Common Cents

Passport expediting: worth the price?

The party is over. It’s been a fun summer but it’s time to get back to business. That business is the implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). It’s time to get your passport, which is not a simple task. In July, the average wait from time of application to receiving the document was 12 weeks.

That means if you are planning a cruise or a flight this winter to the Caribbean, Mexico, Bermuda or Canada, you should already have applied for your passport. But if you haven’t, you’re not out of luck.

If you are willing to pay up to about $350 –more than twice the government fee of $157 for adults–a new U.S. passport can be yours. Welcome to the booming business of passport expediting services.

How the service works

Passport expediting agencies essentially walk your application for a new or renewed passport through the government’s web of paperwork.

Hedi Perotto, account manager with Travisa, said passport service companies will check all application documents, hand carry the papers to one of 14 U.S. Passport Processing Centers and pick up the passport as soon as it is ready. Rush service delivers a passport in three to 10 days. Emergency service can be as quick as same day delivery; next day or a 48-hour turnaround is also considered emergency service. Applicants must call ahead to Travisa, AAA’s preferred passport service, to make a reservation and get specific instructions.

Government expediting

The U.S. Department of State offers expedited service–a two- to three-week turnaround–for an additional $60, plus the costs for two-way overnight delivery of your application and subsequent passport. That cost is on top of the $97 and $82 (for children younger than 16) government fees.

So for about $220, you should have your passport in less than a month, right? Not necessarily. There have been cases when an applicant paid the fee and submitted the application but the passport was not delivered in time. Some travelers have missed out on trips as a result.

The state department suggests using a Passport Processing Center for quick service (less than two weeks). But this isn’t convenient for most of us, making an expediting company like Travisa an attractive alternative plan.

Becoming a necessity

Very soon, anyone who travels outside the country, whether by air or sea, will have to get a passport. The new regulation for air travel to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda took effect in January 2007. It was relaxed by the state department over the summer, but picks up again Sept. 30.

By summer 2008, the passport requirement will kick in for anyone re-entering the country at a seaport. By 2009, land border crossings will require a passport for re-entry into the country.

“We receive calls every day from people who are one or two days away from their departure date and are still waiting for their passport,” Perotto said. “Unfortunately, once they’ve started the process via a mail-in application, we can’t help them.

“Many travelers find going through an agency, such as Travisa, the most convenient, stress-free and time-saving option.” If using an expediting service is an option for you, know that Travisa fees for AAA members are $98 for rush service, $149 for same/next day emergency processing. This is paid in addition to all government fees.

“Using the assistance of a AAA Travel agent can simplify the process in addition to saving money with AAA’s preferred service fee rates. I’d say it’s definitely worth it,” Perotto said.

For information about Travisa passport services, contact your AAA Travel office. Locate a list of offices or call (888) 366-4222.

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