I was happy to see that there is a new PhD comic today, titled "Reimbursement"
I've heard similar stories, of course, but I am glad to write here that TU Delft has a perfect method for travel arrangements, and I think it could inspire other universities as well. Traveling for conferences can be expensive, and for graduate students it can be financially very painful to be waiting and waiting until after the conference the reimbursement can be arranged. I really appreciate the way my university has solved this, in what I think is a very elegant way.
When I plan to go to a conference, it is important to start arranging well ahead of the registration deadline. Here's how it works:
I fill out the registration, but the central finance services of university take care of the payment for the registration. It does take 4 to 6 weeks to arrange it, but I don't need to pull out my credit card at all.
I contact the university's travel agency, and they book the flight for me and e-mail me the link to the e-ticket. There's also a group insurance to take care of us in case something goes wrong.
Again, this doesn't cost me a cent at all. WIN!
The secretaries have files in which examples of estimated costs per major city in all possible countries are listed. Based on those rates, an estimate of our costs during our traveling is estimated, and two weeks before the conference 70% of these costs are put into our account.
I think this is a very good solution, and a great way to stimulate graduate students to get moving and take their story abroad without the menace of an excessive credit card debt.