Students express frustration with high travel costs due to winter quarter start date

Dec. 2, 2021, 11:42 p.m.

With the upcoming winter quarter beginning on Monday, Jan. 3, most students are planning to return to campus on Jan. 1 or 2. For many students who fly to and from campus, the higher-than-usual airfare costs caused by holiday travel trends pose a significant financial burden.

Historically, winter quarter begins on the first Monday after New Year’s Day. Still, that date does not frequently fall so close to the holiday itself. The last time a winter quarter at Stanford began as early as Jan. 3 was during the 2010-11 academic year. 

Students have expressed frustration with the financial burden associated with this year’s early return.

Alice Le Roux ’25 told The Daily that she “couldn’t understand how an institution like Stanford, which is supposed to be creating the most access for low-income students, is knowingly picking a date that’s difficult and just completely unaffordable for many.” 

Le Roux said she had no option other than to return to her home state of Florida over winter break, even though the cost of her Jan. 2 tickets would be a “hit” for her family. 

“At some point I was just thinking like, ‘Oh, am I going to see my family and spend nearly all of my money — because my bank account is literally at $2 right now — or, am I going to have to [go home regardless], because even if I do stay on campus, I have to pay for some form of lodging?’”

On-campus housing is closed until Jan. 1, leaving students with little option of traveling to campus ahead of New Year’s without finding and financing their own housing and living expenses. Students who are unable to leave campus over winter break can request winter break housing, for which they are billed separately from regular housing dues.

Other students have sought out alternatives to paying for a flight the weekend before classes. 

Brian Lee ’25 decided to book his flight back to Palo Alto from his home in New Jersey for Jan. 5. This means he will have to miss classes for the first half of week one.

“I obviously wanted to come back before the quarter would begin. But I want to spend New Year’s and Christmas with my family,” Lee said, adding that he would not have a place to stay on or near campus before undergraduate student housing opens on Jan. 1. “I looked at the prices and basically coming back on the fifth would save me about $600, rather than coming back on the second or even late December.”

Still, Lee said that this was a stressful decision for him to make. 

“Definitely looking ahead to my schedule, I’m planning on taking some tough courses in the winter,” he said. ”It is a little worrying that I would miss possibly two lectures for some classes.”

Ultimately, however, Lee and his family decided that it was the better option.

“I spoke to my parents and initially they were against me missing classes,” Lee said. “But then I told them the actual [price] difference – like I would be able to buy another ticket back home, back and forth, if I just came three days later — and they were convinced.”

Stanford spokesperson E.J. Miranda wrote in a statement to The Daily that “the University’s return to in-person instruction has meant a return to Stanford’s traditional academic calendar,” citing the typical winter quarter start date of the first Monday after New Year’s Day.

“Most students receiving financial aid have a standard cost for two roundtrips per year — based on their state of residence — already factored into their financial aid package,” Miranda wrote. But since the return dates for students ahead of winter quarter fall during a time when the cost of flights is inconsistent with “standard” costs of travel, it is likely that many students will see their financial aid underestimate the real cost of their travel this year. 

Miranda wrote, however, that “if students on financial aid find that their actual costs are significantly higher, they may share their receipts with the Financial Aid Office and request an adjustment to their aid.” 

This article has been updated to reflect that undergraduate student housing opens on Jan. 1, not Jan. 2.

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