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Are expedited passports worth the extra cost?

November 08, 2009|CATHARINE HAMM

Question: When my divorce is finalized in December, I will revert to my former name. I am already booked on a European cruise for April under my current name and passport number. I realize I cannot apply for a new passport before the April departure because the cruise line has my current passport information. I want to travel abroad again in June but would have to turn in my current passport when I apply for a replacement/new one. If I apply for a new passport soon after returning from the April cruise, will I receive it in time for another international trip in early June? How expeditious is the U.S. Passport Office's "expedited" service with this tight timeline?

J.A. Leicester

San Gabriel

Answer: Here's one good thing you can say about the recession: It has cooled the overheated demand for passports, which is good news for travelers on a timeline.

In 2007, the hot economy, coupled with new passport requirements, pushed the State Department's ability to process applications off a cliff. Instead of the usual six to eight weeks, some applications took 12 to 16 weeks, and woe be to the person who had a problem passport.

Applications hit their peak in 2007 at 18.4 million, then dropped in 2008 to 16.2 million and are about 13 million through August of this fiscal year. (Fiscal year runs Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.)

The wait time these days generally is four to six weeks, State says.

As for expedited service, www .travel.state.gov says you'll get your documents in two to three weeks using its service, paying an additional $60 (plus overnight shipping fees) and supplying (this was a new one to me) "secure" packaging such as a Tyvek envelope (which, its maker DuPont says, is "a material so strong and durable, it easily with- stands the most grueling conditions," presumably including any indignities visited upon your package by the Postal Service or others).

If your timeline is tight, you might, instead, work with a passport expediting service. To find one, check out www.napvs.org, the National Assn. of Passport & Visa Services. Using a service will cost you more, but the advantages are speed and advocacy.

"We hand-carry in the applications so we are interfacing directly with the passport office," said Summer Jenkins, communications director for G3 Visas & Passports, a service with headquarters in Arlington, Va., and offices in Chicago, Houston, Miami and New York. "If there is any sort of problem, we are told about it, and we are able to communicate it back to our clients."

The price correlates with the speed: Ten business days or fewer to process costs $75, seven business days or fewer costs $175 and two business days or fewer is $250.

Only the applicant can judge whether it's worth it, so the question should be: Can you put a price tag on peace of mind?

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Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel @latimes.com. We regret we cannot respond to all letters.

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