ome folks at Carnival Cruise Lines just don't get it. They're scratching their heads. They don't understand why every cruise line hasn't copied the Carnival Vacation Guarantee, the 3-year-old policy that lets Carnival guests cut and run at the next port, with a refund, if they don't like their cruise. What a sales tool!

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Thud. Not even Carnival's sister brands matched.

So it falls to Travel Services International, the industry's largest cruise retailer, to experiment with a guarantee during the first quarter of this year.

It's a gamble for any retailer to guarantee a product that it doesn't produce. Rosenbluth Interactive, the only other travel retailer to have done anything similar, is, like TSI, very large and very able to handle a little risk. Rosenbluth can afford to offer $200 to the small number of clients whose flights are an hour late, and TSI can afford to arrange a flight home now and then for the few cruise passengers who are going to storm off one of today's cruise ships in disgust.

Still, we give credit to these retailers for coming up with these product guarantees, but, like Carnival, we're scratching our heads a little, too. Why aren't we hearing from the producers of the product? Wouldn't a product guarantee level the playing field for all the small travel agencies they claim to love so much?

Secretary Mineta

t was an inspired choice. There may be a number of people who would make an excellent secretary of transportation for the incoming administration, but few could bring to the job the experience and prestige of commerce secretary and former congressman Norman Y. Mineta. This nomination will make the Department of Transportation a focal point for the kind of bipartisan problem-solving that George W. Bush has promised, and that is something to look forward to.

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