I know a PhD student (X) who is soon to defend, reaching the end of his funding, and has thus been applying to PostDoc positions. He was applying to two positions in two different groups.
The first group (Y) invites him to present in person and suggests that he buy his own tickets, where expenses will be reimbursed upon arrival; he is very interested in the position and complies, buying the flight at considerable cost (15+ hours flying on two legs).
After buying the ticket, the second group (Z) requests an online talk and interview; he again is very interested in the position and complies, presenting the talk and doing the interview online. Shortly after, the second group offers him the position. Being very interested in the position and not wanting to appear unsure or ungrateful, he accepts a few hours after the offer is made, and a week before being due to travel to the first group.
Not wanting to be feel deceptive towards the first group, he tells them about accepting another position and offers to travel anyways in order to give the talk he has been preparing for their group. The first group tells him not to come and that they will not reimburse any costs.
Question: is it ethical/unethical for the first group to refuse to reimburse costs?
I'm also interested in anecdotes, similar experiences, etc., to get an idea of how common or uncommon the first group's behaviour in this situation is.
On the one hand, the original reason why the first group offered to reimburse costs is now off the table.
On the other hand, the student has acted perfectly honestly throughout (almost to a fault) but ends up out of pocket having bought tickets at the first group's request.
(Of course someone has to take a loss, but in my mind, it should be the group who takes the hit, not a PhD student soon to run out of funding, and who again was simply complying with the group's instructions to remain in their hiring process ... and is now getting screwed in the process.)
(There's a couple of related questions like this one, but I don't find a question that addresses the issue of the interviewee being out of pocket.)