By SUSAN JONES
Earlier this month, Senate President Robin Kear said issues surrounding the required use of Anthony Travel to book University-related trips have caused “the most widespread dissatisfaction I’ve ever heard on any issue.”
The exclusive use of Anthony Travel was implemented as part of COVID-19 guidance, Kear said at a December meeting of the Senate’s Research committee. “We are sort of still existing under that and I’m not entirely sure why, but it’s still continuing.”
Shilpa Sant, an associate professor in the School of Pharmacy, told the Research committee that many people have complained about Anthony Travel. “Even if we find the flights for ourselves and tell them this is much less expensive than what you’re suggesting, they take that but then they charge us $35, $40, $50 on top of that, as if they provided the service. I think this is wasted research dollars and we’re always trying to save a lot on things.”
Kear and Chris Bonneau, immediate past president of the Senate, met with Maureen Beal, associate vice chancellor for financial operations in the CFO’s office, recently about this issue, and Kear said they will be continuing to meet with her.
On April 1, the Purchase, Pay & Travel office sent out some clarifications on booking hotel stays related to a conference. Some people had complained they couldn't get the conference rate on hotels if they went through Anthony Travel. The update said: “University travelers may book hotels that are designated as the preferred location or room block by the conference organizer via the conference website. However, we encourage travelers to double-check rates via Anthony Travel or the Concur online booking tool, as conference rates are not always the best value.”
A charter also is being developed for a committee to do a complete review of the University Travel, Business Entertainment, Honoraria and Miscellaneous Reimbursable policy (FN-28), which includes preferred travel providers like Anthony Travel. The updated policy also will address reimbursements for dependent care.
Pat Loughlin, an bioengineering professor who sits on the Faculty Affairs committee; Anna Wang-Erickson, a pediatric professor who is chairing the dependent care ad hoc committee; and Bonneau will be on the policy review committee. Kear said once a policy is developed, it will be reviewed by the Faculty Affairs, Research and dependent care committees.
The University Times put some questions to Maureen Beal about Anthony Travel and the policy. Here are her responses:
COVID-19 requirements to use Anthony Travel caused widespread dissatisfaction among faculty. Why was this company chosen and what complaints are you hearing?
Anthony Travel is the University’s contracted supplier for travel management. They were selected a few years ago through a competitive bidding process, and representatives who travel frequently or manage department travel were involved in the vendor selection process, including representatives from Global Operations, the University Center for International Studies (UCIS), the Katz Graduate School of Business, the Dietrich School and Health Sciences.
Given the challenges related to travel during a global pandemic, the University required booking either through Concur or Anthony Travel to ensure our faculty and staff were able to receive necessary assistance with rapidly changing travel regulations, border closings and emergency medical situations.
What was the policy before Anthony Travel became required?
Using preferred vendors aligns with the University’s long-standing policy that requires the use of contracted suppliers (University Policy AO 30).
Booking travel through a preferred contractor such as Anthony Travel enables the University to use its consolidated spending power as leverage for deeper discounts for our employees and other benefits that are not available through retail platforms. Discounts and benefits vary by airline but may include priority boarding, ticket name changes to allow the transfer of the ticket to colleagues, and emergency assistance.
Why can’t faculty/staff book travel on their own?
University policy requires the use of contracted suppliers when available. Booking travel through other sources dilutes the University’s consolidated negotiating power, which reduces discounts and other benefits for all University travelers.
Airlines currently are experiencing significant challenges due to pandemic labor shortages and geo-political events that impact airline fuel and other costs. We believe these factors reinforce the importance of using a preferred travel vendor that will work to generate the lowest costs for everyone at the University.
Some people are saying they can find cheaper flights on their own at more convenient times? Do you think is true and why do think it’s happening?
If travelers find a better rate, they can provide Anthony Travel with documentation of a cheaper flight at the same date, time, flight number, fare class, etc., for potential price matching. However, we have seen very few cases where employees were able to find a better rate than Anthony Travel, in part because extra baggage charges or fare classes were not considered. The inventory of flights available in Concur includes up-to-date scheduled flights for all major airlines, including airlines like Southwest that are not represented on some retail travel booking platforms. This saves time searching multiple platforms.
Do people have to pay a fee to Anthony Travel even if they find the flights themselves?
Currently, a $10 fee is charged for online travel bookings through the Concur tool, and a $25 fee is charged for agent-assisted bookings through Anthony Travel. We are in the process of reviewing fees with the goal of further reducing fees now that a majority of University travelers are comfortable using the Concur mobile/online booking tool without assistance.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-244-4042.
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