Passport Deadline Moved Back

*Crystal Adds Surcharge
*Pleasant Picks United
*ASTA Offers Domain

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has decided to push back for one year the Oct. 26 deadline that required countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to begin issuing passports embedded with biometric data. However, in rolling back the deadline, the DHS said VWP countries would be required to produce passports with digital photographs by Oct. 26.

Additionally, VWP countries are required to present an “acceptable plan” to begin issuing integrated circuit chips, or E-passports, within one year, the DHS said. The DHS said it would require that all E-passports be submitted by Sept. 1, 2006, in order to be validated by Oct. 26, 2006.

The DHS said it decided to extend the biometric passport deadline to Oct. 26, 2006, after “extensive consultation” with Congress and the Dept. of State. The travel industry also lobbied in favor of delaying the deadline.

Crystal Cruises Adds Surcharge

Crystal Cruises implemented a $4 per person, per day fuel surcharge on cruises departing after July 15 that are not paid in full by that date.

In a brief statement Crystal said it had “resisted the implementation of a fuel surcharge for many months ... however, we find that we cannot ignore the continued rising price of oil and its negative impact on our operating costs.” Earlier this year, competitor Radisson Seven Seas Cruises introduced a $2.85 per day fuel surcharge on its voyages. Star Cruises also has levied fuel charges on passengers.

Pleasant Signs Deal With United
Pleasant Holidays signed a five-year agreement with United Airlines for blocked space, with inventory risk, on Hawaii flights from Los Angeles and San Francisco. The arrangement becomes effective Jan. 16, when Pleasant’s current contract with ATA ends.

Pleasant had similar arrangements with ATA for the last 11 years but changed to United for three reasons, according to a Pleasant spokesman: more flights, better prices and more flexibility in terms of seasonal variations in demand.

The deal is similar to arrangements Pleasant has for buying blocks of hotel room nights, with one important difference: no buy-back provision.

“That’s the whole idea,” said a Pleasant spokesman. “That’s not to say the contract could not be renegotiated as it goes. But we are committed to buy the seats no matter what. That is our risk.”

ASTA to Offer New Domain
Beginning Sept. 1, members of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) will be eligible to purchase a new Web address, thanks to the launch of the new domain name “.travel.”

Because industry eligibility must be verified, purchasing a .travel domain name will be a two-step process. ASTA members must first authenticate their membership by completing an online application between July 1 and Aug. 23. Then members can purchase a “.travel” domain name with any approved registrar.

New Rail Europe Site
Rail Europe Group launched a new point-to-point rail ticket booking engine featuring live inventory of European and U.K. trains at its trade-exclusive Web site.

Dispensing with the timetable-based approach, the new booking engine mimics airline booking engines, showing “available trains at available fares,” according to the company.

New features include: incorporation of seat reservations in overall ticket fares; online, side-by-side comparison of first- and second-class fares; and immediate confirmation of ticket purchase and seat reservations.

Agent commission on rail tickets ranges from 4 to 7 percent.