Deducting Meal Expenses for Business Travel in 2024

Meals you eat while traveling for business in 2024 are 50% deductible if you follow the rules.

By , J.D. USC Gould School of Law
Updated by Amy Loftsgordon, Attorney University of Denver Sturm College of Law
Updated 3/19/2024

When you're on the road, there's nothing more enjoyable than a good meal. But the food will likely taste even better if you can deduct the cost from your taxes. Meal expenses incurred while traveling for business are 50% deductible.

What Is Business Travel?

You can deduct the "ordinary and necessary" expenses incurred for travel "away from home" for both domestic and international trips, as long as they are related to your business.

What Does "Ordinary and Necessary" Mean?

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says that an "ordinary" expense is one that's "common and accepted in your trade or business," and a "necessary" expense is one that's "helpful and appropriate" for your work. (26 U.S.C. § 162(a)).

There's a fair bit of leeway in satisfying these requirements. The IRS specifically notes that a cost doesn't need to be required to be considered "necessary" for purposes of travel-related deductions.

What Does "Away From Home" Mean?

For tax purposes, business travel occurs when you travel away from your tax home overnight for your business. You don't have to travel any set distance to get a travel expense deduction. However, you can't take this deduction if you just spend the night in a motel across town. You must travel outside your city limits. If you don't live in a city, you must go outside the general area where your business is located. You must stay away overnight or at least long enough to require a stop for sleep or rest.

For international travel, the "away from home" requirement is almost always satisfied. You're considered, in the eyes of the IRS, to be traveling "away from home" if your work duties require you to be outside the area of your "tax home" (for most people, the place they live and work) for significantly longer than "an ordinary day's work, and you need to either rest or sleep to fulfill your job duties while you're away from home."

Deductions for business travel apply only to "temporary" work on the road. Time away from home for work in a single location is generally considered an "indefinite assignment," and therefore doesn't lend itself to tax deductibility, if it lasts longer than one year. Note that a series of short assignments to the same location that cumulatively add up to a "long period" might be considered an indefinite assignment as well.

Travel-Related Business Meals

If you're traveling for business, you can deduct up to half of the cost of your meals as long as they're not "lavish or extravagant." (26 U.S.C. § 274(k)). They don't even have to be strictly "business related" (you don't have to be discussing business with a prospective client—a late-night back at the hotel by yourself can be deducted). For more on the "lavish or extravagant" rule and details on methods for figuring meal-related costs, see below and IRS Publication 463.

You can also usually deduct other expenses when traveling for work as long as they're legitimately business-related and "ordinary and reasonable," including transportation, shipping and baggage, lodging, and dry cleaning and laundry.

How the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Affects the Meal Deduction

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) eliminated all business deductions for "entertainment, amusement, or recreation." (26 U.S.C. § 274(a)). This restriction on deductions included most things you'd think of as entertainment, such as entertaining at night clubs, cocktail lounges, theaters, country clubs, golf and athletic clubs, sporting events, and on hunting, fishing, or vacation trips.

Many tax experts feared that, for these purposes, "entertainment" also included paying for food or beverages at restaurants or other places. If so, business-related meals would no longer be tax deductible—a huge change that would adversely affect restaurants and other businesses.

However, the IRS clarified that business-related meals and beverages are still deductible if you follow the rules. (IRS Reg. 1.274-12). Note that under the TCJA, employees aren't allowed to deduct their unreimbursed travel expenses through 2025 on their own tax returns because unreimbursed employee business expenses aren't deductible during this time. However, self-employed individuals may continue to deduct business expenses, including travel expenses.

What Is the IRS Meal Deduction Rule?

Business-related meals and beverages are still deductible if the meal and beverage costs are:

  • not lavish or extravagant under the circumstances
  • you or an employee is present at the meal, and
  • the food or beverages are provided to you or a business associate. (IRS Reg. 1.274-12).

So, you may deduct meals you eat alone while traveling on business or meals with business associates while traveling.

You may not deduct the cost of meals for your spouse while traveling unless your spouse is your employee and travels with you for a bona fide business purpose. The same goes for your children or other dependents.

No Dollar Limit

Although the meal may not be "lavish or extravagant," there is no dollar limit on how much you can spend, nor are you barred from eating at very nice restaurants. You must use your common sense to determine if a meal is too lavish under the circumstances.

In practice, the IRS will rarely second guess you on this, especially if you have good documentation for the expense.

You or an Employee Must Be Present at the Meal

You (the business owner) or an employee needs to be present at the meal to take this deduction. (26 U.S.C. § 274(k)). But you don't have to eat anything if a business associate does so. A "business associate" is any person you could reasonably expect to engage or deal with in the active conduct of your business. This category includes current or prospective customers, clients, suppliers, employees, agents, partners, or professional advisers.

You Don't Have to Close a Deal

The IRS does not require that you actually close a deal or get some other specific business benefit to take this deduction.

What Can You Deduct?

You can deduct the cost of food and beverage expenses, including any delivery fees, tips, and sales tax.

What Is the Meal Deduction for 2024?

You may deduct 50% of the total cost of a business meal. For example, if a meal costs $100, you may deduct $50. Or, if you use the standard meal allowance (see below), you may deduct on your tax return 50% of the allowance amount.

Meals Combined with Entertainment

Special rules apply when food and beverages are provided during an entertainment activity to which you take a business associate. For these purposes, "entertainment" includes any activity generally considered to be entertainment, amusement, or recreation. This category includes entertaining at bars, theaters, country clubs, golf and athletic clubs, sporting events, and on hunting, fishing, vacation, and similar trips.

The cost of the entertainment activity itself isn't deductible. But food and beverages provided during an entertainment activity are deductible if purchased separately from the entertainment or listed separately on the receipt. (IRS Reg. 1.274-11(b)(1)(ii)).

Example: You treat a client to a baseball game, which you also attend, and pay for beers and food while at the game. You can deduct the cost because you paid for the beer and food separately. You can't deduct the cost of the tickets.

What if the cost of tickets for an entertainment event like a ball game includes the cost of food and beverages? The food and beverages aren't deductible unless separately listed on the bill or invoice. Entertainment facilities offering package deals including food and beverages are usually willing to separately list their cost so you can get a tax deduction.

How Much Can You Deduct Per Day for Meals?

There are two ways to calculate your meal expense deduction: You can keep track of your actual expenses or use a daily rate set by the federal government.

Deducting Actual Meal Expenses

If you use the actual expense method, you must keep track of what you spend on meals (including tips and tax) en route to and at your business destination. When you do your taxes, you add these amounts together and deduct half of the total.

Example. Frankie goes on a business trip from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Reno, Nevada. He gets there by car. On the way, he spends $200 for meals. While in Reno, he spends another $200. His total meal expense for the trip is $400. He may deduct half of this amount ($200).

If you combine a business trip with a vacation, you may deduct only those meals you eat while on business—for example, meals you eat while attending business meetings or doing other business-related work.

You do not necessarily have to keep all your receipts for your business meals, but you need to keep careful track of what you spend, and you should be able to prove that the meal was for business.

Using the Standard Meal Allowance

When you use the actual expense method, you must keep track of what you spend for each meal, which can be a lot of work. So, the IRS provides an alternative method of deducting meals: Instead of deducting your actual expenses, you can deduct a set amount for each day of your business trip.

This amount is called the "standard meal allowance." It covers your expenses for business meals, beverages, tax, and tips. The amount of the allowance varies depending on where and when you travel, and the deduction is generally limited to 50% of the standard meal allowance.

The standard meal allowance is based on what federal workers are allowed to charge for meals while traveling and is, therefore, relatively modest. The amount is revised each year.

  • Domestic travel rates. You can find the current rates for travel within the United States on the internet at (look for the "Per Diem Look-Up" section). You can also find it in IRS Publication 1542.
  • Foreign travel rates. The U.S. State Department sets the rates for foreign travel and can be found at When you look at these rate listings, you'll see several categories of numbers. You want the "M & IE Rate" (short for meals and incidental expenses). Rates are also provided for lodging, but these don't apply to nongovernmental travelers.

If you use the standard meal allowance, you must use it for all the business trips you take during the year. You can't use it for some trips and then use the actual expense method for others. For example, you can't use the standard allowance when you go to an inexpensive destination and the actual expense method when you go to a pricey one.

Because the standard meal allowance is so small, it's better to use it only if you travel exclusively to low-cost areas or if you are simply unable or unwilling to keep track of what you actually spend for meals.

Recordkeeping Requirements

Historically, meal and beverage expenses have been subject to strict substantiation rules. These rules remain in effect for meals purchased while traveling on business. Whenever you incur an expense for business-related meals while traveling, you're supposed to document the following facts:

  • The date of the meal.
  • The amount (including tax and tip).
  • The place of the meal.
  • The business relationship. For example, the names and occupations of the people at the meal and any other information needed to establish their business relationship to you. (26 U.S.C. § 274(d)).

The IRS doesn't require that you keep receipts, canceled checks, credit card slips, or any other supporting documents for meal expenses that cost less than $75. However, you must still document the facts listed above.

Meals and Beverages You Buy Other Than While Traveling on Business

Meals and beverages you purchase other than while traveling on business are no longer subject to these strict substantiation rules. They are subject to the same recordkeeping rules as any business deduction. So, you're still supposed to have records of the amount and business purpose.

If you lack adequate records, you can ask the IRS and/or Tax Court to permit you at least a partial deduction under the Cohan rule. Under this rule, taxpayers without all required records can estimate how much they have spent.

The IRS can allow such taxpayers to deduct all or part of the estimated amount. But you must provide at least some credible evidence to base this estimate, such as receipts, canceled checks, notes in your appointment book, or other records.

The following expenses, when incurred while traveling for your business, are usually deductible:

  • Transportation. Whether you go by plane, train, or automobile, you can usually deduct the cost of getting to and from your business destination as long as it's not near your tax home. Special rules apply for "luxury water travel" and cruise ships. (See IRS Publication 463 for details.) And international business travel has some special rules. (Talk to a tax pro to learn more.) Costs for business-related transportation at your destination—for example, getting from the airport to your hotel and then to your meeting or business site and back—are deductible, whether you take a taxi, public transportation, or even a limousine. Car rentals count, too, as do costs incurred in taking your own car.
  • Shipping and baggage. You can deduct expenses incurred for shipping just about anything you'll need for business purposes while on the road (for example, props or other materials needed for a presentation).
  • Lodging. If your trip is overnight, you can deduct the full cost of the hotel or other accommodations.
  • Communications. You can deduct expenses for phone calls, including international calls, while traveling for business.
  • Dry cleaning and laundry. You've gotta' look presentable, right?

This list isn't exhaustive. You can claim a deduction for other costs as long as they're legitimately business-related and ordinary and reasonable.

Getting More Information

This article doesn't address all nuances related to business-travel tax deductions.. Your tax professional can make sure you benefit to the maximum extent possible with respect to your taxes for business-related travel.

For more information on this and other tax issues for small businesses, get Deduct It! Lower Your Small Business Taxes, by Stephen Fishman (Nolo).

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