Ralph Bahna, Innovator Who Led Cunard, Priceline, Dies at 71

Ralph Bahna, a former Trans World
Airlines and Cunard executive who expanded business travelers’
options as founder of Club Quarters hotels and chairman of
Priceline.com Inc., the “name your own price” website, has
died. He was 71.

He died on Feb. 24 at New York-Presbyterian
Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center in Manhattan,
according to his daughter, Laura Lovejoy. The cause was cardiac
failure, she said today. He lived in Stamford, Connecticut.

Bahna’s focus on the business traveler began with his first
job, at TWA, where where he helped design its first business-class seating program, called Ambassador Class.

As chief executive officer from 1980 to 1989 of Cunard Line
Ltd., Bahna was credited with shaping the modern cruise industry
and keeping afloat the Queen Elizabeth 2.

In one bit of marketing ingenuity, he signed a partnership
with British Airways to offer round trips consisting of a trans-Atlantic cruise and a return on the supersonic Concorde. He was
a pioneer of so-called open-jaw itineraries to Alaska, where
cruises start and end at different ports, and gave the QE2
another 20 years of life by refitting it from steam to diesel
power, Michael Gallagher, a London-based spokesman for cruise
line, said today in an e-mail.

Source: University of Michigan via Bloomberg

Bahna was a 1964 Big Ten conference wrestling champion at the University of Michigan… Read More

Bahna was a 1964 Big Ten conference wrestling champion at the University of Michigan where the school’s Bahna Wrestling Center is named in his honor. Close


Source: University of Michigan via Bloomberg

Bahna was a 1964 Big Ten conference wrestling champion at the University of Michigan where the school’s Bahna Wrestling Center is named in his honor.

“He was responsible for many of the programs which made
Cunard at that time a leader in various fields of the
industry,” Gallagher said.

Downtown Lodging

Starting with the first Club Quarters hotel, opened in 1994
on West 45th Street in midtown Manhattan, Bahna gave business
travelers new downtown options close to major corporate centers,
with priority availability to member companies and
organizations. The chain’s website now lists five hotels in
Manhattan — including at 52 William St., one block north of
Wall Street — and others in London, Washington, Boston,
Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco and Houston.

His goals for Club Quarters were “to have the best
locations, be full service, charge less, and still make a big
profit,” he said in a 2012 interview with the University of
at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, where he
earned his MBA in 1965. The school inducted him into its alumni
hall of fame.

Bahna was a board member of Priceline.com, now the largest
U.S. online travel agent, in 1998 when it started. The company
went public a year later. He became chairman in 2004 and served
until his retirement on Jan. 1, 2013.

Ralph M. Bahna — he adopted a middle initial without
having a middle name, Lovejoy said — was born on Aug. 23, 1942,
in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the second of two children of Ralph
Bahna, a lawyer, and the former Frieda Mushro.

Wrestling Titles

At the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he
received a bachelor’s degree in 1964, Bahna was a wrestler on
two Big Ten Conference championship squads, winning the 123-pound title as a senior, according to the school. He and his
wife provided the lead donation to build the Bahna Wrestling
Center in 2009.

While working for TWA in commercial sales, Bahna delved
into the emerging airline market called business class, a
level between first class and economy. Bahna said he devised
a seating plan and amenities for what would become TWA’s
Ambassador Class, then devoted two years and 29 documents
to persuade his bosses to implement it, according to a 1986
article in Dividend, the magazine of the University of Michigan
School of Business Administration.

He joined Cunard in 1973 as senior vice president in charge
of marketing and sales and became president of the company’s
North American business. In 1977, at 34, he was named president
and chief operating officer of worldwide operations. He became
CEO in 1981 and was the first American in charge of global
operations for the British-owned cruise line, founded in 1840.

Caribbean Service

Bahna put Cunard on “a strict financial austerity
program” following losses in 1979, the New York Times reported
in 1980. He won concessions from British labor unions including
a reduction in pay demands and an agreement to move the QE2
across the Atlantic, to the Bethlehem Steel Corp.’s yard in
Bayonne, New Jersey, for overhaul work, the Times said. That
enabled Cunard to send the renovated ship directly into service
in the Caribbean during the heavily booked winter season.

Also under Bahna, the company acquired Norwegian American
Cruises in 1983 and the ships Sea Goddess I and II from Norske
Cruise of Norway in 1986.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include his wife,
the former Dorothy Ballard; another daughter, Deborah
Chrabolowski; a son, Adam; a sister, Joanne Deeb; and eight

To contact the reporter on this story:
Laurence Arnold in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Charles W. Stevens at

Article source: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-02-28/ralph-bahna-travel-innovator-with-cunard-priceline-dies-at-71.html

Get ‘appy with these cool travel apps

Peek: The geolocation-based app lets users create full travel itineraries complete with “perfect day” plans for fun local activities with vendors all vetted by Peek. However, the app covers only 17 major U.S. regions, plus London and Paris, so depending on where a person is traveling, they will have to make sure their vacation spot is on Peek’s list.

Happy Hours: Another geolocation-based app that allows users to find the best places to grab a social beverage in any city. It has a very simple user interface that offers only bars that are open at that moment.

Gate Guru: This app helps users navigate and keep track of any airport delays before and after check-in. Users need only to unload their itinerary. A user can also rent a car from Avis for up to 30 percent off through the app.

Besides these travel apps, folks can also use Yelp, Foursquare and Orbitz.

—By CNBC’s Erika Santoro.

Article source: http://www.cnbc.com/id/101456029

European Countries Warn on Travel to Crimea

Associated Press

A number of European countries issued warnings Friday against travel to Ukraine’s Crimea region.

Britain advised against all travel to Crimea and told its citizens now there to leave. The Foreign Office also advised British nationals to avoid Simferopol’s airport, where gunmen in unmarked military uniforms were patrolling with assault rifles.

Germany’s Foreign Ministry also strongly advised against nonessential travel to Crimea while its counterpart in Italy said travelers should postpone trips “until the situation normalizes.” Italy’s foreign ministry also urged caution when going out in the evening on Kiev and to avoid any demonstrations.

The warnings came amid reports that airspace over the Crimea peninsula has been closed.

The situation in Crimea has become tense as masked gunmen have taken control of government buildings, airports, and other strategic sites in the wake of a three-month protest which saw pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych pushed from power.

Ukraine has accused the Kremlin of invading Crimea, saying Russian troops have taken up positions around a coast guard base and two airports.

On Thursday Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said he and fellow diplomats would not travel to Crimea while in Ukraine because of security concerns.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/european-countries-warn-travel-crimea-22722452

How to solve your travel nightmares


2 hours ago

Video: Travel + Leisure’s Jacqui Gifford visits TODAY to offer tips on how to help smooth out your travel plans despite the wild weather this winter.

Whether your flight was canceled, you didn’t get the room you paid for, or an airline lost your luggage, we have the solutions to your travel nightmares.

The situation: Your plane has to make an emergency landing due to a mechanical issue and lands in a city that’s not your destination. Instead of finding another plane for the flight, the airline instead asks you to call an 800 number to rebook. What do you do?

The solution: Your rights as a passenger depend upon whether the airline considers this a force majeure event (an act of God that’s out of their control such as weather). If it is a force majeure, then the likelihood of getting money back or anything in return is not very likely. If it isn’t, like in this case, your odds of getting some form of compensation are greater. It really depends upon the airline and the agent you speak with. Airline rules can vary and often there isn’t a black and white answer. Some airlines may offer you a refund for the unused portion of your ticket, some might offer you miles, or some might say that they were only contracted to offer you the next available flight (which in this case didn’t happen because it was going to take so long). Go ahead and reach out to the airline and plead your case and depending on who you deal with, you may get a result you’re happy with. Be patient and assertive.

Related: Hotel Travel Tips

The situation: You paid for a hotel room with an ocean view, but you didn’t get it. What to do?

The solution: If you don’t get the room or services you believe you were promised when you booked, speak up right away. Front desk managers are trained to handle these situations, and they want to work with the customer to bring about a resolution. If they aren’t giving you the answer you like, take it to the next level to the general manager. When you book a room and have an expectation of a certain view or other amenities such as free breakfast, or other things like free Wi-Fi, be sure to have it in writing from the hotel. If it isn’t clear in your reservation, call or email to clarify. If you’ve asked for a specific room type, or a view, and you didn’t get it — show the front desk manager what you’ve booked and ask them to fix it. Be sure to take photos so you have proof of whatever it is about your room that wasn’t what you expected.

The situation: Do travelers who purchase tickets directly from airlines (instead of a third-party site, like Expedia) get priority when rebooking a canceled flight?

The solution: We reached out to two experts, Brian Kelly from thepointsguy.com and George Hobica from airfarewatchdog.com. They both said that while airline employees know how you booked your ticket, they don’t penalize passengers if the ticket wasn’t bought directly from the airline. They do give rebooking preference based on the customer’s frequent flier or elite status and price of the fare. Someone with upper tier status who paid $500 would theoretically be rebooked before another passenger who paid $129 with lower or no status. 

The situation: You prepay for a hotel, and when you check-in at 2 a.m. the hotel informs you that the hotel is oversold and there is no room for you. What do you do?

The solution: When a hotel is oversold, they will typically work to get you a room at another property of equal or lesser value. If this happens to you, ask for your first night (at least) for free if you are moved to another hotel. You may also get restaurant or spa credits. Even if you’ve prepaid, it can’t hurt to ask for a refund. Hotels have their own policies about cancellations and you need to read the fine print when booking, especially if you’re putting your money up front. Always call the night before to confirm your reservation, and if you’re concerned your hotel might be overbooked, check in early (the last guest typically loses out). If you aren’t satisfied with the new hotel, try a last-minute hotel-booking app like HotelTonight. They can find you great day-of hotel deals — if you find something you like better than their offer, ask the hotel to cover the choice you found instead. 

The situation: What do you do if an airline loses your luggage?

The solution: The good news is, this doesn’t happen very often. According to the Department of Transportation, for all of last year, airlines posted a mishandled baggage rate of 3.22 per 1,000 passengers. That includes delays — so the bag might not be lost for good. If this does happen, get on the phone right away with the airline and file a claim (sending an email helps, too). The DOT mandates that customers are entitled up to $3,300 for all reasonable, actual, and verifiable expenses related to baggage loss or delay. There are a few couple things you can do in advance to make sure this doesn’t happen: Clearly label your bag inside and out. Make your bag distinctive. Travel with a brightly colored bag and fly non-stop.

More from Travel + Leisure:

Article source: http://www.today.com/travel/how-solve-your-travel-nightmares-2D79299554

Top secret: Gov. Scott cloaks travel details

By using his personal jet for public business, Florida Gov. Rick Scott can shield his itinerary from websites that track flights, and when his plane lands, he uses a public records exemption to tighten the cloak of secrecy.

Wherever Scott goes, he’s shadowed by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents. In citing a records exemption that protects FDLE “surveillance techniques” from publication, he withholds the members of his traveling party, restaurants and homes he visits, and people at meetings — all in the name of security.

To a much greater degree than the past three governors, Scott, former chief executive of the nation’s largest private hospital chain, conceals information from the public about his travel.

Govs. Charlie Crist, Jeb Bush and Lawton Chiles routinely released those details. Even Scott did until last year when he regularly began using the surveillance exemption.

Chiles, who served from 1991-98, released daily schedules that listed phone numbers and email addresses of flying passengers and tail numbers of private planes he used on days when he mixed state business with campaigning.

Bush often provided full details of meetings, including names of participants, as did Crist, who provided names of general aviation airports the state used and names of participants in private meetings.

In contrast, on a day in October when Scott traveled from Miami to Fort Lauderdale to Kissimmee, most details were withheld, including how long it took to get from Miami to Fort Lauderdale. No participants were listed, the address of his hotel was blacked out and a disclaimer at the bottom of each page read: “The information may be confidential because it bears upon the governor’s security.”

“Using a fully defensible interpretation of the public records exemption, what materials should be redacted in order to protect the physical security of the governor?” said Scott’s top lawyer, general counsel Pete Antonacci.

He said the decision to withhold travel information followed “lots of interaction” between his office and FDLE, which assigns a special protective detail to handle the governor’s security.

Barbara Petersen of the First Amendment Foundation, a statewide watchdog group supported by Florida newspapers, said the exemption Scott and FDLE are using should not apply to his travel schedule.

“Clearly, the main purpose of the exemption is to protect surveillance techniques or procedures,” Petersen said. “If you look at the definition of surveillance I don’t see how it would apply to the governor’s schedule. … I think they’re stretching the law in an unacceptable manner to reach the agency’s desired result.”

Crist, who’s challenging Scott to retake the Governor’s Mansion, said: “He’s literally flying under the radar, and he’s supposed to be the most visible public official in the state.”

Crist faced criticism as governor for flying on private jets of wealthy supporters or campaign donors whom he declined to identify. He said he did that to avoid using taxpayer-owned state planes for personal or political reasons.

Scott promised to sell both state planes if elected, and he did. But because Scott flies in his own Cessna Citation jet, his office says that records of use and maintenance are not public, and Scott does not post flight logs on FlightAware.com, a tracking website.

On the day Scott took office, Jan. 4, 2011, he issued an executive order re-establishing the Office of Open Government to “facilitate Floridians’ right to know and to have access to information with which they can hold government accountable.”

Every day, Scott’s office releases an advance schedule of meetings and events. It gets posted on the governor’s official website, flgov.com. And it’s rarely complete.

Large blocks of time are described as “staff time,” including, for example, a meeting Scott held Feb. 20 with elected mayors of four of the state’s biggest cities to discuss taxes, water, homelessness and other issues. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was among them.

The governor did not list the meeting on his schedule. A spokeswoman called it an oversight.

Scott’s office blacks out travel information on a daily document known as a line-by-line, a more detailed version of the daily schedule released to the public and media.

Scott’s line-by-lines are not available until at least several days later, after review and removals or “redactions” by his legal staff and FDLE. A Times/Herald review of dozens of Scott’s line-by-lines for nine months shows an expanded use of the surveillance exemption.

FDLE, which prides itself on its professionalism and considers protection of a governor its paramount duty, supports keeping travel details secret to the extent the law allows, deputy FDLE Commissioner Mark Zadra said.

Every governor has a different philosophy about security, he said.

“Some of them are more security-conscious than others,” Zadra said.

He said the decision to withhold Scott’s travel details “was made to eliminate potential information out there that could be used to commit or plan some type of act against the governor.”

Scott is constantly on the road and appears to enjoy it. He likes to eat lunch at Chipotle Grill or grab a drink at Starbucks, and he doesn’t like to run late.

His aides cite other reasons for travel secrecy.

Scott spends many nights on the road at the same hotel chain where legal counsel Antonacci said Scott has a “discount arrangement.” To identify the hotels on the line-by-lines would reveal a pattern of travel that could pose a security risk, officials said.

“It’s a big deal with the security squad,” Antonacci said. “They worry about this stuff.”

Scott is usually reimbursed for hotel stays when he travels on state business.

Scott’s top aide, chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth, said security in general has become a bigger concern since 9/11.

“There was a time not that long ago when you could board an airplane with your shoes on. And you can’t do that anymore,” Hollingsworth said.

Article source: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/02/28/3965163/florida-gov-rick-scott-cloaks.html

After weeks of snow, winter-weary Americans plead with travel agents: Get me …



  • ‘);

  • ‘);
    jQuery(‘.navTab’ + ad_AdvertiserArray.data[adt].advertiserID).click(ad_AdvertiserArray.data[adt], function(eventObj){
    window.location.href = “http://” + hostEnv + “www.startribune.com/weekly-ads/?dppAID=” + eventObj.data.advertiserID;
    jQuery(‘.navTabWa’ + ad_AdvertiserArray.data[adt].advertiserID).click(ad_AdvertiserArray.data[adt], function(eventObj){
    window.location.href = “http://” + hostEnv + “www.startribune.com/weekly-ads/?dppAID=” + eventObj.data.advertiserID;



    Feb. 26, 2014: Bundled up pedestrians walk past an advertisement for South America and Central America in the window of a travel agency in Blue Island, Ill.

    Photo: Spencer Green, AP

    CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

    Cameraview larger

    ul > li > a > img {
    margin-left: 4px;

    CHICAGO — Shannon Frauenholtz has had it with winter. Barely able to stomach the television news with its images of snowbound cars, she heads to the tanning salon, closes her eyes and imagines she’s back in Mexico, where she’s already vacationed once this winter.

    She’s toyed with the idea of joining her mother in Hawaii or just driving to an indoor water park, figuring that while the palm trees might be plastic and the “beach” smells of chlorine, at least it’s warm.

    “I don’t need a vacation. I don’t need the relaxation,” she said. “I just need the heat.”

    All over the Midwest and the East Coast, travel agents are being inundated with a simple request: Get me out of here. And travelers fortunate enough to have escaped are begging hotels to let them stay a little longer.

    Because they know how miserable people are, warm-weather destinations in California, Arizona and Florida have stepped up their enticements. Trains and billboards in Chicago have been plastered with ads showing beaches and pool scenes. In Philadelphia, one promoter put fiberglass mannequins dressed in flip flops, tank tops and shorts atop taxis with their arms outstretched — a whimsical inducement to “fly” south.

    Reminding Americans that there are places where nose hairs don’t freeze is an annual tradition. But those in the business of luring visitors to warmer climates say it’s rarely been easier than this season, when “polar vortex” has entered the everyday vocabulary and “Chi-beria” has become popular enough to emblazon on T-shirts.

    “This year we wanted to have a little more fun with it,” said Susannah Costello, of Visit Florida, the state’s official marketing organization, which came up with the mannequin idea.

    The ads showing children and bikini-clad women making snow angels in warm beach sand are more plentiful than in years past, acknowledged Erin Duggan, of Visit Sarasota County.

    “We did that because we knew winter was shaping up to be brutal,” she said.

    Not that people needed much reminding of the harsh conditions.

    “The winter is so bad, there is a certain amount of desperation,” said Alex Kutin, an Indianapolis travel agent. “They come and say, ‘I’ve got to get somewhere warm. Where do you recommend?’”

    Kevin Tuttle, of Verona, Wis., was so intent on finding warmth that he decided against Florida out of fear that the polar vortex might reach down and find them there. Instead, he and his wife will take their 4-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter to Manzanillo, Mexico, a resort on the Pacific ocean.

    “That’s near the equator, right? It’s got to be pretty warm,” Tuttle said, adding that “a lot of sand castles are in my future.”

    Just how many more people are trying to get out of the ice box is unclear. Airlines do not release any route-specific data. And although the government tracks some of it, figures will not be released for six months.

    But other travel statistics suggest there has been a jump, including figures from Visit Florida that show hotel bookings in Florida rose 3 percent in the four weeks ending Feb. 15 compared with the same period last year.

    The jetsetter.com travel site found that the number of hotel bookings in warm-weather spots made by customers from Illinois, New York, Massachusetts and the Washington, D.C., area rose 7 percent in January compared with last year.

    Travelers are also staying longer once they arrive.

    Micah Hilgendorf said the thought of heading back to ice-covered Chicago, where he owns a couple of bars, prompted him to tack on three days in Florida before and after a cruise out of Miami. He also flew to Palm Springs, Calif., for four days.

    • related content

    • Legislature sends heating aid bill to Dayton

      Thursday February 27, 2014

      The Legislature on Thursday sent Gov. Mark Dayton a bill containing $20 million in emergency heating assistance, which his spokesman said the governor would sign immediately.

    • get related content delivered to your inbox

    if(jQuery.inArray(’2611′, userSubsArray ) == -1) {

  • ‘);
    if(jQuery.inArray(’2751′, userSubsArray ) == -1) {

  • ‘);

  • manage my email subscriptions
  • ‘);

    ul > li > a > img {
    margin-left: 4px;


    • Most read
    • Most Emailed
    • Most Watched

    Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters







    inside the StarTribune


    Take a tour of the State Capitol renovation

    minnesota topics

    Minnesota Topics: Latest on Target Corp.


    Metrodome 1982-2013


    Saving Bobbi: A teen’s sex trafficking ordeal


    Get our Going Out mobile app


    Kid’s’ Health: Latest news and advice

    • 425 Portland Av. S.

      Minneapolis, MN 55488

      (612) 673-4000

    StarTribune.com is powered by Limelight Networks


    Article source: http://www.startribune.com/business/247725811.html

    Weather: Travel advisory issued for Friday morning commute in Onondaga County – The Post

    Syracuse, N.Y. — Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney has issued a travel advisory for what could be a snowy Friday morning commute.

    “For the safety of all residents, the general public is encouraged to consider the need to be on the roads and to use extreme caution while traveling in or around Onondaga County,” the advisory says. “This travel advisory does not restrict travel. It is, however, a warning to motorists that hazardous driving conditions may exist.”

    A lake effect snow warning is in effect until 1 p.m. Friday.

    View full sizeThis National Weather Service map shows the projected path of the lake effect storm that will hit Central New York tonight and Friday. 
    Up to a foot of lake effect snow is expected to drop onto the northern suburbs of Onondaga County, northern Madison and southern Oneida counties tonight, according to the National Weather Service.

    The heaviest snow will north of Syracuse, “in places such as Baldwinsville, Brewerton, Cicero, and Clay, along with the New York State Thruway just west of Utica,” the weather service said.

    High winds and low temperatures will create dangerous wind chills, the weather service said.

    Here is Mahoney’s advisory, her first this winter.

    2 27 14 Travel_advisory Social Media(1)

    Contact Glenn Coin at gcoin@syracuse.com or 315-470-3251. Follow him on Twitter @glenncoin

    Article source: http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2014/02/weather_travel_advisory_issued_for_friday_morning_commute_in_onondaga_county.html

    The Orient-Express travel company gets new name

    The Orient-Express, the travel company long associated with luxurious and exotic train trips, is changing its name.  

    Effective March 10, Orient-Express Hotels, owners and operators of 45 luxury hotel, rail, safari and cruise experiences, will go by the name Belmond.

    “Belmond was chosen after extensive research and evaluation of a number of alternatives in order to identify a name that resonates well with our guests and that encompasses the global collection of unique experiences we are today,” said Ralph Aruzza, chief sales marketing officer in a statement.

    The reason for the change is that the group has never owned the Orient-Express the name, instead licensing it from SNCF, the French transportation company.

    Changing the name to Belmond will give them greater control of the brand, said John M. Scott, president and chief executive.

    “Migrating from a licensed brand to one which we fully own and control will, we believe, deliver an additional benefit to the Company as it will enable us to invest with confidence in our brand.”

    The Orient-Express, which started in1883, has come to symbolize the ultimate in luxury train travel. Orient-Express operates six railway services, including the famous London-to-Venice route aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express –which will still carry the Orient Express name.

    The famous train trip from Paris to Istanbul, immortalized in Agatha Christie’s mystery novel “Murder on the Orient Express,” no longer runs.

    In addition, the brand includes Grand Hotel Europe in St. Petersburg, Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro and the Maroma Resort and Spa on Mexico’s Riviera Maya. In the U.S., the Orient-Express holdings include New York’s storied ‘21’ restaurant, the newly refurbished El Encanto in Santa Barbara and the 440-room Charleston Place  in South Carolina.

    “Extending our global brand presence by having a name that will be associated as much with our hotels and river cruises as with our celebrated train experiences is a key step in our focus of generating enhanced revenue,” said Scott.

    The company will spend $15 million to help promote the new name, an effort which includes new websites, social media and advertising campaigns.

    Article source: http://www.foxnews.com/travel/2014/02/27/orient-express-travel-company-gets-boring-new-brand/

    Lawmakers accept millions in free travel

    WASHINGTON — Members of Congress took more than $3.7 million worth of free trips last year — the highest price tag for privately funded travel in more than a decade, new data show.

    Their family members — mostly spouses — went along for the ride on more than 40% of the trips, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Political MoneyLine data.

    Most of the privately funded travel by lawmakers is paid for by charitable or educational groups, the result of an array of ethics rules approved in 2007 after ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff admitted trading gifts and luxury trips for official favors. The rules, aimed at clamping down on pricey, lobbyist-funded junkets, cap foreign trips at seven days and sharply curtail travel underwritten by companies that employ lobbyists.

    Many of the non-profit groups paying the bills, however, have a distinct public-policy agenda. The biggest sponsor remains a foundation affiliated with the influential pro-Israel lobbying group American Israel Public Affairs Committee or AIPAC. The group holds its annual policy conference in Washington next week.

    AIPAC’s foundation, funded 77 trips, totaling nearly $1.4 million in value, records show. By contrast, a more moderate pro-Israel group, the J Street Education Fund, sponsored four trips.

    Altogether, the spending helped make Israel the most popular travel destination for Congress in 2013.

    “These groups wouldn’t do this unless there was a goal they were trying to accomplish,” said Kent Cooper, of Political MoneyLine, which tracks congressional travel and campaign contributions. “They are spending this money to show (lawmakers) a point of view.”

    In all, Political MoneyLine data show 493 trips in 2013, up from 402 during 2012, an election year. Lawmakers typically cut down on privately funded travel during the campaign season.

    AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittman said the trips run by AIPAC’s charitable arm are among “the most substantive, educational, rigorous and valuable” foreign-policy travel for Congress. He said lawmakers”hear from speakers representing diverse views across the political spectrum,” including Palestinian officials

    The second most popular trip was closer to lawmakers’ workplace and far less expensive: Sixty-eight lawmakers reported attending a retreat in Baltimore for conservative lawmakers sponsored by the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank. Total price tag: $70,162.

    Heritage’s political arm has become more aggressive in recent years, opposing a recent vote in Congress that suspended the nation’s debt ceiling without conditions and encouraging the conservative revolt against President Obama’s health care law that led to last year’s partial shutdown of the federal government.

    The Heritage retreats are not about lobbying, said spokesman Michael Gonzalez. He said they are “educational opportunities” to share “policy solutions” with conservatives on Capitol Hill.

    Liberals in Congress had their own getaway, too. Nearly two dozen Democrats traveled to a Baltimore suburb in January 2013 for a “strategy summit” sponsored by Progressive Congress, the non-profit group aligned with liberal activist groups.

    Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., had the most expensive itinerary of any lawmaker, taking nearly $70,000 worth of trips in 2013. His wife, Patricia, accompanied him on a $40,000 trip in February 2013 to South Sudan and Tanzania, organized by the aid group CARE and underwritten by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

    David Ray, CARE’s head of policy and advocacy, said it’s important for policymakers “to see the work firsthand.”

    Garamendi, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, said the trip helped him gain a better sense of foreign assistance work in both countries, along with the opportunity to hold meetings with key South Sudanese and U.S. officials about military issues in the fledgling nation. Fighting broke out there last December along ethnic lines.

    Both Garamendi and his wife have a long history in the region. More than four decades ago, the newlyweds lived in neighboring Ethiopia as Peace Corps volunteers. Patricia Garamendi is a former associate director of the Peace Corps.

    Why take a trip funded by a private group? Garamendi said it spares taxpayers the cost of expensive travel and gives him more flexibility than official congressional trips, which he described as “highly structured.”

    “I don’t like to be a mushroom, kept in the dark and fed fertilizer,” he said.

    Follow @fschouten on Twitter

    Article source: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2014/02/27/free-trips-by-member-of-congress/5844975/

    Delta’s revamped mileage program may end ‘travel hacking’


    5 hours ago

    As travelers digest Delta Air Lines’ announcement that it will become the biggest U.S. carrier to award frequent-flier miles based on airfare rather than distance flown, the switch is getting extra scrutiny from passengers who have turned earning miles into an art form.

    Travel hackers — frequent fliers who try to accumulate the most points while spending as little money as possible — will be losing one major way of boosting their accounts: mileage runs. For them, cheap fares with long routes will no longer produce the same mileage bonanza under Delta’s new system.

    What’s more, it’s just a matter of time before American and United convert their programs to the revenue-based model, said Tim Winship, publisher of FrequentFlier.com.

    “The travel hackers — unquestionably, they’re the losers. They simply are not going to be able to generate significant numbers of miles through long, cheap flights. That is systematically ruled out by the new program,” Winship said.

    “On the other hand, if you’re someone who travels frequently — and of course we’re talking first and foremost here about business travelers and that’s really who Delta is targeting with this new scheme… those people are going to make out just fine.”

    Under Delta’s new program, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2015, passengers will earn 5-11 miles per dollar spent based on their SkyMiles status. Book the ticket with the airline branded credit card and you can earn up to 13 miles per dollar.

    The spend-more-money-earn-more-miles philosophy goes against everything travel hackers stand for. They’re also worried about what Delta hasn’t announced so far.

    “The travel hackers — unquestionably, they’re the losers. They simply are not going to be able to generate significant numbers of miles through long, cheap flights.”

    The airline said its awards charts will be updated to reflect new redemption options in the last quarter of this year, which is the “really scary part,” said Rene deLambert, who is a Delta frequent flier and runs the Delta Points blog.

    “That’s what most people are nervous about — what’s it going to look like when they tell us the rest of the story?” deLambert wondered.

    He predicted mileage runs likely won’t stop because passengers will still be on the hunt for elite qualifying miles — those that count towards your status and perks with the airline — not just the miles that get you a free trip. The new rules don’t impact elite-qualification guidelines, Delta announced.

    DeLambert also didn’t think the new program would kill travel hacking, only change it and make people focus on opportunities to accumulate miles other than actually getting on a plane.

    Chris Guillebeau, who has visited every country in the world and is passionate about finding ways to make travel less expensive, said Delta’s switch just makes travel hacking more valuable for people who earn most of their miles on the ground.

    “With a few notable exceptions, mileage runs haven’t really been lucrative for years. For most of us, it’s much easier to earn larger amounts of miles through credit card bonuses and other on-the-ground activity,” Guillebeau said.

    “(This) hurts (Delta’s) active travelers more than it does people like me who are airline-agnostic.”

    Howie Rappaport in China

    Howie Rappaport, a product manager for a software company who lives in Savannah, Ga., and flies 150,000 miles a year, just finished five back-to-back trips to Beijing in the past 20 days as part of a monster mileage run. He flew more than 100,000 miles and earned over 200,000 miles with American Airlines.

    Rappaport calculated that had he done the identical trip with Delta under its new mile-earning program, he would have earned a paltry 22,000 miles; not even enough for a single round-trip ticket in coach from Boston to Orlando.

    But Rappaport said his travel hacking days are far from over.

    “I’ll continue to play the game and find the sweet spots where I can earn lots of miles and redeem for excellent value,” he said. “Thankfully those monster credit card offers exist out there where you can pick up 25,000, 50,000, or even 100,000 miles with a single credit card; I’ll keep milking those offers.”

    Article source: http://www.today.com/travel/deltas-revamped-mileage-program-may-end-travel-hacking-2D12182440