By SUSAN JONES
Problems with the Anthony Travel and Concur systems are continuing to spark passionate complaints from faculty and others.
Senate President Robin Kear asked at the March 17 Faculty Assembly meeting for input on Pitt’s travel policies, and she said at the April meeting this week that, “I hear you loud and clear.”
“My concern has increased as travel has increased, and (because of) some of the things that I've been hearing over the past month,” she said.
The exclusive use of Anthony Travel was implemented as part of COVID-19 guidance, and efforts to modify those rules have been slow in coming since pandemic restrictions have eased.
“It was presented as part of a pandemic thing because of the need to monitor where our students are going when we restarted studying abroad, also faculty overseas and all the different countries with corona rules and everything else,” said Chris Bonneau, who was Senate president when the rules were instituted in 2020. “We agreed to a temporary policy on this, which has since, in my opinion, been abused, and it leaves me a little salty.”
He said meetings with people in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer have not been satisfying. “I don't see how this status quo is sustainable or acceptable. … Based on what we've heard from faculty, based on how it originated and everything else, this is nothing but a nightmare for everybody.”
Comments that Kear has received include general frustration dealing with the travel agency, financial issues and specific problems during trips.
One person said they became stranded because of flight delays, “and when I tried to get their help to rebook (it was a weekend), they were missing in action. No response. My husband’s law firm then helped me via their travel agent.”
Other complaints include:
Flight cancellations or other mid-travel rearrangements are difficult.
Forgetting to link domestic and international flights.
Missing information on final itinerary.
No notification from Anthony Travel when significant flight changes have been made.
Excessive time needed to book flights. For instance, one person said it took two days to book a flight they could have done in 15 minutes on the airline’s website.
Wasted spending on mandatory $10 to $25 travel-service fees with Anthony Travel; lack of basic economy flights offered; foreign transaction fee of 3 percent on Pitt travel cards; baggage fees that could have been avoided with personal airline credit cards and more.
Any claims to savings are not passed back to schools, units or individual faculty.
One complaint was that there were not enough agents dedicated to Pitt travel. At a separate meeting this week about booking blocks of rooms for conferences, Anthony Travel officials said they are adding an agent to handle Pitt travel, bringing the number from two to three.
Kear said anytime she has asked about these concerns, she’s been told they will be addressed when the University Travel, Business Entertainment, Honoraria and Miscellaneous Reimbursable policy (FN-28) is revised. A policy committee has been named and includes Pat Loughlin, a 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.
Penny Morel, professor in the School of Medicine, asked if there was an option to just abandon this policy and revert to pre-pandemic travel rules. Kear said that would be her preference, but she has gotten pushback when she suggests it. “I keep waiting to hear the reasons why this really makes sense, and I haven't heard them,” Kear said.
“In the past, we didn’t really need a travel agency,” said Abbe de Vallejo, associate professor in the School of Medicine. “It is your option if you want a travel agency, but to compel people to use a travel agency, I think it is really an infringement of our freedom.”
Tom Songer, an assistant professor in the School of Public Health, said resolving these travel issues is urgent, “because May and June are a lot of conferences for research. And what's most disturbing is flight cancellation and flight delay, and the need to rebook. We cannot go through the summer season with the current plan. It's just not beneficial to our faculty.”
Other travel-related changes
In the past two weeks, the Office of Purchase, Pay & Travel has released some updates and new guidance on travel. But the office reiterated that, the COVID-19 Standards & Guidelines require that all University business travel paid by the University, regardless of funding source, must be booked via Concur or Anthony Travel.
“We recognize that the last month and a half, two months we have seen the volume with Anthony Travel just skyrocket with our bookings,” said Emily Duchene, Pitt’s Travel Program manager, in announcing the additional agent joining the University of Pittsburgh/Anthony Travel team.
Flight search in Concur: Based on feedback from travelers on their flight search preferences, adjustments have been made to improve flight booking for travelers using the Concur online booking tool. Effective immediately, the default for all flight searches will be changed to present results sorted by schedule rather than by fare. Concur users can still select the Shop by Fares option.
Conference hotels: University travelers may book hotels that are designated as the preferred location or room block by the conference organizer via the conference website. However, travelers are encouraged to double-check rates via Anthony Travel or the Concur online booking tool, as conference rates are not always the best value. We are working with the Office of Policy Development to add clarifications regarding conference hotel bookings in the COVID-19 Standards & Guidelines moving forward.
Booking blocks of rooms: At a Lunch & Learn session on April 12, officials from Anthony Travel said if faculty or staff are booking 10 or more sleeping rooms for a conference locally, nationally or internationally, or are booking conference space, Anthony agents should handle the contract negotiations. This process starts with contacting Anthony Travel and filling out a hotel room book or hotel conference meeting space request form on Panther Express.
“It’s not to stop you from having a relationship with the hotel,” said Allison Jones of Anthony Travel. “It's just strictly for me to be able to be the first one that they communicate with, so I can guarantee that we're negotiating the right things and getting the best rate for you.”
For questions, contact Purchase, Pay & Travel Customer Service.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-244-4042.
Have a story idea or news to share? Share it with the University Times.