Air Force Protocol
from 'Til Wheels are Up'

"The greatest gift we can bestow on others is a good example."


Presenting gifts to visitors and guests is an age old custom. This custom continues today and is a good way to not only show appreciation to your guests but also provide them with a reminder of their visit. Most military organizations present mementos either containing an organizational emblem (such as a pen with a 56 Fighter Wing emblem at Luke AFB).

The old adage "it's the thought that counts" really is true. Mementos need not be large or expensive (in most cases the amount of funds that can be spent is limited by regulation) to make a positive impression.

If unit funds are to be expended, determine what, if any, category of funds (appropriated or nonappropriated) applies to the visitors. See the chapter on "Funds" to ensure the use of unit funds is proper and legal. Then check the matrix table to insure legality. More on that subject later in this chapter.

Can nonappropriated funds be used to purchase a retirement gift?
Yes, but remember the aggregate cost cannot exceed $20.00. You cannot supplement the $20.00 with other funds to buy a more expensive gift!


A related topic consists of paying fees for Guest Speakers, Lecturers, and Panelists. In September, 1982, the Deputy Secretary of Defense established a policy that fees paid by the DoD to individuals for speeches, lectures, and presentations in excess of $250 must be approved by the next higher organizational echelon. The objectives of this policy were to assure that excessive fees were not paid and to reduce costs. That 1982 policy remains the same; however, to reduce any administration burden that may have resulted from inflation since the establishment of the policy, the threshold for higher level approval was increased from the $250 limit to $500 in January, 1995.

Associated with presenting mementos to guests and honorees is the situation that mementos or gifts my be presented to your commander, host, or even to you as a protocol official. The Joint Ethics Regulation and DoD Directive 5500.7-R apply to gifts, gratuities, and honoraria presented from outside sources.


The following talking papers, prepared by HQ USAF/JA, outline the official policy regarding gifts from outside sources and frequent flyer programs. If you are ever in doubt or have further questions regarding gifts, mementos, gratuities, honoraria, or even off-duty employment, refer to your local staff judge advocate. This will save you time, frustration, and a lot of trouble in some cases. The next talking paper addresses Frequent Flyer Programs and situations which arise from frequent official travel. Again, consult your legal office if you have any questions.


The issue of official endorsement of fundraisers, membership drives, and other promotional enterprises has many gray areas and is governed by a complex set of regulations. Although every decision is very fact-specific, there are certain general rules which always apply in evaluating endorsement requests.

Here is some additional information from The JAG concerning the frequent flyer program. It originates from the TJAG Policy Number 8; Subject: Frequent Flyer Programs; dated 4 Feb 98.

SUBJECT: Frequent Flyer Programs
  1. This policy outlines the rules with which all judge advocates should be familiar regarding Air Force personnel who participate in frequent flyer programs (FFP) sponsored by commercial airline carriers.
  2. The following rules are applicable to Air Force members and employees enrolled in FFPs who accumulate "bonus" mileage and other benefits while performing official government travel:
    1. Members and employees are obligated to turn in to the government any gift, gratuity, or benefit received from private sources incident to the performance of official duty. That such benefits are nontransferable or unavailable to the government is irrelevant.
    2. A bonus or discount ticket received by a member or employee as a result of trips paid for by appropriated funds, while on official travel, is the property of the government.
    3. Access to VIP lounges, free food or drink offered to individuals, due to their status as a member of FFPs or given to all passengers, may be accepted provided the "benefits" are not obtained by "cashing in" mileage credits earned on government travel. In addition, "on-the-spot" upgrades may be accepted provided they are not offered because of one's official position or through redemption of mileage credits.
    4. Mileage credits may be accrued for official travel by Air Force personnel who desire to participate in frequent flyer programs on a voluntary basis. Under no circumstances may credits earned with official travel be used for personal travel, which include permissive TDY. Credits earned during official travel are a result of government expenditures, and therefore, may only be redeemed to defray official travel costs.
    5. Members and employees must travel by coach class, unless other accommodations are approved in advance of air travel in accordance with applicable travel regulations. Mileage credits accumulated while traveling on official business may not be used to upgrade to first class air accommodations, although, when on official travel, such mileage credits may continue to be used to upgrade to premium class, other than first class accommodations. However, frequent flyer mileage credits earned while on official business may never by used to upgrade to any class while traveling on personal trips. Note: The prohibition on first class air travel also applies when transportation expenses are accepted from a non-Federal source under 31 U.S.C. 1353.
    6. If a member or employee on official business is voluntarily bumped off a flight, the individual may keep the compensatory money or complimentary tickets; however, the person must pay any added expenses and take regular leave in case of delay. Such delay, of course, cannot interfere with the TDY mission.
    7. If a member or employee is involuntarily "bumped", delayed, or otherwise inconvenienced by the airline from a scheduled flight and accepts money, complimentary tickets, or lodging certificates from the airline, the traveler must turn in such items received with his TDY voucher, and the government pays for any additional per diem associated with the delay. This is true whether or not the government incurs additional subsistence expense or the traveler reports for duty at the same time as originally intended.
    8. Lodging certificates provided to a member or an employee on official TDY/travel by hotels that overbook also belong to the government.
  3. In those rare instances when a FFP participant may have unintentionally commingled personally earned mileage with official business travel mileage, the participant should not use any of the mileage for personal use, unless he or she can clearly establish that the portion of mileage used was not earned on official government business. For those who elect to participate in FFPs for both personal and business travel, the simple solution is to establish two separate accounts with the respective airlines.
  4. Members who use personal credit cards on official government travel and accrue mileage based upon use (such as to pay for lodging on a TDY) may keep those mileage points for personal use.

For more information on the Frequent Flyer Program, please see the Joint Federal Travel Regulation (JFTR), Vol 1 - Uniformed Service Members, Chapter 2 - Administration and General Procedures, Para U2010(B)(6) or contact your local Staff Judge Advocate's office.