Seniors on the Go: Start 2013 with a muddle and a gotcha

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"To use a state driver's license as ID for TSA airport screening, starting January 15, TSA will accept only 'compliant' licenses." That's the crux of the muddle contained in a report circulating around digital space these days, and fortunately it's wrong. But it's wrong only regarding the date: You will need a compliant license going forward, but a few years down the line, not now. The real deadlines, according to the Department of Homeland Security, are December 2014 for travelers under age 50 and December 2017 for everybody else. So, for the immediate future, you can keep using your current license -- or whatever other approved ID you use.

The muddle apparently arose because somebody misinterpreted that January 15 date. DHS confirms that it applies only to states -- to start compliance with the Real ID Act -- not to individuals. So you don't need to worry for now.

But the situation is still a bit muddled. DHS says that it has "not made any determinations regarding compliance for any state at this time. But the independent "Coalition for a Secure Driver's License" reports that some states are, in fact, already compliant: Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, South Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia, plus, of course, the present-generation "enhanced" licenses from Michigan, New York, and Washington. But it also says that, at least so far, Alaska. Arizona, Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, Minnesota and Oklahoma have announced that they don't intend to comply.

What exactly, makes a license compliant? The 1995 Real ID Act, as implemented by federal security standards published in 2008, sets up to 39 "benchmarks" for license security standards designed to detect fake IDs. Compliant licenses show a "gold star" (back to grade school, anybody?).

Apparently, regardless of when your current license is due to expire, you'll need a new, compliant one, after the 2014/2017 deadlines. That means you'll have to check with your state's DMV about its current state of compliance -- far ahead enough to do something if your state isn't complying. For more information, log onto http://www.dhs.gov/secure-drivers-licenses.

The gotcha gets you on the other side of the Atlantic where, come April 1, the British government will again increase what is already one of the travel industry's least favorite and most counterproductive taxes. This year's increase isn't much, but it's still a finger in the eye of the travel industry on both sides of the Atlantic, where just about all the players strongly advocate that the tax go down or go away, not increase.

The culprit is the British "Air Passenger Duty," which will require that any traveler flying from the United Kingdom to the United States pay 62 pounds (about $99) if they're seated in basic economy or 134 pounds ($251) in any other cabin, from premium economy up to first class. Duty on flights from the U.K. to continental Europe will remain at 13 pounds in the lowest-fare cabin and 26 pounds in other classes. The duty applies only on tickets for itineraries that originate in the U.K. and not to itineraries from other points that connect through a British airport, and it does not apply to incoming flights. But it does apply to supposedly "free" frequent flyer award tickets, again based on the cabin in which you sit, not what you pay.

This duty was designed, at least in part, to discourage flying, deemed to create too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It certainly seems to be accomplishing that purpose, as reflected in travel statistics.

You can't do much to avoid this duty if you're on a simple round-trip to London or another British city. However, if you're also visiting another European country, your best bet is to arrange your London stop first, then pay only the lower short-haul duty for your next flight. And if you're on a premium-class frequent flyer award, the difference in duty would more than pay for a Eurostar trip to catch a flight from Brussels or Paris.

(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins(at)mind.net. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money," is now available through http://www.mybusinesstravel.com or http://www.amazon.com)

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