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How to Get a Passport or Passport Pages in a Hurry

by on March 22, 2011 · 24 comments

in How To Guides, Points Guy Pointers

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March has been a busy international travel month for me. In 5 weeks I’ll make 4 trips to Europe, racking up a ton of miles and passport stamps. However, on my return trip from Spain, I was somewhat bitched out by a US Immigration officer at JFK for not having enough open spots to stamp in my passport.

First of all, why do we need manual stamps? Isn’t everything about our lives recorded electronically anyway? I wasn’t in the mood to pose such questions to the officer, however, so I acted dumb, smiled and slinked away with a promise to get it fixed.

Not wanting to get denied entry to a country over lack of passport space, I immediately started my research. Since I realized this issue on a Sunday and my next trans-Atlantic flight was on a Friday I didn’t have the time to deal with mailing my passport somewhere and hoping it got back to me in time. Even with overnight mail, I still felt nervous about letting my passport out of my possession.

Most people told me to just pay an agency to do the dirty work for me, but seeing as that would cost me over $300 and I’d still have to give up possession of my beloved passport, I kept looking.

I had heard that there was a government-run US Passport office in NYC so I searched for reviews. One of the most useful pages I found was the Yelp listing, which gave it nearly 5 stars. A government agency getting 5 stars on Yelp? Something must be wrong.

But the more I researched it seemed like this was my best option. I went to the website and started the process of scheduling an appointment:
“Make an appointment 24 hours a day, 7 days a week using our automated appointment system at 1-877-487-2778.”

The automated system gave me an appointment date one week later – the Monday after I was supposed to return from Stockholm. Not going to work. So I called back and spoke to a representative who basically said, “Tough **** you can go to the Philadelphia or South Norwalk, Connecticut offices – they have open appointments.”

I hung up the phone and briefly considered, but both locations would require me to waste a bunch of time – a resource I don’t seem to have enough of lately. I then remembered reading a comment on Yelp that someone went to the NYC office without an appointment and didn’t have an issue, so I decided that would be the route I’d try. I’d go Thursday so just in case I got rejected I could do the Connecticut option on Friday if need be. However, I’d make the appointment for next Monday and use that confirmation number in case I was asked. If pressed on it I’d play dumb.

On Thursday morning I headed to the Hudson and Houston St. location and due to traffic got there later than expected – around 8:00 am (the office opens at 7:30am). I was worried because I heard there were long lines, but when I walked in I was the only person to go through security. The security screener was friendly, but firmly stated no food, drink, or cameras and he checked to see if I had my itinerary showing that I had a flight within two weeks. That piece of paper would turn out to be the only thing people cared about


Thanks to hundreds of run-ins with TSA, going through security was a breeze and I think I noticed the security guard giving me a weird look as I unknowingly slipped into my airport routine.  In one fell swoop rapidly taking all valuables out of my pockets; watch off, belt off, walking through the metal detector (as if I had a line of impatient business travelers waiting behind me).

Once through security I approached the reception desk and before I could say anything the rep asked for my itinerary showing a flight departure within 14 days. I showed my delta.com printout and she gave me a number and form to fill out. Once I had them I went up to the 10th floor to wait my turn.

My wait only ended up being about 30 minutes and during that time I got to watch tons of people frantically beg for favors and mercy. One woman actually admitted she had no idea she needed a passport to travel and actually showed up at JFK without one and tried to board a flight to Europe. Ridiculous.

Before I knew it, my number was called and I approached the window. The man behind the window was clearly a brand new employee, since he had a more seasoned rep guiding him through the process. I handed him my form, passport and confirmation number. He actually looked at the confirmation number and said, “What the heck is this? Your phone number?” He wished. But seriously, it just goes to show that they don’t care if you have an appointment or not.

Two minutes later my paperwork was processed, my wallet was $142 lighter (at least I was able to use a points earning credit card!) and I was told to come back between 12 – 2pm for pickup. Wow. Besides the fact that I had to pay $142 for pieces of paper that would be glued into my passport, I thought the whole process was pretty efficient – at least for a government agency.

I came back at 1pm and waited 5 minutes before walking out with my new and improved, much thicker passport. As TPG reader Sheri pointed out I probably should have just gotten a new passport, but that would have required more paperwork and I’m weirdly attached to my current passport.

That being said, after waiting at JFK for about an hour this Sunday, I promptly applied for the Global Entry program this week. I paid my $100 fee and submitted the application, so I’ll do a full post on that process when I’m finally (hopefully) approved.

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  • Gregory

    Great post, Brian. I was about to recommend Global Entry until I saw the end of the post. After a fairly unbearable passport control and customs situation in MIA in early January, I took the plunge. The application process was easy, I heard back within a few weeks and was able to schedule an appointment at JFK for the following Saturday. I’ve now used it twice (coming back from Stockholm and Copenhagen) and, I have to be honest, it’s the best $100 I’ve spent (except for those two $150 fares to ARN & CPH!). I’ve been the one and only person in line both times and have averaged about 12 minutes from the jetway to a taxi which is no small feat at JFK.

    Good luck!

  • Glen

    $142 just to put additional pages in a passport? Wow!

  • Howie

    Best place to get pages added is at a US Embassy abroad…added pages in 15 min at the US Embassy in Vientiane, Laos.

  • The Points Guy

    @Gregory- There is nothing worse than queueing for 45 minutes in the hot immigration control area after a transatlantic flight. I’m sure my $100 investment will pay itself off many times over.

    @Glen- yep. $82 was the normal fee- $60 “expedite” fee tacked on as well

    @Howie- I heard that embassies abroad now charge the same fee for extra pages. Knowing that, I didn’t want to waste any precious time abroad at the US embasssy since my past couple trips have been quick ones. If i was abroad for a while, I would have considered it. A good option nonetheless

  • HoKo

    @Howie Did you have to pay the same exorbitant fee for adding the pages, if not how long ago did you do it?

  • Louise

    Thanks for the reminder, my husband is down to one last box on his passport. Had to cancel a trip to MSY for more pages when snow hit ATL in January. Luckily on return from our trip right after that immigrations rep @ ATL offered not to stamp to save space. You’d think having the busiest airport in the world would = having a passport office in Atlanta. But another excuse to visit New Orleans works for me too. We’re also considering Global Entry, interested to hear about your experience.

  • Trench

    Most US Embassies overseas will add amendment pages to your passport free while you wait without an appointment.

  • The Points Guy

    @Louise- thats crazy ATL doesn’t have an office!

    @Trench- from what I’ve read, that policy stopped last summer when they instituted all of the new, crazy, fees. Apparently you still have to pay the fee AND waste precious vacation time, thats why I did it in NY before my trip

  • D

    Having recently returned from a three week trip in Asia, which resulted in some pretty Visa stamps in my passport, but then left it almost completely filled up, I am wrestling w/the idea of getting more pages for a passport that expires in 4 years- for $80, or just getting a renewal for $110 that would be good for 10 years. I too am kind of attached to the current passport, but cheapness/frugality (!) may win out. I am amazed that it costs $80 to put a few more pages in my passport.

  • Howie

    @HoKo – this was before they instituted the fee…but it was very fast and convenient. Probably depends on the country as to how convenient.

  • Todd

    I did this at the DC office and picked up my passport in 24hr. It was shockingly painless and well run for a government agency. I spent less than an hour total in the office waiting/applying/picking up.

  • http://www.ConfessionsOfATravelJunkie.com Joseph Linaschke

    Oh man I wish this posted 24 hours earlier! I need pages in my passport and was in Los Angeles yesterday, but couldn’t get an appointment, so didn’t go. I have one day back in a city with an office—April 4, and I fly to Vietnam on the 5th!

    I have pages 22-24 blank, labeled “amendment pages”, which I’ve been advised “don’t count” and I could have troubles entering Vietnam with just those. So, now I have an 8am appointment the day before I leave and will have to beg that they return the passport same-day.

    Also I was told $142 is the fee—rush or not.

    Also also, I investigated using a service like CIBT but they charge $110 for their service plus I think it was another $135 for a rush, on top of the $142 fee! They could arrange the Vietnam visa in advance too—for a grand total of over $600 (!!!!!).

    Meanwhile, my girlfriend (Slovenian citizen) got a brand new passport in a week for €32 or something like that (in her country of course).

    -Joseph

  • Brad

    The Global Entry program is nothing short of awesome! Especially for international trips that just require a carry-on bag, as you can clear immigration and customs faster then it takes to read this sentence… (Ok, maybe not that quick, but pretty darn close) Plus, being one of the first people at the baggage claim allows you to claim your spot when waiting for luggage.

  • TravelinWilly

    I’ve had to get inserts at Surabaya, Indonesia, then in Johannesburg, SA, and then in Kampala, Uganda. All in the same passport. I had to laugh when I got my passport renewed in 2009 and was told that there would be no inserts included in new passports – my new passport arrived with an insert and i never had to ask, so at least *someone* is thinking logically.

    Btw, the RSA will send you back on you arriving carrier’s next flight out if you don’t have 2 blank pages when you arrive there.

  • HoKo

    @Howie

    Shucks! Thanks for the info though

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  • Ismail Elshareef

    I love this blog! I’m running out of pages fast on my passport and it’s good to know that in a pinch I can get more added without major hassle.

    I also have Global Entry (just got approved last Wednesday) and I’m looking forward to use that convenience soon.

    Keep it up! Love your blog.

  • Mike

    Thanks, we have our appointment using the automated system and will have our extra pages in time.

  • Travler to India

    FYI: when you get a new passport, they’ll mail the old one back. I love my old passports. Do you know how many times they can sew in new pages in your passport?

    What is Global Entry?

  • Pingback: How To Get A Second Passport | The Points Guy

  • Mike Cohen

    Just used the NY Passport office. Got a new passport in less than two hours – only about ten minutes on all lines combined… Extra pages, new passport, second passport – all done on the spot. Patients and a smile don’t hurt…

  • cocoabutter

    I believe you get a maximum of three additional page requests. I’m about to ask for my third and last batch. After that, you have to apply for a thicker passport.

  • Charlie Kelly

    If you can’t get an appointment at a Regional Passport Agency: http://passportsonline.org/regional-passport-agency/ then you can always use an expeditor. They can get your passport in 24 hours and all without the appointment.

  • Charlie Kelly

    No way! I paid $142 in India….. :(

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