Employee Travel Costs and COVID-19
Situations related to COVID-19, updated March 27, 2020, 1:15 pm
The collection of COVID-19 operations guidance from the University Budget Office, University Finance, and Controller's Office units is here: controller.umn.edu/covid-19 (added April 1, 2020).
As of March 4, 2020, the University of Minnesota does not permit University staff or faculty business travel to any country currently assigned a Level 3 travel advisory by the CDC. Regardless of their international destination, faculty and staff traveling on University business must follow University policy and register international travel with the Global Programs and Strategy Alliance (GPS).
Update, March 23, 2020: All non-essential, University business travel, both domestic and international, for faculty and staff has been canceled from March 16, 2020 through May 31, 2020. This decision will be reviewed by April 30, 2020. See also President Gabel's March 10 announcement, March 11 messsage, and March 24 message for additional information.
Many organizations are taking precautionary measures and canceling events both internationally and within the United States, due to concerns over COVID-19. Some travelers may not be comfortable traveling during this time and may voluntarily cancel their plans. Speakers, consultants, or guests whose travel is being paid for by the University may have been asked by their government or employer not to travel.
When events or trips are canceled due to COVID-19 concerns there may be costs associated with the cancellation, and you may receive a refund or a credit for use at a future time. Costs associated with cancelled employee travel will be covered by the University to the extent they are otherwise allowable and not recoverable through other means. Specific situations are explained in the following sections. Any refunds or credits received for University employee business travel (including sponsor-funded travel) must be used for the benefit of the University (or the original funding source).
Travel-Related Exposure to COVID-19
In specific cases, Minnesota Workers' Compensation Statute may extend benefits for medical care or lost wages arising from exposure to or infection with COVID-19. If an employee believes they have been exposed to or infected with COVID-19 in the course of University business-related travel, the employee must file a Workers' Compensation first report of injury. The University's third party claims administrator will determine applicability of statute to each presented case. Links to the University's first report of injury filing system:
- UM 1536 - First Report of Injury (Online - Preferred Version)
- UM 1536 - First Report of Injury (Printable Fillable Version) froi.pdf
Travel Not Yet Booked
Please do not book future travel until travel restrictions have ended. At this time, travel is restricted through May 31, with a review of the decision planned for no later than April 30. Read President Gabel’s March 24 email for more information.
In the future:
- Once restrictions have eased and you’re able to book travel again, please use Christopherson Business Travel (CBT) or the online booking tool Concur to book travel in the future, this should help avoid many of the challenges outlined below.
- Use the Travel Card or a departmental PCard for booking airfare, these programs make recovering from unexpected cancellations of your travel much easier. Using these cards reduces the number of steps you have to take overall to pay and account for travel, the cost to the University is less overall, and these card programs reduce stress on personal finances.
- Wait to book airfare until closer to your trip, in case the conference or event is canceled. If you're concerned that by waiting tickets will be more expensive, domestic rates are typically best 4-6 weeks prior to travel. Change fees, if applicable, start at $200 with most airlines.
- Lodging can be booked ahead of time but ensure you know the cancellation policy.
- Travel insurance needs to be approved by your college's Chief Financial Manager before it is purchased. Most travel insurance policies cover only a portion of the costs and have restrictions on the reason for canceling. Many insurance policies do not cover cancellations related to epidemic and pandemic events.
Involuntary Cancellation of Travel
Contact the event organizer for direction for obtaining a refund.
Ensure you make your cancellation in accordance with the policies of your lodging provider.
If you booked with a travel agency, contact the agency for help with ticket cancellations, and advice about whether the airline has issued a cancellation waiver for your destination. Otherwise, contact the airline directly.
Waivers may only cover the change fee and may have specific date restrictions for original travel dates, rebooking timing, and new travel dates.
If there isn't a cancellation waiver, you may receive an unused ticket/credit for future use. Any applicable airline change fees will be assessed once you use the ticket. Airline tickets are valid for one year from the date of issue. Note, that if the ticket involved is "basic economy" you are unlikely to get any waiver or refund.
Travel Agency Fees
Travel agencies may charge an agency fee for canceling airfare, lodging, or ground transportation. These fees are allowable expenses and may be paid for using University funds.
Voluntary Cancellation of Travel
There may be situations where an employee voluntarily decides to cancel business travel out of concern for their own personal health or safety. For the duration of the travel warnings related to COVID-19, the University will reimburse/pay for otherwise allowable business-related expenses, provided the traveler has attempted to get either a refund or a credit for all travel-related expenses.
If the University has already paid for the travel, travelers are still responsible for seeking a refund or credit for future use. Any refunded amounts should be provided to your department finance support staff, and any credits received must be used for future University business-related travel.
Tips for Canceling Travel Reservations
This situation evolves day by day. Waiting until closer to your departure date will give you the best options when it comes to waivers, rebooking, cancellations, etc. Be aware of deadlines for cancellations for the airline, hotel, etc. though stay within the cancellation timelines for your bookings.
It's usually advised to call to speak with a representative to cancel--speak directly with your booking agency, hotel, airline, etc.--because they can make decisions that automated tools cannot. Having said that though, in our current situation the telephone lines for these services are overwhelmed and wait times to speak with a representative can be up to an hour. Try calling and if the wait times are excessive, make your cancellations online. The U Travel team has heard from a number of our partners that airlines are no longer being as flexible with what they can offer.
Accounting for Refunded or Cancelled Travel Expenses
Any refunded amounts should be provided to your department finance support staff, and the accounting transaction to record this activity should return the amount to the original funding source, whether sponsored or non-sponsored funds are involved.
On sponsored funds, since direction has not yet been provided by federal agencies, departments should track COVID-19 related charges or credits on sponsored projects in case federal agency guidance requires a change to be made.
Finance support staff, please see the guidance from the University Budget Office on accounting for additional unexpected costs related to COVID-19.
Airfare Refund Clarifications
(This section added 3/27/2020.)
If you paid for an airline ticket (or other travel-related cost) and are unable to get a full refund, provided the business expense is otherwise allowable, you can submit an expense reimbursement request for the remainder (any amount that you cannot get refunded). Provide any backup documentation you might have to support the request. We understand that in some situations, the airline will not have provided any written documentation. Do your best to thoroughly document what you did and what refund you might have received.
- Most airlines are not making exceptions or giving refunds. Most airlines are only issuing e-credits.
- The e-credit is typically available for use for one year from your ticket purchase date and may be used for your next University business-related trip.
- Typically e-credits are good for a year from purchase.
- Most airlines have waived the change fee on flights until December 31, 2020. If your next flight is booked before that date, you should not have a fee.
- Typically the travel then would need to happen before a year from the purchase of the original ticket, but you will want to verify that with the airline when you rebook.
If you will not use/do not use the credit, request reimbursement. The University should still reimburse you for the ticket, since the reason for the cancellation was not your doing. You should not “lose money” personally because your trip was cancelled due to circumstances outside your control.
If you decide to use the credit for personal use:
- If you received reimbursement from the University, you need to return the funds to the University.
- If you haven’t been reimbursed, don’t seek reimbursement. You’re planning to use this for personal travel--the University doesn’t pay for personal travel.
If you decide to transfer the credit to someone else at the University for business travel:
- If you are giving the credit to the University, make arrangements with your finance support staff to track and transfer the ticket. Provide this information:>
- Ticket number
- Name the ticket is currently in
- Date the ticket was purchased
- Your contact information
- Where you purchased the ticket (travel agency name, website name)
- For most airlines, the ticket cannot actually be transferred until someone else books a trip.
- Name changes on tickets, to transfer the ticket to someone else at the University for their approved business travel, usually comes with a fee of between $100-150. Most of the airlines will not waive name change fees. The University should pay for name change fees.
- Name changes are not an option on all airlines (sometimes you just lose the entire cost of the ticket).
Questions and answers related to travel cancellations due to COVID-19
Last updated March 24, 2020 5:30 pm
When in doubt, if it is not a local commute, it is considered travel. As soon as you leave your campus, for purposes of the current COVID-19 situation, it is considered travel.
Travel between Minneapolis and St. Paul, and the East Bank and West Bank is allowed. If people from outside the Twin Cities Campus are scheduled to attend an event or meeting, offer online attendance for those individuals.
Travel between Campuses in the System. If it is for day meetings, it is allowed. If an overnight stay is involved, it is not allowed. If you’re unsure of what essential operations are, contact the Provost.
Do not host traveling visitors on campus during this time unless approved by the provost. If possible, postpone local business or supplier meetings, or conduct the discussion online or via teleconference instead.
What modes of travel are included in the restrictions?
All modes of transportation are included in the travel restrictions.
When can I start traveling again?
Assume all travel plans (arranging or actually traveling) should be on hold, cancelled, or rescheduled until the travel restriction has been lifted. It is currently set to last through May 31, 2020. The situation will be reassessed at the end of April.
Are students and student groups part of the travel restrictions?
If the travel is personal in nature and personally funded, it is up to the discretion of the student. For other situations, see President Gabel’s March 11 message.
Do we need to ask employees who are currently traveling to return home?
If the travel is non-essential travel, yes.
How does the non-essential travel suspension apply to my research trip, or faculty interview, etc.?
Faculty and staff members who believe that they have an essential business reason to travel can request an exception from the provost, through their unit leader (dean, vice provost, vice president, etc.), but the expectation is that such waivers will be rare.
I've subcontracted some of my sponsored research to people outside the University. That subcontractor is traveling. Are they subject to the travel restrictions?
- If it's a contract for professional services (CPS), try to move the work online or postpone it.
- If it's an official subaward (not a CPS), the subrecipient's travel policy takes precedence, unless the sponsor has travel restrictions we're obligated to flow down.
- If the traveler is coming to the University of Minnesota, please attempt to postpone the trip.
Another party is paying for the travel, should the trip be cancelled?
Yes. If it is for University business, it should be cancelled, postponed, or if practical, make arrangements to attend online.
If my travel was cancelled, do I need permission from the Provost to request reimbursement?
My conference is cancelled but we’ve already paid for airfare and hotel, should I just go and work from there?
The conference was cancelled and the traveler wants to take the trip as a personal trip.
If the traveler decides to take the trip without a business purpose, then the traveler is responsible for all the expenses.
If a traveler decides to travel and it was not approved by the Provost, is it reimbursable?
No. If the traveler decides to travel without an approved exception from the Provost, the University will not reimburse the expenses.
Does "University-funded travel" include travel paid by sponsored accounts?
Yes. Sponsored funds are University funds.
Can I book my travel for May, June, July, or beyond?
President Gabel’s message of March 24 clarified that travel restrictions begin March 16, 2020 and last through May 31. The situation will be re-evaluated at the end of April. Wait to make arrangements for future travel.
Airfare refunds, e-credits, waivers, and similar
The airline industry typically handles these situations in a similar manner, irrespective of which carrier is involved.
If a refund is given, the funds are returned/credited to the card that was originally charged.
- If an e-credit is issued (the most likely option for COVID-19-related activity, according to the travel industry), that e-credit is issued in the name of the traveler regardless of who paid.
If the U already paid, non-employees who receive refunds or e-credits should be contacted and department staff should work with them to arrange for repayment to the University. A check can be written to the Regents of the University of Minnesota and department finance staff should deposit the check to the account that paid for the expense.
If the U hasn’t already paid, the non-employee gets the refund, waiver, or e-credit.
If the U already paid for the expense or reimbursed the employee, travelers should work with their department finance staff to ensure any credits, refunds, or waivers are returned to the University, are appropriately accounted for, and made available for use according to the information on this page.
If the employee paid and hasn’t been reimbursed, the employee can elect to keep the refund, waiver, or e-credit for personal use.
If the employee paid for the expense and is unable to get a full refund, provided the business expense is otherwise allowable, the employee can submit an expense reimbursement request for the remainder.
More Information for International Travelers
The Global Progams and Strategy Alliance (GPS) also has frequently asked questions specific to international travel.
If You Have Further Questions
More information on COVID-19 is available on the University's Safe Campus website, in the Public Health Alerts section.
Contact the U Travel program with any questions or concerns about the reimbursement process or expense allowability via email@example.com.
Contact the Office of Risk Management and Insurance with questions about COVID-19 related Workers Compensation claims at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For specific questions related to allowability of costs on sponsored projects, refer to guidance provided by the Office of the Vice President for Research. The information is reviewed daily and kept up-to-date.