Politicians can book luxury hotels... if the price is right

Bargain-hunting politicians and their staff can book five-star hotels if they can prove the overnight rate is similar to a lower standard hotel, according to the latest travel policy from Leinster House.

They’re also allowed to stay in luxury hotels when it is recommended by local embassies or if the conferences that they’re attending are being held there.

The new guidelines are part of a travel policy that was updated by the Oireachtas late last year, and which was released under FOI.

It sets out the ground rules for overseas travel, allowing TDs, senators, and Leinster House staff to retain frequent flier miles for example. However, they are told that the availability of such offers should not be allowed to “influence their choice of flight options”.

Chauffeur-driven cars are banned unless it can be proven they are the “most economic option” and only for travel involving senior officeholders including the ceann comhairle and the cathaoirleach of the Seanad.

For short-hop flights, just economy class or internet fares are allowed with flexible tickets permissible only when it is very likely flight times might have to be changed.

“Priority boarding” was available to avoid delays, but other extras like “fast-pass” and “pre-booked seats” had to be paid for by the person travelling. For long-haul flights, premium economy class travel can be booked when the “additional flexibility afforded is considered necessary for the effective discharge of official business”.

Business class travel is only allowed where the head of the Oireachtas has sanctioned it because of the length of the flight involved or the business to be conducted.

Politicians and staff were told though that time spent on business class flights had to be discounted for subsistence — as accommodation and meals are considered to have been provided on board.

However, conscious of past expenses controversies, the guidelines say: “As a general rule, first-class travel should never be used.” A stern warning on the “trade down” of premium tickets to bring spouses or family members was also included in the guidelines.

Members and their staff were told that any saving from downgrading a ticket had to be returned.

The travel policy also said they would not pay the travel costs of any person who was not working directly in Leinster House.

The only exceptions to that were for staff working on contract or witnesses appearing before Oireachtas committees.

The policy said: “Unless specific provision is made for spouses or partners in the official programme for travel, it is the policy of the Service to only make travel arrangements for the members and staff concerned.”

TDs and senators were also urged to get a diplomatic passport for travelling on business. However, they were told it should not be used for their “private travel”. They were also reassured that they would not have to pay for travel insurance, and that they were covered for almost everything including “hijack”.

Politicians and staff were told they could book Airbnb but that they should first discuss it with the travel unit in Leinster House.

If staying in regular hotels, the accommodation bill would usually be paid directly but items like laundry and mini-bar had to be settled personally.

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