Travel & Meetings Frequently Asked Questions and Answers (FAQ’s)

Introduction: On March 10, the Provost’s Office announced that “The University is suspending all nonessential international and domestic University travel” effective immediately through April 15.  On March 20, the Provost's Office announced that “all events on campus have been suspended until further notice."

The following represents the most often-asked questions and answers in response to this announcement across a variety of areas. The situation is a very fluid one, with updates announced regularly by The University, government agencies and vendors. The information that follows is effective as of March 26. We encourage you to consult these FAQs regularly as you consider changes to your travel and research plans.

Last updated on March 27 2020

1.  Given the University’s travel restrictions, what steps should I take to cancel my flight, hotel, and car rental reservations?

Prior to the date of departure, contact the business from which you purchased your airline ticket, your hotel reservation, and your car rental reservation, and cancel or change the dates of travel.

Failure to take this action prior to departure will result in a complete loss of the value of the ticket and hotel “no show” fees.

2.  Can the University’s preferred vendor, Fox World Travel, help me cancel or change reservations made elsewhere, e.g., at United.com, Travelocity.com, Orbitz.com, Hotels.com, etc.?

Fox World Travel can only access and assist you with reservations made through Fox World Travel.

If you did not book travel through Fox World Travel, you will need to direct your inquiry to the business or website from which you purchased your reservation.

As Fox World Travel affords the University many favorable terms, including as to cancellation, the University strongly encourages you to direct all new reservations to Fox which you can access (here)

3.  I purchased a non-refundable airline ticket and non-refundable hotel reservations. How do I get my money back?

When cancelling travel to CDC Level 3 Travel Health Notice countries, many airlines and hotels have issued “waivers” of cancellation and change fees. When you contact the business from whom you made your purchase, ask if any waivers have been provided which would allow you to either cancel or change the reservation free of charge. 

4.  I cancelled my airline ticket and hotel but I’ve been advised that a full refund is not offered by the business.  Am I allowed to expense the change or cancellation fees?

Yes.  The University’s Travel and Business Expense policy allows for the reimbursement of these unavoidable legitimate business travel expenses.  In certain cases the business may offer a credit for future travel in lieu of a refund.  These credits should be used for future university business travel.

5.  Has the University established a central fund to cover the costs of airline and hotel change or cancellation fees?

No.  These business expenses should be charged to the appropriate department account.  The traveler should upload all documentation related to the charges into Concur.

6.  The University had planned to host an event, now cancelled, and we are contractually obligated to pay the hotel cancellation fees. How do we recover this expense?

Meeting organizers should first seek to understand the available contractual (or purchase order) options before contacting the venue.  The subsequent discussion with the venue should focus on any announced governmental restrictions or recommendations and the unique public health circumstance and request a full refund, partial refund or credit for future use as appropriate. 

7.  What are the current federal air travel restrictions?

Please refer to the travel websites from the CDC and State Department for the most current information related to federal air travel restrictions and advisories.  

8.  I am a foreign national traveling in a CDC Level 3 Travel Health Notice country on University-paid business.  My return trip to the United States is after March 13th.  Will I be allowed to return?

At this time, we anticipate that these individuals will be denied access to the United States.  Travelers should refer to https://coronavirusupdates.uchicago.edu/ for the most current information regarding CDC travel information and University travel guidelines upon return

9.  If I am unable to return to the United States and I have run out of cash or available GEMS line of credit, how do I pay for expenses?

Contact your department representative or supervisor to request an increase of your GEMS card limits.

As a last resort, employees can use their personal credit cards for these expenses.  Employees should keep all receipts and submit these expenses for reimbursement.

10.  I am currently in a country that has imposed outbound travel restrictions, what steps should I take to get home now?

If you are a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, contact the business from which you purchased your airline ticket and rebook your return flight.  Ask the travel counselor if a waiver of change fees has been provided by the airline on which you are flying. If you are a foreign national, please see responses to FAQ 7-8 above.

11.  I am out of the country and having difficulty returning back to the U.S. What do I do?

On March 19, the State Dept Global Health Advisory was raised to Level 4 – Do Not Travel. It may be increasingly difficult to find flights. The U.S. Department of State further advises that “in countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.” Please also note that the U.S. State Department has urged travelers to develop “a travel plan that does not rely on the U.S. Government for assistance.”

Foreign nationals should be aware that their options to return to the US may be limited per the other restrictions outlined in this FAQ. All travels should confirm itineraries before travel in the event that additional restrictions have been put in place.

12.  Beyond my direct supervisor, who should I contact at the University regarding my return home from a CDC Level 2 or 3 Travel Health Notice Country?

Anyone who has returned from a CDC Level 2 or Level 3 country in the past 14 days and going forward is strongly advised to fill out this simple form with information about their trip. This will help the University work with public health authorities to limit exposure in the event of a positive test case. If the CDC puts in place an additional designation for travel to domestic locations, we will communicate and follow those guidelines as well.

13.  I’m planning to travel in the June - August timeframe this year. Should I make my reservations now to take advantage of lower ticket prices, or wait?

Current University travel policy would not prohibit you from doing so.  However, there is no certainty regarding when the threat of the virus will subside or if/when governments will lift travel restrictions. Given these uncertainties, travelers are asked to exercise good judgement when making the purchase of new reservations.  The University recommends making reservations at least 14 days in advance of travel.

As Fox World Travel affords the University many favorable terms, including as to cancellation, the University strongly encourages you to direct all new reservations to Fox which you can access (here).   

The University will pay for airline tickets up to the least expensive non-refundable Economy/Coach fare – please see University Policy 1202 “Reasonable Business Expenses” Airfare-Domestic and International.  If the purchase of a refundable ticket is necessary, the traveler should seek unit approval before making the purchase.

14.  What accommodations are airlines and hotels making at this time?

Various hotels and airlines have announced special accommodations, including waiving all or certain change fees. Please click on the following links for airline, car rental, and hotel sites that address their current Covid-19 accommodations. This list is not comprehensive, and policies are subject to change at any time. Travelers should consult the hotel or airline website directly for the most up to date information. 

15.  What is the status of Southwest Airlines operations at Midway Airport?

Friday, 3/20/2020 -- this afternoon Southwest Airlines (announced) that it had significantly scaled back its flights in and out of Midway Airport, its Chicago hub, days after federal authorities closed the airport’s control tower after technicians tested positive for the coronavirus.

Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Brandy King said the Dallas-based airline canceled about 170 of its roughly 250 daily flights in and out of Midway due to the airspace restrictions that followed the control tower's closure. King said it's not clear how long the airline will keep its reduced flight level in and out of Midway, and that decision is tied to how long the airspace restrictions continue.

Southwest has confirmed, “. . .that any tickets cancelled by Southwest on account of Air Traffic Control directives are eligible for a full refund back to the original form of payment, including tickets where nonrefundable fares were purchased."

Fox World Travel is working to identify the names of travelers who are impacted and, where flights have been cancelled, will be working with travelers to protect them aboard alternative airlines serving Midway Airport or airlines who offer service operating to/from O’Hare.  FWT counselors are available to assist Southwest travelers over the weekend and can be reached at (888) 209-7881. Travelers are strongly encouraged to contact Fox by phone rather than by email.

Where travelers have purchased tickets aboard Southwest from a retail website, such as at southwest.com or a merchant other than Fox, such as Orbitz.com, Travelocity.com, Kayak.com, etc.,  travelers are advised to contact the merchant from whom they purchased their tickets to pursue alternative arrangements.

Updates to be provided as details become available.

16.  What Chicago hotels are suspending operations?

Many Chicago hotels have suspended operations.  The list, while not exhaustive, includes: 21c Museum Hotel, Ace, Loews, Virgin, The Hoxton, Omni, Four Seasons, Chicago Athletic Association, Park Hyatt, The Peninsula, and Hotel Zachary.  The Hilton Chicago will suspend operations as of Friday, March 27.   Travelers who booked lodging thru Fox travel, will be contacted to book alternative lodging for them. Travelers who booked lodging outside of Fox, are advised to monitor their hotel reservations by contacting the merchant from which their reservation was made to reconfirm their status or to book an alternative property.

This list may grow and the length of time for the closure may vary from property to property.

17.  Do we know if there will be a full domestic travel ban in the U.S.?  Will it extend to car rental companies, or are they going to stay open?

While it has been reported that the federal government is weighing “all options” to help contain the spread of virus, including a halt on all domestic air travel, they have not taken any official action, nor do we know if they will. Airlines and air traffic control have been impacted by reduced demand and/or COVID-19 cases within their operations that has disrupted domestic air travel. With respect to car rental, we encourage you to contact the rental company first to confirm their facilities are open before booking or incurring any rental expenses.

18.  Do I still need to get my Real ID by the October 1, 2020 deadline? 

On March 24, President Trump announced that the October 1, 2020 implementation deadline has been postponed to October 2, 2021.    

19.  How does the University's preferred travel vendor Fox World Travel "recycle" airline tickets?  Are tickets purchased outside of Fox World Travel recycled?

Tickets booked through Fox World Travel:  The residual value of an unused non-refundable ticket issued by Fox is documented in the traveler’s profile as an available asset for a period of up to one year from date of issuance. When the traveler attempts to book a new reservation aboard the same carrier in Concur they are prompted to re-use their cyber credit. And the same advice/interaction occurs when a traveler calls to speak with a Fox travel counselor. So the process is a managed one on line and via the call center. With United, one additional benefit not offered in the retail marketplace is the assignability of an used ticket. The residual value may be transferred to another in the department for use, in the event the original traveler separates from the University of moves to another unit or department.

Tickets booked outside of Fox World Travel: For those who book travel in the retail market, outside of Fox, we have no line of sight to any of those bookings, cancellations, or credits.  For United tickets purchased outside of Fox, the residual value is NOT assignable to another individual.

20.  Where do I find more COVID-19 guidance or assistance?

Please contact coronavirusinfo@uchicago.edu if you need guidance, resources, or assistance.

For additional information on COVID-19, please visit coronavirusupdates.uchicago.eduFurther health information is available from UChicago Medicine, CDPH, and the CDC.