NAFA member, Ryan Swirsky, Associate with GKG Law, discusses factors for classifying aircraft travel for tax deductions.
Many aircraft owners use their aircraft for both business and non-business purposes during the same trip. This practice can often make categorization of a particular trip more difficult, as the “primary purpose” of the trip must be for business in order to be tax deductible. Further, this categorization must be made for each passenger for each leg of a trip. GKG Law would like to remind aircraft owners of the “substantiation requirement” for taxpayers and discuss factors that will cause the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) to more heavily scrutinize the classification of a particular trip. One of these factors happens to be travel around holidays, such as the Fourth of July.
An aircraft owner is required to make the initial determination of how to categorize its aircraft-related travel for purposes of tax deductibility (e.g., business, entertainment, personal non-entertainment, commuting). However, the aircraft owner must also be able to adequately substantiate with detailed records its classification of the primary purpose of a particular flight in order to support its deductions for the business use of its aircraft. If this requirement is not met, the IRS is able to reclassify the aircraft owner’s initial categorization, thereby potentially disallowing the aircraft owner’s deduction of expenses relating to the flight.
Certain factors that make a particular trip look more like it was undertaken in connection with entertainment, which would make those expenses non-deductible, can raise “red flags” for an IRS auditor and cause the auditor to scrutinize the trip more closely. As previously mentioned, one such factor is travel around holidays. Other factors include:
- Travel itineraries that include a weekend (e.g., flying to the destination on a Friday and leaving on a Monday);
- A longer period of time spent at the destination than is necessary for the business purpose;
- Travel with multiple passengers of the same last name aboard the flight (e.g., husband/wife, family members);
- Travel to a “resort type” destination (e.g. – a location known for skiing, golf, or the beach);
- Travel with many passengers on board a particular flight when it is not clear that all of the passengers are traveling for the business purpose; and
- Travel where fewer passengers are on the return leg of a round trip, or on later legs of a multi-leg flight.
Take the recent Fourth of July holiday, for example, where an aircraft owner has a business meeting in Miami, Florida on Friday, July 5th. The aircraft owner flies to Miami on Thursday, July 4th and returns home on Monday, July 8th. In an income tax audit, it is likely that the IRS would scrutinize the business classification of such a flight. The IRS may recategorize it as a personal entertainment flight unless the aircraft owner can produce adequate documentation to prove otherwise. The aircraft owner will need to produce sufficient documentation, created contemporaneously with the travel (as records created after a tax audit is initiated are usually deemed to be less credible), proving that the primary purpose of the travel was for business. For example, records or correspondences showing that the business meeting was planned before any subsequent entertainment activities were planned would be helpful to show the primary purpose of the trip was business related.
Categorization of the reason for travel on board a company aircraft is decided on a case-by-case basis using a facts and circumstances analysis. Certain trips can be more difficult to categorize than others or contain taxpayer adverse facts that accompany legitimate business travel. The business aviation tax attorneys at GKG Law regularly advise clients regarding these issues and the types of records that an aircraft owner should keep to maximize the taxpayer’s ability to deduct legitimate aircraft-related business travel expenses. GKG Law also regularly represents aircraft owners in IRS income tax audits involving these issues. For more information, please contact Ryan Swirsky (email@example.com or 202.342.5282).
This article was originally published by GKG Law on July 9, 2019.