How I got my US passport replaced in only 75 minutes for $237.72

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already been to a ton of websites trying to figure out how to get a rush passport. Whether you lost your passport or were just procrastinating, you need a new passport right away.

How I got my US passport replaced in only 75 minutes for $237.72
75 minutes for a new passport. Not bad.

Let me save you some time and money. Do not go to one of those express passport agencies.  They take advantage of folks who don’t know any better—kind of like funeral directors that charge you $10,00 for a coffin that costs $1,500. Yes, there’s something called the Funeral Rule, where by law they cannot markup the price of the coffin more than 700%. Too bad this law doesn’t exist for rush
passport services.

I’m going to tell you what I did to get my passport made while I waited, and then explain how any other method to get an emergency passport is just a scam.

I lost my passport back in February. I’ve been going through airport security the last 4 months with no ID of any kind—boarding pass only.  Been doing that 3-4 times a week and have gotten through every time.  The downside is that I sometimes get the deluxe massage, but usually it’s just fine. But now that I had to fly internationally, I had to have a passport to clear customs. So why do things in advance when you can wait to the absolute last minute to test your skills?

Step 1: Call the National Passport Information Center 

This toll free number is provided by the government. 877-487-2778.  Listen carefully, as you have to find the right option to schedule an appointment at a regional office. “1” is for the East Coast, “2” is for the West Coast, and so forth. Then you have to select the city from within that region. Unless you live in the sticks, you should be able to find your city in that list. I chose Minneapolis, since that’s where I happened to be.

The automated system makes you wade through a list of 30 minute slots for your appointment, from 8 am all the way to late afternoon.  I had a 5 pm flight and I don’t like to get up early, so I chose a 2 pm appointment.  In fact, I called the system again and booked a 2:30 pm slot, too, just to be safe.  The system doesn’t check for duplicate entries. And you can keep pressing “2” to fast forward to the next slot if you don’t want to wait for them to take a whole minute to re-read the time slot and address of the passport office.

Time spent: 10 minutes.

Step 2: Go to Walgreens to get your photo taken.

I hopped in a cab from my hotel and went to the nearest Walgreens. In the cab, I called ahead to ensure there was no line at the photo department. The photo machine was broken, so I went to one 2 miles away, which was still on my way to downtown. Thank you, Google Maps!

They snapped my picture with a digital camera and 10 minutes later I walked out with 2 small photos, of which the passport office needed only one of them.

Time spent: 20 minutes.

Step 3: Go downtown to the passport office.

The cabbie drove me 8 miles into downtown. And on the way, I filled out the 3 page form needed to get a replacement passport—one page on how it was lost and 2 pages for the new passport application. Trying to fill out forms in a moving car is tricky, but the passport folks didn’t seem to care.

Time spent: 15 minutes.

Step 4: My passport office visit.

There was nobody in the place except a couple clerks, so I was able to walk right up and handle
things immediately. The first thing they said was “Are you traveling today?”  And they said it in such a casual way that it sounded like they do this sort of thing all the time.  I was fully expecting to tell them “yes” and then be pounced upon—lectured about how I should have planned in advance and
“too bad” for me. But instead, the clerk said that when there’s a legitimate need for a passport, they can print them right there—and he motioned to the back office where they had some machines.

All I needed to justify the emergency was my flight confirmation, which I didn’t have printed.  But lucky for me, they had some modern computers and printers right there. So I logged into my gmail to print out the flight confirmation. It cost me nothing. Daresay, the internet was fast.  So I spent an extra 5 minutes checking my email, since I couldn’t help but see what else was going on in our company.
This is your tax dollars at work, folks.

When I handed my paperwork to the clerk, I had no driver’s license, social security card, or ID of any sort.  But I did have a copy of my birth certificate, which I had paid some random guy $20 on Craigslist to wait in line in the city where I was born to get this document. In case you’re wondering, anyone can get a copy of YOUR birth certificate—they need only know where you were born. No ID required to get it—just a cashier’s check.

My application was incomplete—I didn’t know offhand the dates of birth of my mother and father.  So the clerk told me to just estimate, which I did. The rest of the forms were simple—name, address, social security number, and a few simple bits of info. That part took only a few minutes.

What was cool about this part of my journey was that the guy who processed my passport answered my questions on the spot. Had I filled out the forms and submitted them FedEx to some bureaucracy in the
sky, who knows if I would have gotten rejected or had an opportunity to correct whatever information might be wrong. If I had used one of these 3rd party services, instead of dealing with Uncle Sam himself, I’d be at the mercy of some person working from their kitchen running their internet-based passport
services business.

If you have actually tried searching on Google for “rush passport services” or a related search, you’ll find a bunch of folks who claim to have special access to the passport folks.  They hint they can somehow jump the line for you and that some reputable organizations use them for passports. But when you actually call up their phone number (and most don’t even have a phone number or don’t answer it), you will often hear kids in the background or other sounds that are questionable. Then when you look for reviews of these businesses, you get horror story after horror story about how they charged someone $550 for an express passport, rejected it because some field on the form wasn’t filled out perfectly, pocketed the money, and were never heard from again.  Don’t let this be you.

The passport folks told me that citizens get ripped off all the time when using these services, often because they don’t realize that if they just went downtown, they could get their passport right there on the spot, plus not pay someone a $300 fee to merely FedEx your forms both ways for you. You could FedEx it yourself, if you’re really too lazy to go downtown—so why pay a middleman? The passport folks said that they don’t promote their services, so that’s why these scammers exist. And it was that statement that prompted me to write this article.

This step included me surfing the internet and chit-chatting with the passport folks in disbelief about how simple this process was.

Time spent: 25 minutes.

Step 5: Payment and success.

I gave the clerk my debit card and it was done in minutes. I opted to get the passbook (what most people know as the passport with many pages in it), as well as the passcard (something that looks like a driver’s license), which was $30 more.  There is a $60 expedite fee (well worth it to have it done right away) and a $25 execution fee. I don’t know what the $40 security surcharge is, but I was more than happy to pay it.  The passport itself was $70, but when you added everything up, it was $237.72. 

Note that if you had used some other agency, you’d still have to pay these same fees, except a few hundred dollars for that agency to make a profit on your ignorance, plus FedEx both ways.

Time spent, including gloating over my minor victory: 5 minutes.

Total elapsed time: 75 minutes.

And from there, I had plenty of time to leisurely take the light rail to the airport and have a sit down lunch before having to board.

My hope is that this article saved you a ton of grief and perhaps some money. The government isn’t very good about sharing the good things it has available to us. So I feel it’s our duty to make sure that anyone else who needs a passport right away is able to do so without needing to get stressed about it or get ripped off.

If this article has helped you or if you’d like to share your experience with others, please do so in the comments below.

And if you’d like a chuckle, check out this post about the time I forgot my laptop, passport, and wallet in a conference room. Seriously.

En route from Dallas to New York. And tomorrow is London, followed by Bucharest and Budapest.

#1 question people ask me– how do you not get tired from all this travel?

#2 question is– how are you able to manage your agency with so many people and clients?

They think the answer is that I don’t sleep– or that if someone were to cut my skin, they’d see exposed metal underneath.

But here is the real answer– while I might physically be on a plane right now at 40,000 feet somewhere between Dallas and New York, mentally I’m somewhere else.

I’m looking at events over the next year– planning out exactly where projects need to be, intersecting to hit larger goals.

I’m thinking about key team members– not just their current issues, but charting their path over the next 5 years, based on their Goals Sheet.

I’m writing software requirements for 10 iterations ahead of our current development– because I see where the education system inevitably is heading and the opportunity for the Uber of marketing.

Because of this, you may think I’m absent-minded, since I appear to be looking out in space.

And when I’m in that state, I will often forget about current realities– forgetting my electric toothbrush in the hotel bathroom or forgetting to eat (some would argue I never forget that).

When I’m in an Uber, I’m in that same state– so I can trade money for more time to think, instead of worrying about parking or filling up the rental car to not get charged $6 a gallon.

I’ve not spent time on my appearance, though I probably should– since I’d rather put it into training up young and not-so-young adults at scale.

A mentor who is far wiser and more successful than me told me that I could have ANYTHING I wanted– as long as I was insensitive to the price I have to pay for it.

He also said that everyone gets exactly what they want, since where they put their time is a vote for what’s actually important to them.

I don’t count the costs of travel or see what I’m doing as work– I count it all joy.

What is so important to you that you’d give your life for it and aren’t counting the costs?

7 things I learned at ESTO about social media

  • Attendees love micro-brews in Portland. Why have a travel conference in Little Rock, Arkansas?  Just kidding.
  • Social media has advanced to where influencers matter– and you can’t treat them like ad networks. You must cultivate content in their voice to appeal to their audience authentically.
  • Henry Hornecker is a 21 year old up and coming social media star that will work for one of the NBA teams by this time next year.
  • DMO (destination marketing organizations) know they need to be on social and to connect with influencers, but they don’t know what to do, how to do it, and how to measure it. There is fuzziness around how much to pay influencers or whether to just give out free travel, hotel stays, and the like. We released a guide at
  • CPM is a good starting point to measure earned media value, since we’re looking at traffic to the properties. However, we need a qualitative measure for relevance and perhaps to sales where quantifiable.
  • Influencers, who are content marketers with distribution, too, need to create their own material to resonate with their fan base.  The management and organization of these influencers is loose, so agencies like Instabrand and others are creating networks to enable the buying and selling of influence.
  • There is fear of “selling out”, since influencers legally must disclose they are getting paid. But with strong branding, meaning influencers being picky about who they choose, fans won’t be disappointed.

Thank you, Bill Karz, VP of Digital at the LA Tourism and Convention Board, for the invite to the panel!

Southwest LOVES Me! Confessions of a mileage junkie

I rebooked a flight that costs 99 cents more and they swallowed the cost.
Of course, they love you, too– and you’d get this if the rebooked fare is close.

I’ve seen the “Southwest Fare Protection” as high as $2.70.
As far as I can tell (and from forums like FlyerTalk), Southwest doesn’t discuss this policy.

The Business Select Fare costs me twice as much as the Wanna Get Away Fare, but earns points twice as fast– 12 points per dollar instead of 6.
If you’re A List Preferred, this $500 ticket earns you 12,000 points, which is enough to book at $200 Wanna Get Away Fare.

Think of it as a 40% rebate ($200 back on $500 spend).

And if you have Companion Pass level– the equivalent of Southwest’s Platinum (companion flies free, since no first class), then it’s better.
So what you’d do is fly the Business Select fare to earn the points and have your designated companion (business partner) travel with you.
Yes, a companion can travel with you for free (paying the $2 segment tax), even if you’re flying free.

If you’re a business traveler or have friend that would otherwise fly with you at least some of the time, this is the best frequent flyer program. The blunder of not valuing your most important customers

This morning, after booking the next set of hotels for the upcoming week, I got an offer from Hotwire for $10 off my next booking.



I revel in working the system to my advantage, so I tried to claim it. They told my Fancy Hands assistant it was for new customers only.


How often do you see offers for new customers when you’re already a customer, especially when you’re logged in?


Had Hotwire used exclusion lists, they could have personalized the space to show me a loyalty incentive, instead.  Maybe offer me 10% off my next stay, if I can get to 200 stays for the year.



You can see via the ghostery plug-in that they’re using 9 web bugs– tools that could be used for personalization, but are not.



And you can clearly see that I’m logged into the site, while still getting their offer.


With Facebook, you have the ability to exclude audiences— to not ask folks to sign up for your email newsletter, if you already have their email. To not offer a discount on product A to people who have already bought product A.


When you give incentives to new customers without rewarding your loyal customers, you’re sending the loyal customers the wrong message. And you’re telling them that your marketing efforts are not efficient.


So my assistant called to ask about this:



They had another chance at making it right, but missed it.


Bryan Eisenberg is an authority on Big Data, talking about how Amazon, Google, and other giants personalize to delight customers, create amazing experiences, and  increase profits.


He recounts here how one hotel chain struggled with the same issue– not valuing their most important customers.


What are you doing to make your most loyal customers feel special?
Hotwire can’t stop with the hits.
Here is one hotel I bought (the Radisson in Chandler) for $57.54 on Priceline.
I had the option to extend it another 4 nights.


But I bought it on Hotwire for $65.46, since I wanted to take advantage of their  low price guarantee.

It’s only $7 different, which is $28 total over 4 days.



But when presented with both bookings, they claimed their price guarantee applies only to published rates, not other opaque rates, even for the same hotels for the same date.

This is a unique situation. I travel so much that I often know which hotel it is. I’ll book the first night just to see which one it is, then extend it when it’s the one I want.

Bottom line– you should shop around, since Priceline, Travelocity, and Hotel Tonight can often do better.

To be fair, Hotwire is usually the easiest and the best option– they show the ratings and review details. But shop around if they don’t have inventory in the city you’re looking for.

How to lose $293.60 on Southwest Airlines

Buried on page 7 of a 36 page document is a change that Southwest quietly implemented on September 13th.



If you don’t check in within 10 minutes of your flight, you lose ALL of your funds. No exceptions.


I found this out the hard way at the ticket counter in Portland International Airport.  So I asked my helpful friends at Fancy Hands to chase it.



And they gave it a shot.



No dice.


Because this policy was only 12 days old, I figured Southwest would understand. So we escalated it to Customer Relations.


But after 25.9 minutes, Rebecca said no.



As someone who flies 3-4 times a week, my strategy has been to book in advance to lock in the low fares, but then cancel with no penalty on Southwest.


Southwest is famous for no cancellation fees, which other airlines offer only to premium tier customers. So if I had forgotten to modify one of the upcoming flights, the miles or dollars would not refund, but just revert back to my account.


In this case, I accidentally booked this flight twice, not having realized that I had already booked it in advance. So trying to cancel it a couple hours after departure time, was a no-go.


Southwest ticket counter agents assured me that if I had read the 36 page contract of carriage document carefully, I would have realized this change from 12 days prior to my flight.



I’m still a loyal customer of Southwest, since one failure is not enough to erase the years of great service they’ve provided me.


I love them so much, I even wrote a blog post about my love a year ago.



Do you think their loyalty system is smart enough to reward loyalty beyond just the public tier system? Their stock symbol is LUV.


For certain, Southwest folks are reading this blog post, so it will be interesting to see what action they take here.  I’ll keep you posted on what they do or don’t do.


Were I Southwest, I’d give one of their top customers some leniency on a first-time effort just days after a new policy change.


Wouldn’t you?