*Trip Assured's legal trouble
*Frontier to Los Cabos
*Peninsula's new program

By: Paul Cilker

The Department of Homeland Security set Jan. 23 as the new starting date for a regulation requiring airline passengers entering the U.S. from within the Western Hemisphere to possess a valid passport. The move pushed back the original Jan. 8 start date by two weeks.

According to Joanna Gonzalez, spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, the new date for the regulation, referred to as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), was due to a delay in the rule-making process, rather than any difficulty with the regulation.

While conceding the new date may confuse some air passengers who expected the rule to go into effect Jan. 8, Richard Webster, vice president of government affairs for the Travel Industry Association said overall the delay was “not a big deal.”

“Some will read into it that there was some sort of political intrigue, or infighting or battling,” he said. “But this is just a very busy period of time. There are a lot of things that [the DHS is] working on. The WHTI is not the only policy that the DHS has got going. I think the challenge was just going through all of the checks with other agencies to make sure it was all buttoned up and done right. We have said all along that [regulations] shouldn’t be implemented until they are ready to go. They need to get it right.”

Nevertheless, the passport rule for air passengers has raised the ire of the Caribbean tourism industry, which fears island destinations will lose business as travelers without passports decide to go elsewhere.

On Sept. 29, Congress approved a provision that delayed until June 1, 2009, implementation of passport requirements for U.S. citizens re-entering the U.S. via land borders and seaports. However, the delay did not impact air travelers, who, under the provision, were required to have passports to travel to and from destinations in the Western Hemisphere beginning Jan. 8.


Crossville, Tenn.-based Trip Assured has found itself in legal trouble. Unable to collect their cancellation coverage the company promised when cancelling their trips, a group of customers have filed a class-action lawsuit against the travel insurer in the U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, Calif.

The plaintiffs have two main charges: first, that the company marketed its product as insurance although it was not a licensed insurance-seller in any state. Second, that the company suggested it would pay valid claims when it “never intended to do so,” as shown by several “unreasonable requirements, traps and loopholes” used to avoid paying claims, such as repeated requests for documentation, failure to honor commitments to cover pre-existing conditions and an arbitration clause that required claimants to go to Tennessee to file their cases with the Better Business Bureau.

The plaintiffs claimed that Trip Assured used “bullying and intimidation” when these tactics failed, even filing a pre-emptive lawsuit against a Florida claimant.

They also said the state of Tennessee should have acted sooner against the company but may have been influenced by personal relationships between the company’s owner and government officials.

Trip Assured produced copies of recent letters to Tennessee’s Division of Consumer Affairs and Trip Assured’s merchant bank, each spelling out how the plaintiffs failed to comply with company policy when cancelling their trips. Six states have issued orders that the company stop selling in their states until it becomes licensed.

Agency clients who believe they qualify to join the class action, should contact attorney John Tiedt at 951-343-3320.


Frontier Airlines will begin direct service to Los Cabos, Mexico, from Los Angeles beginning Dec. 9.

“We are excited to offer this new service to SJD,” said Andrew Hudson, Frontier’s senior director of marketing, sales and corporate communication. “This new route will provide travelers from Los Angeles a convenient, accessible and affordable way to travel to this poplar Mexican destination.”

This service will join the airline’s current nonstop service from Denver to Los Cabos, which increased to daily Nov. 18. Daily direct service from San Francisco also begins Dec. 9 and from Kansas City, Mo., Dec. 16. The company has also announced plans to do the same from San Jose, Calif., and Sacramento, Calif., pending approval from the Department of Transportation.


Just in time for holiday visits to New York City, the Peninsula is offering guests a ready-made itinerary for children. Guests can choose from a selection of iconic New York activities in either a prearranged itinerary for each age group, or they can select from an a la carte list of activities parents and children will love doing together. Also, every child who participates will get a silver spoon, engraved with the child’s initials. The Silver Spoon itineraries include: Tucker out the Toddler, recommended for ages 2-6. The day’s activities include a trip to Central Park via Peninsula private car, picnic lunch, behind the scenes visit to the Central Park zoo and a room-service dinner. The child’s schedule is arranged so that parents may enjoy a range of spa treatments and later enjoy a quiet dinner.

Another itinerary, Fast Forward to NYC Fun, is directed toward 7- to 14-year-olds, and includes a visit to the observation deck at Rockefeller Center, thrill ride to the Statue of Liberty, lunch at a space-themed restaurant and a personal shopper at FAO Schwartz. Fifth Avenue Fairy Princess, for girls 6 and up, includes breakfast in bed, a trip to the American Girl Store for shopping, lunch at Le Grenouille and afternoon tea. Prices for the Silver Spoon programs range from $150-$675.


Sandals and Beaches Resorts is hosting a competition among travel agents for best Sandals-style holiday office decorations. To compete, agents must e-mail photos of their agency facades or interiors by Dec. 8 to jross@unique vacations.com. Agents must include the agency name, IATA/CLIA number, phone number and contact name.

Sandals will select and announce five winning agencies on Dec. 15, one from each of Sandals and Beaches’ five sales regions.

Each winning agency will receive a $1,000 check to be used toward an agency holiday or New Year’s party, or as employee bonuses.