense.

Transportation expenses may only qualify for tax deductions if they are directly related to the primary business for which an individual works. For example, if a traveler works in the same business or trade at one or more regular work locations that are away from home such as a construction worker, it is considered a transportation expense. Similarly, if a traveler has no set workplace but mostly works in the same metropolitan they live in, they may claim a travel expense if they travel to a worksite outside of their metro area. On the other hand, claiming transportation costs when you have not actually done any traveling for the business is not allowed and can be viewed as a form of tax fraud.

Taxpayers must keep good records in order to claim travel expenses. Receipts and other evidence must be submitted when claiming travel-related reimbursable or tax-deductible expenses.

Special Considerations

According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) travel or transportation expenses are defined as being: "...the ordinary and necessary expenses of traveling away from home for your business, profession, or job." And it further defines "traveling away from home" as duties that "...require you to be away from the general area of your tax home substantially longer than an ordinary day's work, and you need to sleep or rest to meet the demands of your work while away from home."

The IRS provides guidelines for transportation expenses, deductibility, depreciation, conditions, exceptions, reimbursement rates, and more in Publication 463. The publication sets the per-mile reimbursement rate for operating your personal car for business. Travelers who use their vehicles for work can claim 57.5 cents per mile for the 2020 tax year. That's down from 58 cents eligible for 2019. The IRS' determined rate treated as depreciation for the business standard mileage is 27 cents as of Jan. 1, 2020.