Tedisco, McLaughlin: no frequent flyer miles for state politicians and employees

united airplane landing at ALB

State Assemblymen Steve McLaughlin, Jim Tedisco, and Michael Fitzpatrick announced today that they're drafting legislation that would prohibit state politicians, as well as state employees, from keeping frequent flyer miles and hotel/car rental points they accumulate while on official travel.

From the press release:

"Frequent flier miles for state travel should be banked to lower costs for taxpayers, not pocketed by politicians for personal travel clubs," said Tedisco. "In these challenging economic times, when state government is supposed to be reining-in unnecessary spending and asking people to do more with less, taxpayer-funded air travel should be rare. When air travel is absolutely necessary and when it passes the smell test of good and ethical government, the only ones who should benefit from accrued frequent flier miles, hotel discounts and other perks are the taxpayers who are paying the tab for the trips in the form of reduced costs for future state travel related to official taxpayer business," said Tedisco.

Here are the current state rules for employees and travel rewards.

The bill seems to be prompted in part by a New York Post article in August about Sheldon Silver's air travel between NYC and Albany -- and the miles he's accumulated while allegedly (in the Post's description) turning "easy 150-mile, one-hour jaunts into epic 500-mile, five-hour odysseys in a greedy quest to rack up frequent-flier miles." (Whatever "odysseys" Silver has or hasn't been on, we have always wondered why he didn't take the train. It's often the best mode of travel between here and New York City.)

As it happens, the federal government once prohibited governmental employees from keep travel rewards points -- they had to be turned over to the government. But the feds changed the policy about a decade ago, and now allow employees to keep the points. When the change was up for consideration, the GAO studied the issue and concluded that the you-can't-keep-them rule was hard to manage and probably didn't save the feds much money. [Boarding Area] [GSA] [GAO]

In a somewhat similar situation, the government of American Somoa announced earlier this year that its governmental employees could no longer keep the miles the accumulated flying between the territory and the United States -- the miles will instead be donated to medical patients and students. [AP/Yahoo]


Nice sentiment guys, but if you can _prove_ this will save dime one in travel fees I'll be very surprised.

Could you, State Assemblymen Steve McLaughlin, Jim Tedisco, and Michael Fitzpatrick, please focus on things like why does the state let an important project languish until it is 2 months from going live, then bringing in consultants to the tune of several million dollars, and further, when a political appointee doesn't like the way the project is being done, orders further changes costing additional hundreds of thousands of dollars just so it will benefit a contributor?

Just sayin...

Lest people think this frequent flyer rip-off is another public employee boondoggle -- the typical state worker doesn't get to go anywhere, let alone fly anywhere, let alone rack up frequent flyer miles. Division of the Budget has to approve all travel and basically prohibits out-of-state travel (and much in-state travel), even if it's legitimate state work, even if the expenses are being paid by another entity besides the state (like a foundation or a grant). I know many state scientists who can't get their work accomplished because of these rules. So don't picture a bunch of state workers jetting off on vacations on their frequent flyer miles because that is absolutely not happening by the rank-and-file.

I believe this used to be the policy in NY and then they got rid of it once they found that it cost more to account and track all these miles and points than they were worth. It would easier just to go after the likes of Silver. Airline miles are so devalued now only an idiot would turn a one hour trip into 5 hours.

It's easy for politicians like Tedisco and McLaughlin to propose bills like this that sound good on paper to the voting population (even if the legislation might be troublesome to them). That's because it doesn't have a chance of going anywhere since they are members of the Assembly Republican minority. Therefore, any of this feel good legislation they propose all the time has just about as good of a chance of passing the legislature as a bill written on the back of a napkin by some random person off the street.

Maybe there won't be much of a savings in "pooled" miles, but it would certainly cut wasteful flights from Albany to NYC by at least one politician, for starters.

I travel often on State business--mostly on short notice and almost always need to charge hotel costs using my own credit cards. I live paycheck to paycheck and these costs leave me sometimes unable to pay my credit card statement in full. At the very least, I deserve credit card points for this large inconvenience. Everyone else gets these points--why can't I?

@JP -- absolutely! You are giving the state a short term loan every time you have to front the money for travel and wait months to get reimbursed.

JP is right - I too must use my personal card for state air travel - with a reimbursement that will always arrive a month or two later - while interest accrues on my account. Frequent flyer miles (I've never used them) would be a nice bone to throw this dog.

Happy to see the responses here. If they were taking all the miles and donating the to a good cause I could accept that, but to take them just to punish a couple of politicians behaving badly? Most state workers aren't rich or politicians. They're just normal people. When they travel for work they have to submit a travel approval form months ahead of time and part of this process is to justify that your form of travel is the most cost effective way to travel.

Plus, we don't get reimbursed for all the extra child and pet care expenses that arise when my husband leaves for a conference for a week. I have a full time job too, and it's a big strain on the family when he's out of town. First world problems to be sure, but we're talking about airline miles here! It's one perk of many downsides about having to travel for your job.

I was in the situation of being forced to use my personal card for work travel many years ago. It stopped when I started to expense the interest and late payment fees.

Agreed, the problem isn't the rank & file. They don't travel enough to have the problem. Nor is it worth the money to track. As I said in an earlier post, let's ask them why they can't expose places where the state wastes millions at a clip. Literally.

As someone who travels frequently for business, I can attest that flying isn't a great adventure like it might be for someone who flies once or twice a year. It's a pain in the ass. I view frequent-flyer miles as a small perk for the time away from home, being stuck in a small seat for hours, and the often-lengthy layovers. And if I get a status upgrade once in a while, the better flying experience makes my work better both on the plane (more room to spread out with my laptop) and when I get to my destination. Seems to me this is just a bunch of grandstanding with little fiscal effect and a lot of downside for those who have to suffer the horrible conditions of airline travel today.

Tedisco is one of those guys who likes to use Big Government to promote non-issues that effectively take away rights and income from regular folks. I sure wish he would use his elected position to find something useful to do instead of creating new rules and regulations that do nothing but make life harder for people who don't deserve new forms of bureaucratic abuse.

These guys don't seem to understand how frequent flyer miles work. In order for Tedisco et al. to be successful in this scheme they would have to rewrite the terms of the airlines' programs. No major US airline allows miles to be pooled by a corporate entity or government body.

I am a fairly high-level state scientist - what chrisck said above is accurate. I end up traveling only about once a year. It's even worse than what people have been describing - a trip that might cost $400 at the going commercial rate can end up costing double that when it doesn't get approved until just days before a conference, which is the norm.

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