25, No. 15, Feb. 16, 2006
New service offered whether
traveling for business or pleasure
Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
Going places? The Office of Business and Financial Services has a new tool that
can help you get there.
The new Preferred Travel Agencies program provides a convenient means for employees
to book business and personal travel arrangements – and obtain the best
The UI has contracted with four full-service travel agencies – Hobbit
Travel, Suzi Davis Travel, Hub Travel and Franklin Travel – to help employees
with their business and personal travel needs. The Preferred Travel Agencies
offer one-stop shopping and can book airline or rail reservations, lodging, airport
transportation, car rentals and provide information on immunization requirements
for international travel. Employees can book travel arrangements 24 hours a day,
seven days a week through the agencies’ online booking tools or they can
seek personal assistance from the agencies’ designated UI travel agents.
Each agency has assigned their senior-most travel agents to work with UI employees,
but the associated fees are lower for booking online versus contacting a travel
Each preferred agency’s Web site uses “web scraper” technology
to simultaneously search the Web sites of airlines and online travel services
such as Expedia to find the most competitive airfares. Employees also can
take advantage of each agency’s last-minute deals and special discounts
that are on their Web sites.
To book arrangements through a preferred agency, each traveler and their travel
planner must visit the agency’s Web site (see last paragraph) to set up
customer profiles, which permit travelers to designate authorized travel arrangers
if desired. The profiles, which are customized to comply with the university’s
policies and guidelines, contain travelers’ preferences for seats, hotels
and car rentals, frequent flyer numbers and other pertinent information. The
travel agents and the online systems also check each reservation to monitor compliance
with university travel policies and guidelines, but UI employees are responsible
for ensuring that their business travel arrangements are in line with the policies.
The UI started the program, which went into effect in mid-January, by leveraging
its buying power with that of 12 other Illinois public universities that belong
to the Illinois Public Higher Education Cooperative. The UI chose four
preferred agencies from the pool of contracts awarded by IPHEC after it requested
The Travel Team, which is chaired by Diane Moody, assistant director of policies
and procedures in the Office of Business and Financial Services, and includes
representatives from the purchasing departments of all three UI campuses, University
Payables and the Corporate Card Office, is coordinating the program and future
travel service initiatives.
“We had an extensive list of criteria that we wanted the agencies to meet,
such as 800 numbers, international desks and after-hours service,” said
Cathy Young, travel/transportation coordinator for OBFS and a member of the Travel
Team. The most important criterion, however, was the availability of online booking
A survey of the IPHEC members on employees’ preferences and travel habits
revealed that 65 percent of UI faculty and staff members book their travel online.
The survey also showed that the UI faculty and staff members wanted a program
that would streamline travel planning and provide some guidance for less experienced
The UI spends approximately $12 million annually on business travel, $7 million
of which is for people from the Urbana campus. An advisory council will be formed
that will determine how to further develop the travel program, and one of the
council’s initiatives likely will be negotiating discounted fares with
airlines and enhancing the online tools based upon the data collected through
the new program.
Departments are encouraged to try the new system and give feedback, Young said.
In the near future, OBFS will schedule campus-wide training sessions and will
give departmental training sessions upon request.
Details about the Preferred Travel Agency program, including links to the four
agencies’ sites, are on the OBFS Web site, www.obfs.uillinois.edu.