You'll probably travel quite a bit in grad school, so get yourself a frequent flyer account with an airline (pick carefully!) and stick with that airline (or one that shares miles). In Ithaca, there are basically three options: United/US Airways (both share miles), or Delta. Which one you choose depends on whether you'd rather connect through Newark (United), Philadelphia (US Airways), or Detroit (Delta). You might want to consider getting a credit card that earns miles as well; it will likely pay for itself in short order.
Similarly, you should pick one of the large hotel chains and join their frequent customer program. Even better, pick one that also earns miles for your airline!
When you travel, try to free up a few days at the end for personal travel, especially when traveling internationally. For reimbursement, create two itineraries: one as if you were just going to the conference and coming back, and one for your actual travel. When you submit your reimbursement, give them both and you'll get reimbursed for the lesser of the two. Keep in mind that time spent past the end of the conference/workshop is on your own dime: you might want to find a cheaper destination than the conference location!
If possible, travel with carry-on only. You'll save time and hassle in the common case, and make your life infinitely easier in the worst case. Never checking a bag means never losing it due to the airline's incompetence or a case of mistaken identity. Connecting flight cancelled, and you need to book and board the replacement within 45 minutes? Much better not to worry about getting your checked bags from the carousel, going back through security, and then making it to the boarding gate. Missed the last bus and need to walk a mile from the train station? A carry-on is way easier to lug with you.
Check to see if you can get a direct flight by driving to Rochester or NYC for international travel. Traveling to NYC is strongly advised for international travel so that you have more options/bigger window for weather snafus. Also see #Air fare and #Ways to get to NYC.
If you don't own a car, you may want to rent one at some point in order to travel to Boston, New York, or other places in upstate NY (like Niagara Falls). Cornell has employee travel contracts with several rental car companies that can get you a discount and waive the Underage Driver Fee for people under 25, and most of them can be used even when you're not traveling on official Cornell business. This page shows all the contract numbers for both business and personal travel.
Know the rules
Some rules are summarized in this document, sent out 19 Sep 2013: File:CoE CIS FTC - Travel Information.pdf. A more up-to-date version with updated links is online here, but it can only be accessed within Cornell's network.
Most of your travel will be on grants, or travel awards sourced from grants. NSF and other US federal money has certain restrictions for airfare, most notably that you have to fly on a US flag carrier (United, US Airways, Delta, etc). The specific rules can be found here.
Cornell allows meals to be reimbursed per-diem (as opposed to by receipt). However, you should check with your advisor (or whoever is paying for your travel) before assuming a per-diem. If the grant is low, or your advisor is careful with their money, they may require itemized receipts. If you can use a per-diem, do it! It makes everyones life simpler: you don't have to keep itemized receipts, and the admins don't have to enter all of them.
Ways to get to NYC
- Cornell Campus-2-Campus. Departs 3 times a day (2 times on Sat). Trip is approximately 4.5 hours, costs $82.50 one-way. Picks up on campus, drops off 1 block from Grand Central Station (Cornell Club), or at the Cornell Weill Medical Campus. Free wifi, drinks, snacks, comfortable seating.
- ShortLine Bus. Departs once every 3-4 hours from 1 AM to 6 PM. Trip is approximately 5 hours and costs $57 one-way.
- Rental car. Costs about $300 for an one-way trip.
- Find a ride from a friend, ZimRide, Craigslist, this Facebook group, etc.