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The Defense Travel System Manufactured Spend

How I Used DTS for Manufactured Spending

On a recent TDY to undisclosed, secret squirrel locations the Middle East, the DTS TDWise Guy missed a flight due to mission requirements. This is how he discovered a manufacured spending pathway within the DTS system.

What Is Manufactured Spending (MS)?

This blog has, and always will, err on the side of churning caution. We do this to avoid slaughtering the proverbial golden goose that is waived annual fee credit cards and the perpetual benefits they provide US Service Members. As such, you will read very little about MS here for two reasons: it looks a heck of a lot like money laundering and it pisses off banks.

MS is the process of using your credit cards to purchase financial devices that can be liquidated to cash and then used to pay off your credit cards. It generates credit card spend points without actually spending money. The popular path goes something similar to this: gas station sells visa gift cards, you use a credit card that gives 3x points at gas stations to buy visa gift cards, you then use the visa gift cards to buy money orders, you then use the money orders to pay off your credit card and profit 3x points per gift card dollar.

Money Laundering and Structuring

I’ve looked into it, it can be lucrative if you have the patience and approprate pathways in place. It can also be a massive pain and not worth your time or the risk of clerical and point-of-sale errors. Regardless, you generally have to buy bulk gift cards, typically daily, in order to generate worthwhile points. Buying that many gift cards and subsequent money orders looks a heck of a lot like money laundering. Even if you are not doing anything wrong, your activity will start to be tracked. If you attempt to avoid that tracking by keeping spending below the tracking trigger amounts, thats called structuring and is a felony regardless if the origional spending is legal or not. Hard pass from this blogger but your mileage may vary.

Banks are Friends Not Food

The other reason MS might not be the best path forward is that banks will shut all your fun down if they notice this pattern. I’m not too sure why credit card companies care since they profit from the tractations like any other, but the accounts you deposit into take great offense and you will not get warnings when they’ve had enough. Perhaps its because you force them to file the tracking paperwork and no one likes doing more than they have to.

Anyways, Back to DTS MS

The above discribed cycle is rough to navigate, but MS via normal spending means is a lot safer. Such avenues could be using a credit card to fund a new bank account or buying US currency and depositing it directly into your account. Then theres DTS.

Most international airlines will not reticket you for a missed flight with the same ease we are accustomed to with the major US carriers because of a lack of free market capitalism. ‘Murica. Even though I was flying on a Y Class (full fare) ticket. After dealing with a significant language barrier, because why have customer service speak the common language of Earth, I called the CTO emergency line and had them book a new ticket and request refund for the unused segment. I made the new flight, 20 days went by, and it was then time to complete my travel voucher.

No Refund For You

I checked the Citi government card website and didn’t see a refund from the airline.  I called the local CTO office and they assured me that I would not get refunded for that ticket due to the carrier’s terms of service.  So I filed the voucher, added an explanation to the approving official on why I was expensing two tickets to the same destination, and attached both tickets along with a copy of my government travel card statement as substantiating records.  Fortunatly, I serve in an organization that cares about Soldiers and the voucher was paid with quickness.

Nevermind, Here’s Your Refund

A few weeks go by and I received a system generated email that my refund on the missed segment for $246.50 had been approved.  Because DTS already paid for this ticket, career jepardizing ethics suddenly became a part of this equation.  Valuing this great country and my paycheck, I created an amendment to my voucher and thus a debt due to the United States. Once the approving official approved the amended voucher, a weeklong process began that eventually resulted in an email explaining the debt, a 30 day deadline, and a link to a payment website where the debt can be settled. Since minimum spend is always happing, this situation created a manufactured spend of $246.50 with no surcharge for using a credit card.

Overall the process was rather seamless compared to typical transactions with the local finance office. Unfortunately this was the cheapest flight of my trip, but the potential has been realised. When foreigners screw up your government funded flights, you have a path to knock out some minimum spending.

Did You Finally Get Comfortable Using DTS? Uncle Sam Is Fixing That For You.

Get Your Struggleface Ready, New DTS is Here

The Defense Travel System, or DTS, is a system that most DoD travelers love to hate.  It offers travelers an ability to book their own travel and check the status of their order throughout the approval process. The system has been around so long most military members never had to manually fill out a DD 1610 (travel order).  Until recently DTS looked like something you would find with AOL in the 90s.

All the Upgrades

Thankfully the Defense Travel Management Office is implementing a series of updates to improve the user experience, user interface, modernize the look and feel, and improve navigation and usability of the system.  Additionally, this update will also revamp the DTS trip types and trip purposes for authorizations and vouchers, and update the listing of expense types and thresholds to reflect recent Joint Travel Regulations changes. As part of this release, note the following changes:

  • Expenses will be added/removed to accurately reflect the Joint Travel Regulations
  • Current expense labels will be modified to make them easier to understand
  • Thresholds will be removed or significantly increased to help limit pre-audit triggers
  • Several trip types and purposes will be removed to more accurately reflect the Joint Travel Regulations

We have attached some training slides to show what has changed.  Once implemented, these changes should make the DTS process easier and help get rid of some of the annoying pre-audit flags in the travel document.

No More “Alternate Means” Statement in DTS!

The Government Makes A Logical Change For Once

Unprecedented, I know.

The Old

One of the most annoying changes to DOD travel that resulted from 2011 Track Four Efficiencies was the requirement to put the Alternate Means Statement (officially known as the Travel Order Certification) into all DTS travel documents.  The simple statement of  “SVTC, web-based communications are not sufficiently able to accomplish travel objectives” was an annoyance for travelers and approvers alike.  Additionally, in typical military fashion, someone thought that having those magic words on a DD 1610 would stop someone from traveling unnecessarily.

The New

Luckily, after nine years, common sense has finally prevailed.  “The Per Diem, Travel and Transportation Allowance Committee has determined that this requirement is no longer necessary and it aligns with the Deputy Secretary of Defense’s initiative to modernize travel.”  Now “an official responsible for directing travel or approving reimbursement is also responsible for ensuring that funds are used for official travel purposes and in accordance with the conditions prescribed in the JTR.“ See MAP/CAP 079-18 (R) for full text.

Let’s hope that any future changes within the Deputy Secretary of Defense’s initiative to modernize travel are efficient and give travelers reasonable choices within their TDYs.

75% and Me (is gone)

UPDATE: Great news, everything is back to 100% and the military travel world makes sense again. You can read this article as a reminder of how dumb government travel can be.

Have you heard of the JTR’s 75% rule? The rule is designed to encourage members to find efficiencies on long-term stays.

When does it apply?
All stays 31 days OR more at a single location to BOTH the food (M&IE) and lodging per diems!

What is the rule?
Table 2-21 of the JTR directs that if a TDY is 31-180 days at a single location, then a flat-rate of 75% of the per diem allowance is payable for each full day. If a TDY is 181 days or more at a single location, then a flat-rate of 55% of the per diem allowance is payable for each full day.

What if lodging is more or less than the 75% rate?
If you decide to stay in lodging that costs more or less than the 75% rate, in general, you pay/pocket the difference. There are a couple of exceptions found in Table 2-21 mainly around government lodging and when there is no lodging available at or below the 75% rate.

Can my rate be reduced further?
“The flat rate may not be reduced further even if the actual lodging costs incurred are less than the lodging portion of the flat-rate per diem, unless Government quarters and meals are available or the Secretary concerned reduces it to a lower rate.” (JTR 020311-E)

A couple of what-ifs:
What if I cannot find lodging at the reduced rate? If you and your TMC (commercial travel office) cannot find lodging at the reduced rate than the lodging portion is waived.

What if my TDY gets extended past 31 days? The 75% rule only applies to scheduled stays of more than 31 days at a single location. If, for example, you have a 20 day TDY and on day 10 you get another 12 days added (for a total of 32 days) the 75% rule would not apply because no single portion was scheduled for more 31 or more days. If, however, on day 10 of your original 20 day TDY another 25 days were added then the 75% rule would apple for days 11-45.

What if “government meals are directed and provided”? Then the GMR or PMR rate applies for food.

Disaster areas? Can be approved up to 300%.

Table 2-21 lists 21 exemptions to the 75% rule and is worth a read.

Further reading: The JTR http://www.defensetravel.dod.mil/Docs/perdiem/JTR.pdf 

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