When COVID-19 began its rapid spread across and between countries in March 2020, many travelers could not reach their airlines or agencies to book flights home. Some had less than 48 hours to return home before countries closed their borders, and many faced chaotic airports and hours-long hold times to speak to a booking agent.

Luckily, Stanford travelers who used Stanford Travel to book their travel received the highest levels of assistance in their time of need. The Stanford Travel program is comprised of multiple booking channels with negotiated service agreements.

Last March, Egencia agents answered 75% of calls from Stanford travelers within 30 seconds, and FCM (formerly Casto) answered 96% of calls within 20 seconds. When it mattered the most, Stanford’s travel partners met or exceeded our rigorous service level agreements to help bring our colleagues home.

Stephen Hinton

Stephen Hinton

“Stanford Travel came up big in getting me back from Berlin in the midst of the COVID chaos,” shares Stephen Hinton, faculty member with the Bing Overseas Studies Program. “I had to call the 24 hour hotline twice to rebook, and received prompt and friendly service both times,” professor Hinton wrote. “I flew back on March 12, arriving without a hitch. Within two days, as you know, there were long lines at the U.S. airports for returning travelers from Europe — lines that were both tedious and dangerous, so a big thank you for the terrific service the program provided; I’m very grateful!”

Travel reservations booked through Stanford Travel booking channels are also automatically sent to the university’s Travel Registry, which connects to Stanford’s service provider for medical, personal, travel and security assistance for travelers who are overseas. During crises such as international political uprisings, major weather events, and natural disasters (such as major earthquakes), the university relies on the Travel Registry to locate and help faculty, staff, postdoctoral scholars and students who need assistance.

In addition to assisting travelers in the event of emergency, the Travel Registry also allows Stanford to proactively alert travelers who have upcoming trips if there are any emerging risks at their destination.

A new travel booking policy

The Stanford Travel program has been key to supporting university travelers in event of emergency since it was established in 2014. The early days of the pandemic reinforced the value of the Stanford Travel program as a centralized way to easily access reliable and up-to-date traveler information and to provide emergency assistance.

Catalyzed by this event, the university announced a new policy requiring the use of Stanford Travel booking channels for university-sponsored travel. The policy, effective June 15, 2020, states that university funds may be used to purchase or reimburse new university-sponsored travel expenses only when booked through one of the Stanford Travel booking channels: FCM (formerly Casto), Egencia, United Corporate Direct (UCD), StudentUniverse, and Anthony Travel (used exclusively by Athletics). This policy applies to Stanford faculty, staff, postdocs and students booking airfare, hotel lodging, and/or car rentals.

This new travel policy also supports the compliance requirements of the IRS Accountable Plan, which states that reimbursement is not taxable as income to the employee if the expense has a business connection and is submitted in a timely manner.

The Stanford Travel booking channels offer a range of choices and options depending on a traveler’s needs. The most popular program with faculty, United Corporate Direct (UCD) allows you to quickly book business flights from the same app you use for personal travel. Travelers just need to link their profile to Stanford Travel to get started.

Aaron Gitler

Aaron Gitler

“I’ve used both UCD and Egencia for several years,” said Aaron Gitler, PhD, Department of Genetics, Stanford Medicine Basic Science Professor and United Global Services Member. “UCD is super easy to use and I save a lot on my United tickets. I also use Egencia to book my hotels or other airline flights … both programs work great. Thanks to Stanford Travel for giving us choices to make it easier to travel.”

Stanford Travel saves money and time

Stanford’s airline partners also supported Stanford travelers by offering options to salvage the value of unused airline tickets. They have also extended other corporate benefits to Stanford travelers, such as priority boarding, complimentary preferred seats and the ability to change names on tickets that can no longer be used by the original traveler.

All Stanford Travel booking channels offer Stanford-negotiated rates of up to 25% off airline, hotels and car rental fares and qualify for applicable loyalty program benefits. Stanford Travel also features fare-saving technology that automatically searches for and re-books flight reservations when a lower rate becomes available.

It pays to use Stanford Travel. With exclusive quarterly booking promotions, travelers and arrangers can win free airline tickets and hotel stays, earn upgrades and receive other perks.

With recent enhancements to the booking tools, it’s easier than ever to get started with Stanford Travel. The team offers tailored training and support through department trainings, events, and a quarterly newsletter.

When alternatives are appropriate

Stanford only requires the use of Stanford Travel booking channels when university-sponsored travelers book airfare, hotel accommodations, or car rentals. For greater flexibility and convenience for a wide range of Stanford travelers (and travel destinations), there are some exclusions to the policy. For example, the policy does not apply to:

  • Conference hotels, which may be booked directly with the hotel at the conference rate per the Lodging Policy
  • Non-hotel lodging such as Airbnb, remote lodging, and cabins
  • Ground transportation such as rail, car service, taxi, Uber, or Lyft
  • International travel for foreign airlines, hotels, or car rentals not available for booking on Stanford Travel
  • Airline ticket reissues or exchanges
  • Visitors or groups of 10 or more going to the same destination

While not required, Stanford Travel also includes Optional Travel Services (Uber for Business, Lyft Business, and Airbnb for Work).

Note that any travel not booked or changed through Stanford Travel must be registered on the university’s Travel Registry. To learn more about what is excluded by the Stanford Travel policy, visit the Business and Travel Expense Policies webpage.

Travel resources

As you are looking ahead and thinking about travel, be sure to consult the Health Alerts for Stanford Travelers website first for the most updated guidance from the university. Follow the Stanford Travel Slack channel, fms-stanford-travel, for updates on the program and its offerings.

To learn more about the Stanford Travel program, please visit the program page on Fingate.