Q&A: Is Airfare for a Short-Term Missions Trip Tax Deductible?

For the participant buying a ticket for him/herself, the airfare is tax deductible as a volunteer expense.

Each of our missionaries is responsible for purchasing his or her airline tickets. Would this be considered a tax-deductible contribution or just a personal expense? Further, a church member wants to purchase the ticket so that a participant can go on the missions trip. Is the payment—made directly by the church member to the airline for the participant’s airfare—tax deductible?
For the participant buying a ticket for him/herself: Yes, the airfare is tax deductible as a volunteer expense. The participant purchasing the ticket will need a statement from the church that says he or she is required to pay for the airfare in order to perform volunteer services on the missions trip. The statement must also say that no goods or services were provided by the church in exchange for the participant’s purchase of the ticket. The participant will also need a copy of the itinerary and proof that he or she performed sufficient volunteer services during the trip. If the trip includes a few sightseeing or personal days, the participant may claim only a percentage of airfare. If personal or sightseeing days exceed 50 percent of the trip days, then no airfare will be deductible.
For the church member who purchases the ticket for a participant: If a church member buys a ticket for any volunteer other than him/herself (or an immediate family member), it is not tax deductible. The only way the church member’s donation could be tax deductible is if he or she gives the money directly to the church. The member can then suggest that the money go toward the participant’s ticket. However, I must stress that this can only be a suggestion. In order for the donation to qualify for a charitable contribution credit, the church must determine how the money is spent.
Frank Sommerville is a both a CPA and attorney, and a longtime Editorial Advisor for Church Law & Tax.

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