In Profile: Connexxus Travel Program
When the University three years ago decided to launch a centralized travel management unit, the goal was to save money. Between the 10 campuses, five medical centers, and three national labs, UC was spending roughly $250 million a year on travel and entertainment, making it an area ripe for cost-cutting.
Today, UCOP’s centralized travel management unit is helping UC reduce costs and be more efficient. Travel costs for the Office of the President, for example, have been pared by $200,000 a year.
Employees who use UC’s Connexxus portal for their personal travel arrangements can also save big money, and the process is quick. The average time to book a flight, hotel and car is just four minutes.
Link recently sat down with Matthew Golden and Debra Almason – the UCOP employees who have led the charge on the new system – to talk about Connexxus.
Link: Why is it important to source business travel?
Golden: The University saves between 15-20% on travel expenses when we use our preferred vendors. That’s an astounding level of savings when you’re talking about $250 million spent on travel and entertainment each year.
Link: Why wasn’t there a business travel program in place before our current system?
Golden: Formal travel programs have been attempted at the University on and off for years, but we never realized a big savings. We looked into it, and realized that the main reason was that once rates were negotiated, no one was managing the relationship with the vendor. Faculty and staff didn’t even know who the preferred vendors were.
Link: So what have you done differently this time?
Almason: We’ve taken a much more organized approach to how we handle travel. We have developed comprehensive systems and have solicited input from people at every campus. We work closely with the Travel Council, which is made up of 35 members appointed by campus controllers and lab chief financial officers. We’ve met with a variety of suppliers and negotiated the best rates—and we continue to actively foster the relationships with our vendors.
In the next few months we’ll be releasing results of a comparative travel analysis based on data from five UC campuses. The preliminary results show significant savings. We’ll communicate the results to staff this quarter.
Link: Tell us about the Connexxus web portal.
Golden: We developed a great portal where UC employees can book flight, car and hotel reservations. There are tools built into the system that ensure travelers are aware of UC policies and can help employees make responsible decisions regarding travel. When you book through Connexxus, you save time because you don’t have to search around for the cheapest fares, and you’re automatically signed up for trip insurance and the trip protection program.
Link: Can employees use Connexxus to book personal travel?
Almason: Yes! Employees can book personal air, hotel and car reservations and qualify for the same money-saving benefits as business travelers. Besides the lower prices, staff can earn double rewards from Southwest Airlines by booking trips through Southwest’s SWABIZ site located at the Connexxus portal. Travelers may also qualify for free upgrades on rental cars, get free room upgrades with our preferred hotels, and much more. [Editor’s note: see below for a comprehensive list Connexxus benefits]
Link: Last year President Yudof mandated that all UCOP employees use Connexxus to book work-related travel. Is that mandated for campuses, too?
Golden: We saved $200,000 the very first year we offered Connexxus at OP. After seeing that number, President Yudof mandated OP business travel be booked through Connexxus. This mandate has been extended to each of the campuses who are now in the process of implementing at their location. Connexxus has been fully activated at seven campuses, and they’re all using the system extensively. We’re still working on implementing the program at Merced, Berkeley, and UCLA. It is taking longer than expected, but by taking our time, we’re confident the program will be implemented correctly.
Link: Have you met any resistance to Connexxus at the campuses?
Almason: Because of the size of the UC system, change is inherently difficult. Some people still believe that they can find a better fare by doing their own research, which can be time consuming, and often, they are not saving money.
I believe over time, especially after we release the results of the upcoming travel analysis, employees will see how much time and money they can save by using our travel programs.
Link: Is there anything else you would like to share about Connexxus?
Golden: Economically, it’s a really tough time for everyone right now — and airlines and hotels aren’t immune to that. If you’re booking through Connexxus right now, you’ll notice that today’s discounts aren’t overwhelming. You may think you can save more by booking outside of Connexxus. But over time, UC will see significant savings because of the way we’ve streamlined everything through Connexxus.
Almason: Matt (Golden) and I manage Connexxus on a systemwide level, but each campus has a travel coordinator. UCOP’s travel coordinator is Karen Tomajan in the Business Resource Center. If you have questions about your travel, we encourage you to contact Karen. Karen often conducts training sessions on how to use the Connexxus portal; a schedule of upcoming sessions should be released soon.
The Benefits of Connexxus
Connexxus Air Program
- Discounts on tickets for American Airlines, Virgin America, Continental, Delta, Air France, KLM, JetBlue and Southwest.
- Earn double reward credits per one-way trip when booking through Southwest’s SWABIZ for Connexxus.
- Connexxus manages unused non-refundable tickets and posts unused ticket information in traveler profile to consider being applied for future travel needs.
Connexxus Hotel Program
- 10% – 40% savings on its preferred hotel program.
- Preferred hotels offer last room availability and complimentary room upgrades when available.
- Preferred hotels may offer additional savings opportunities such as free airport shuttle, internet access, continental breakfast, etc.
Connexxus Rail Program
- Amtrak offers a 15% discount for intrastate travel. Reservation link is posted on Connexxus portal under Partner Programs → Rail.
Connexxus Car Program
- 15% – 30% savings with the preferred car program.
- Car insurance is automatically included when booking preferred car rental through Connexxus.
- Free car class upgrade when available.
- Free enrollment into Hertz #1 Club Gold program ($60 value) and National’s Emerald Club program, providing the benefit of bypassing the rental counter.
- Discount toward hybrid cars rentals booked through Connexxus.
Connexxus Program Value Added Services
- Automatic registration for travel accident insurance coverage without having to complete the insurance registration form. (Trips booked through Southwest’s SWABIZ does not apply.)
- <Travelers are sent security advisements via e-mail.
- Travel tools and features such as trip libraries and cloning repeat trips.
- Visa and passport information.