By Janelle Harb
Since the publication of last week’s article regarding the Travel Team, titled “Travel Team overspends student dollars,” several members of the student body, past and present, have reached out to The Griffin to share their similar negative experiences with the company.
For those unaware, the Travel Team is a travel agency owned by the multinational food product corporation, Rich Products. In fact, it was only last year that former Griffin editor and President John J. Hurley’s wife, Maureen Hurley, had stepped down from her Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer position of the aforementioned Rich Products.
Andy Plewinski, ‘15, was one alumnus who reached out to The Griffin after reading last week’s Travel Team article. Some may know Plewinski as Mr. Canisius 2015. Others may recall his work as a senator in the Undergraduate Student Association. When he was a member of USA, Plewinski set two primary goals: working with the Senate, administration, and local government in order to place a necessary crosswalk in the Hughes-Jefferson intersection across from Science Hall, and bringing light to the issues that the then newly-instated Travel Team was causing, in the opinion of himself and others.
“The reason I’m so passionate about this is because this happened right when I started here,” Plewinski said in a recent interview with The Griffin. It was when Plewinski began working in Campus Programming and Leadership Development that Elaine Mrugala, Administrative Associate in Student Life, first told him of this new Travel Team system.
“[She mentioned] how there are booking fees per student. You pick your own flights, can’t pick your times, and this was the way it was billed to us,” said Plewinski. “We were never told about it, we just had to use it.” Plewinski went on to say that, “Initially, [it was said] that we’ll save money in a few years by booking through the Travel Team […] I was immediately skeptical, just because it came out of nowhere, and there was really no reason for it. I seemed to be one of the only people talking about it.”
Plewinski says he first realized how bad relations with the Travel Team were when he was forced to use their services for a club trip during his sophomore year. It was in November of 2012 and Plewinski was on the Mock Trial team, which was taking a trip to Pittsburgh that year in order to participate in a tournament.
“[W]e told the Travel Team what we wanted and where we were going,” said Plewinski, “and it was up to them to book it, and all the other stuff.”
Plewinski then recounted his experience landing in Pittsburgh the day before the tournament started.
“[W]e walk into the hotel lobby,” said Plewinski, “and give them our travel information, our reservation, and they said ‘We’re sorry, we don’t seem to have that.’ So we then call [Travel Team’s] emergency travel line and nobody answered. And so we’re in Pittsburgh with no hotel reservations. Thank God the hotel had seven or eight rooms that were available that we could just stay in, but if that didn’t happen, then we would’ve been screwed.”
From this first-hand experience, Plewinski felt his suspicions about the apathy and carelessness of Travel Team were confirmed. This situation would be one of many instances where students accused Travel Team of failing to complete their duties as a travel agency in both effectiveness and reliability.
Besides Travel Team receiving a commission on each trip, they also place a surcharge per student going on the trip.
“It seemed asinine to go through this process [and face this surcharge]… when we could be booking it ourselves,” Plewinski explained.
Plewinski then described a meeting between administration and USA.
“[T]o say that [administration] did a good job of explaining this to us would be a total disservice to what actually happened,” Plewinski said. “I asked why we were never approached about [Travel Team] and why we had to go through the company. It got to the point where the woman from Human Resources at the time asked to move to a different question.”
Plewinski said that the meeting with administration did not solve the problems students were having with Travel Team. As a result of the continuing conflict, Plewinski said that current Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Mangione asked him to write a letter expressing his concerns.
“I wrote about how we had an issue with things not being booked, [administration] not telling us or asking us, all of the extra charges, […] not making the reservation until way later, and making us all pay more–an issue of which is still recurring,” said Plewinski.
Plewinski claims that Canisius, for perhaps as long as a year, began offsetting the surcharge, but that the surcharge is now back.
Plewinski also raised the point of asking where the benefits go.
“[S]omebody’s collecting the miles from these things,” said Plewinski. “Somebody’s collecting the points from the hotels, somebody’s collecting whatever reward or benefit. That’s not coming back to the students. It should be, because that’s what it was built as, so where’s it going? Is it going to the College? Because that’s not right, their tax dollars didn’t pay for that; our student tax dollars paid for that.”
Plewinski also questioned why the College doesn’t trust its adult students to be booking these flights and making these decisions.
“We’re students,” said Plewinski. “We can handle it. We’re in college. That was almost the most insulting part of it. Like, you don’t think we can do this? I don’t think that’s their angle though, honestly, I think it’s just something to make money off of. I think that [Travel Team] saw an opportunity and they went for it.”
For what it’s worth, many students have also, unofficially, endorsed the idea that club leaders working with their respective advisor and executive board, as well as Student Life, would able to plan and schedule a trip without the help of an outside company.
“I don’t think there’s any miscommunication between the students and administration,” said Plewinski towards the end of the interview. “Everybody knows exactly what’s going on, and whoever wants to shine a light on it is going to be subjected to criticism–but you have to be willing to go through it to get it done. [Not changing something that’s broken] says a lot about the institution.”
To continue from last week’s article, use of the Travel Team seems like it too often results in exorbitant expenses, which Plewinski speculates are designed to generate a higher commission. This observation is on top of the hotel mishaps in bookings, along with various other missteps which certain clubs have claimed cause more harm than good. These seeming Travel Team problems are not new and, as evidenced by Plewinski, have been a problem since their inception in 2012. Students, as tuition payers, have a right to hold the administration accountable for any harm it is causing clubs and, ultimately, the College as a whole. Only students are able to spend these allotted student tax dollars for clubs, so students have a right to know whose pockets their money is going into.