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Two days ago, I accepted a desired faculty job offer and cancelled an on-campus interview at another university that was scheduled for three days later. I wanted to be honest and not waste their time. However, the university has asked me to pay for the flight ticket they purchased for me due to the cancellation. Is this normal? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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    In what country? Commented Mar 18, 2023 at 19:47
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    It's not to hard for frequently-flying individuals to persuade an airline to give credit on an unused booked ticket ... and even easier for institutions. I certainly wouldn't be rushing into paying them ... especially as you have no way of verifying that they haven't obtained a credit. Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 0:15
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    Would they have cancelled your return flight if you had declined the job after the interview?
    – Nobody
    Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 7:09
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    When they offered the tickets did they stipulate as a condition that you would have to refund if it was cancelled by you ? Unless you agreed to such a stipulation I cannot see any way to enforce their desire that you refund them (which tells me you're better off not working for them anyway !). Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 12:00
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    Who asked you for a refund? Was it a specific person you recognize (i.e. the search chair or department chair) or was it someone else? This person might not fully understand your situation.
    – David
    Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 14:54

4 Answers 4

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Actually I don’t think it’s right of them. If you had gone to the second interview you would have wasted everybody’s time in addition to hotel and meal expenses for your stay at the second place.

Part of the cost of advertising a position is that some candidates will change their minds at the last minute, or will have to reschedule because of some unforeseen event. I can understand the 2nd institution not being happy about you cancelling but you did the right thing by telling them ahead of time that you would not accept their offer. Moreover, it’s usually possible to get a travel credit even on non-refundable tickets so the cancelled fare is not an entire loss.

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    They really should've thought about the alternative. Would they rather you show up, waste everyone's time, and simply turn down the offer?
    – Nelson
    Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 12:26
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    @Nelson It's possible, but I think very unlikely, that this request is coming from the academic side. I'm sure it's from the university business office, or even potentially from the university's travel agent or something. Perhaps the person making the request doesn't even understand that it was an interview or what OP's relation to the university is. The relationship would be different if OP was a contractor working for a company who suddenly realized they couldn't show up for a job.
    – David
    Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 14:53
  • "it’s usually possible to get a travel credit even on non-refundable tickets" I would not mention that to the university. Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 22:34
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    @AnonymousPhysicist if the university paid for the fare, they will know it, and they (not the OP) will get the travel credit. Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 22:41
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    I know. It would not be appropriate to mention that the university might receive a credit. Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 23:39
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When any potential employer offers to pay for any of a job candidate's interview expenses, they accept the risk that the candidate won't accept the offer. Suppose you had gone to the interview and then declined to take the job. It's very unlikely that they would have asked you to refund your plane ticket. You're simply reducing the time delay between the time when they buy your ticket and the time when they learn that you won't be accepting the job.

In the highly unlikely scenario that they would have asked you to refund your plane ticket even if you had done the full interview process and then declined the offer, then they're being consistent in asking you to refund it in this situation. But that would be such a significant departure from the usual norms of job interviews that the onus would be on them to clearly convey that fact before they bought your plane ticket, and to then ask you whether you still wanted them to buy your ticket, knowing that you would be expected to refund it if you later declined their offer.

I think you should politely decline to refund the ticket.

Edit: After writing that answer, I came across two near-duplicates at Travel reimbursement for interview after accepting another position and Interview not reimbursed if offer is made but not accepted (UK). The answers to those questions seem to indicate that it is more common than I had previously understood to decline to reimburse interview expenses if the candidate declines the job offer, especially in the UK. So I am now a little less categorical in my answer. I still think that the university's reimbursement policy should be the same whether or not the person actually attends the interview, but now I guess it's more of an edge case as to whether it's reasonable for the university to decline to cover the travel expenses in either case. Either way, the university should have clearly conveyed to the candidate before buying their ticket that the candidate would be on the hook for travel expenses if they ended up declining the job offer.

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    It's perhaps worth noting that the "highly unlikely scenario" you outline is supposed to be common practice at UK universities.
    – Anyon
    Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 17:42
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    @Anyon Great find - I have revised my answer accordingly. I still think that if the university is going to demand that the candidate refund them for travel expenses if the job is not accepted, then it's their responsibility to make that clear to the candidate before buying the tickets, and to then ask the candidate whether the candidate wants the university to proceed with buying the tickets, as the university did in the linked question.
    – tparker
    Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 19:28
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    I am shocked to hear that UK unis won't cover interview expenses if the applicant doesn't take the job... Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 20:27
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    @tparker Yes, it's very common practice in the UK both to take this position and to tell candidates so in advance. I doubt any university would do one but not the other. Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 10:46
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    I honestly think it's a very different case for an employer (university or not) to ASK the candidate to reimburse them for costs (as in this case) or to NOT pay travel costs if the candidate makes the trip but then declines an offer. In the first case, the employer is not actually (at the time of notification) out of pocket.
    – Auspex
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 13:18
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Succinctly

  • Your original acceptance of attending an interview was made in good faith.

  • They accepted the expenditure involved, knowing that you may not be offered the job.

  • Going to the interview would have cost them MORE money.

  • So, not going was the lowest cost option.

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    That addresses whether the OP acted properly to minimize costs. It doesn't address the OP's question of whether it is normal for the applicant to repay costs in this sort of situation.
    – Sneftel
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 9:42
  • @Sneftel You are reasonably correct. And/but this succinctly addresses the core issue of what's reasonable and separates it from simple no-show-no-reason instances. I suspect that it addresses "the real question" that the OP is asking - but, of course, that's a personal impression. Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 22:30
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Certainly it is fair. The choice was yours. It wouldn't be fair if they had cancelled. They made the purchase in good faith in this situation with little opportunity to avoid it.

I suspect it is pretty normal, though maybe not universal.

What I think is more common, perhaps for exactly this reason, is to ask the candidate to make their own arrangements for travel and to promise reimbursement after the visit. Many object to that policy, I think.

And, an alternative you had, but didn't exercise (or think of, probably) is to tell them you were very unlikely to accept any offer and ask if you should still come. If they had said no, then you'd have a case that they should just absorb the cost.

I don't know, actually, whether you are bound to reimburse them. They might actually let you off the hook if you just say you are sorry, but are unable to provide the funds.

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    I would rather say that OP applied for the position in good faith, so they shouldn't be penalised for being unable to continue with the interview process due to accepting another offer. It's certainly not bad faith to go through that process with more than one potential employer simultaneously. And it also makes little sense to penalise OP for informing the university of the change of circumstances rather than attending an interview for a job they definitely won't accept. Unless the university said in advance that OP would be on the hook for the plane ticket in this circumstance, they aren't.
    – kaya3
    Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 7:50
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    The comparison with being reimbursed after booking yourself is exactly on point. Nobody would expect them to reimburse the ticket in that situation. So what's the difference here?
    – DonQuiKong
    Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 8:09
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    "They might actually let you off the hook if you just say you are sorry, but are unable to provide the funds." I don't think there's any hook here at all. OP is not obligated to pay back the university in any legal sense, unless perhaps the university can prove that they were acting in bad faith.
    – David
    Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 14:57
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    @DonQuiKong The difference is that the university agreed to pay for the travel costs and, as far as we know, did not stipulate in advance that OP would be liable for those costs if they did not travel. Personally I would think the university ought to eat the cost either way, though, since it doesn't make any sense from their perspective to incentivise OP to travel in order to get reimbursed if OP already knows they won't accept an offer - that just wastes more university resources to conduct an interview for no reason.
    – kaya3
    Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 15:37
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    @DonQuiKong One aspect that may or may not make a difference in this specific case is the timing of booking. If the university books the flights, they are incentivized to do so early to get lower prices. If an applicant books the flights (assuming the common requirement of nonrefundable tickets) but will only get reimbursed if they complete the trip, the incentives are to book only once they're absolutely sure they'll attend the interview. So it might not even have been a problem for OP in that situation, but much costlier for the university had OP traveled to the interview.
    – Anyon
    Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 17:31

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