Image: Airline © Ken Seet, Corbis

The summer travel season is on. Along with the sun and fun, that means dealing with the pricey air travel or fueling up the family car, expensive hotels, concerns about security in unfamiliar places and the nagging fear you can't really afford to go.

But a lot of CEOs have found ways to avoid such worries when they travel. They just bill the shareholders.

Even as companies keep cutting expenses in a sketchy economy, juicy CEO perks survive and thrive. Let's take a look at some of the big perks handed out over the last year that can help executives enjoy their summer travels.

1. Free airfare

One of the big expenses for a summer trip is often be airfare. But CEOs don't usually have to jockey for the best ticket prices. In fact, shareholders routinely foot the bill.

And we're talking about fueling up the company jet for personal vacation trips -- not $800 to fly the family to Disneyland.

Consider the example of billionaire Barry Diller, who gets a double share of this perk as the top exec of two companies.

Image: Michael Brush

Michael Brush

Last year, shareholders of IAC/InterActiveCorp (IACI, news), where he is senior executive and chairman, paid $644,500 for his personal air travel. Diller is also senior executive and chairman at Expedia (EXPE, news). There, he got an additional $605,800 worth of personal flights, said Michelle Leder of Morningstar's Footnoted and FootnotedPro, which help investors by dredging up insights from the fine print in corporate filings.

The grand total: $1.25 million worth of personal air travel. "We wouldn't be surprised to learn Diller lives on plane," jokes Leder.

Diller could afford buy his own plane tickets, of course. Last year, he got $8.2 million in total pay from these two companies -- $3.7 million at IAC/InterActiveCorp and $4.3 million at Expedia. (For comparison's sake, median pay for CEOs at S&P 500 companies rose to $8.5 million last year from $6.3 million the year before, according to GovernanceMetrics International, an independent corporate governance research company.)

Diller may be the king of this perk, but he is not without competition. Last year Wynn Resorts (WYNN, news) shareholders paid $942,600 for personal use of the corporate jet by CEO Stephen Wynn, who got $14.6 million in total pay that year.

And while no single exec at Chesapeake Energy (CHK, news) could match Diller or Wynn, six of them collectively billed Chesapeake an impressive $2 million for personal flights on the corporate jet last year. Chesapeake shareholders had to pay so much partly because directors get use of the corporate jet for private travel -- an unusual practice, says ISS Proxy Advisory Services. Usually, only CEOs and other top execs get to take the jet.

All of these companies declined to comment except Wynn Resorts, which says it prefers Wynn use the company jet for personal travel for safety reasons. (CEO security is a typical explanation for this perk.)

And Wynn Resorts stock has advanced sharply, to around $162 recently from about $13 when it first started trading in 2002, which means shareholders have been rewarded nicely with Wynn at the helm, a spokeswoman said.

2. Free wheels

If you're not flying, you're probably piling into the family car this summer. And it's not cheap, considering the cost of the car itself, insurance, gasoline and repairs. But those are costs you don't need to worry about if you're one of the many CEOs supplied with a company car -- which often comes with a driver.

Last year, for example, Bank of New York Mellon (BK, news) shareholders paid $188,500 for a car and driver for CEO Robert Kelly, who got $16.1 million in total pay. The company does get points for reducing lots of perks recently, though, including personal use of club memberships, financial planning, parking and home security, says ISS Proxy Advisory Services.

At Talbots (TLB, news), CEO Trudy Sullivan doesn't get just her car allowance, worth $25,000 last year. The CEO of this women's apparel retailer also gets $18,000 to cover the expense of what the company describes as "private carriages." (Talbots declined to explain exactly what kind of "private carriages" Sullivan uses, and the pay experts said they hadn't see the term elsewhere.)

Still, you'd think Sullivan could cover the cost of getting herself around. Sullivan has ranked on Fortune's list of the 25 highest-paid women for years, and the company reported that she got $6.2 million in total compensation last year.

Sullivan received another unusual perk from shareholders. Normally, when execs get restricted stock they pay what's known as the "par value" for the stock, a bookkeeping entry of pennies, or a dollar, per share. But Sullivan gets that reimbursed, too, at $2,250 last year.

"Never, never, in my 17 or 18 years of writing about this stuff have I ever seen anyone get that amount reimbursed," commented Paul Hodgson of GovernanceMetrics.

Shareholders might have a hard time accepting special perks, given the company's recent performance. Talbots stock has fallen to around $3.10, from more than $9 at the start of 2010.

Talbots has "robust corporate governance practices" established by a board compensation committee of independent directors who design executive compensation packages that are "consistent with industry standards," responded Julie Lorigan, Talbots' senior vice president for media and investor relations.

So why all the fuss?

Let's step back for a moment and ask, are we just being petty for picking on these execs for these kinds of perks?

Not at all, say the experts.

Big institutional investors review perks all the time when considering which stocks to own. "We look at corporate governance as a risk mitigator," says Aeisha Mastagni, an investment officer at the California State Teachers' Retirement System. "Companies that have better corporate governance have lower risk and perform better."

One reason is that a lot of perquisites are simply gifts to executives, not linked to performance. In contrast, performance-based pay drives execs to work harder, which is better for shareholders.

Like excessively high pay, odd and excessive perks can also be a sign that boards are too close to managers -- and not looking out for shareholders.

"If a board is unable to tell the CEO 'no' on perks, then how can shareholders have any confidence that the board will stand up to the CEO on bigger issues?" asks Rosanna Weaver, an analyst with CtW Investment Group, which consults labor pension funds on corporate governance issues and shareholder activism.

Now, back to the topic of travel-related perks:

3. Free security

Going away usually means at least some concern about your security in new surroundings. Less so if you're a CEO. Last year, Las Vegas Sands (LVS, news) shareholders forked out $2.5 million for security expenses for CEO Sheldon Adelson and his immediate family. And Amazon.com (AMZN, news) shareholders paid $1.6 million for security for CEO Jeffrey Bezos.

The companies don't provide specifics on what these security costs cover. But in filings, Amazon says it believes that the costs are "reasonable and necessary and for the company's benefit."

Certainly, CEOs have security needs the average worker doesn't. But here's an interesting twist on the theme of keeping executives safe: Last year the biotech company Ziopharm Oncology (ZIOP, news) reimbursed its CEO, Jonathan Lewis, $23,600 for personal property stolen during travel for his job. Ziopharm declined to say what he had on a trip that was worth $23,600, other than that it was a gift "of great sentimental value" from a patient of Lewis, who is a doctor, says Ziopharm spokesman David Pitts.

"The incident occurred at an airport security checkpoint during business travel and was neither preventable by, nor the fault of, the employee," says Pitts. "The company provided reimbursement for the stolen property only after all other options were exhausted, including a police investigation and a two-year effort to seek reimbursement through personal insurance."

4. Free digs

Hotels can be expensive when traveling, especially in places like New York City. But not for Vernon Jordan, attorney and former adviser to former President Bill Clinton. When he travels to New York City for business as a director at Lazard (LAZ, news) he gets to use an apartment that cost shareholders $288,000 last year.

At Wynn Resorts, CEO Wynn lives in two Las Vegas suites that might otherwise be rented to high rollers. The company estimated that cost at $503,000 for last year. Wynn Resorts benefits by having him live on premises, says a company spokeswoman.

If no one's going to cover your hotel suite or an expensive apartment in New York, would you settle for a house?

That's what the coal company Massey Energy gave former CEO Don Blankenship last December as he retired early, following a tragic year in which 29 people were killed in a Massey mining disaster, one of the nation's worst ever.

The house was valued at $375,000, a seemingly modest amount for a richly paid former CEO. In fact, the modest value of the house makes me wonder: Why couldn't he just pay for it?

After all, Blankenship made $38.2 million over the prior three years, and he got a golden parachute of $12 million when his company changed hands early this year. In what might be the oddest perk of the year, the company returned to Blankenship a 1965 blue Chevrolet truck that he had given the company earlier.

Massey Energy is now owned by Alpha Natural Resources (ANR, news) which declined comment. But in a press release at the time of his retirement announcement, Massey Energy said Blankenship helped drive growth at the company, helping its market cap grow to $5 billion late last year from $758 million in 2000.

5. Free of tax worries

If you happen to be following the, talk of the ongoing budget battles in Washington may make you wonder: How much more in taxes will the budget mess cost me?

While CEOs often pay a lot in taxes, they've got an edge over you here, too. Shareholders often cover a portion of their tax bills.

At Noble Energy (NE, news), for example, Chairman and CEO David Williams got a "tax equalization" payment last year of $587,000 to offset higher taxes he faces because the company relocated to Switzerland. Williams, last year, got $9.2 million in total pay, the company reports.

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But you don't have to move abroad to get huge tax subsidies as a CEO. Last year, CBS (CBS, news) shareholders paid $2.5 million to Leslie Moonves as a "tax neutralization payment" to offset New York state and local taxes. You'd think that Moonves could afford to pay his own taxes -- his total pay was $57.7 million last year.

Because there's usually no link to performance in these tax offsets, "paying an executive's taxes at the expense of shareholders creates anything but value for shareholders," says ISS Proxy Advisory Services. "Most executives are paid at levels where they should be able to afford to pay their own taxes." ISS surveys show that most investors agree.

At the time of publication, Michael Brush did not own or control shares of any company mentioned in this column.

Michael Brush is the editor of Brush Up on Stocks, an investment newsletter. Click here to find Brush's most recent articles and blog posts.