n their zeal to raise cash, the liquidators of bankrupt Renaissance Cruises sold the rights to the name and the company logo. Understandable.

What we don't understand is why it is in anybody's interest to have the new owner of the Renaissance name sending "Dear Friend: We're back!" letters to travel agents while the old owner is attempting to recall commissions from those same agents with letters saying, "Dear Friend: Pay up!"

We understand that the new user of the name claims to have retained Online Vacation Center, an American Express representative, to act as its reservations department.

We also understand that the president and chief executive of Online Vacation Center is Ed Rudner, the former head of the old Renaissance Cruises and an architect of a sales and marketing strategy that, for most of that cruise line's existence, was widely perceived as hostile to travel agents.

And we suspect agents understand one more thing: You get to pick your friends.

• • •

Pick a number

obody feels good about airline bankruptcies and everybody feels bad for the employees, passengers, ticketholders, suppliers and travel agents who suffer the consequences.

Having said that, we're a little concerned that the Transportation Department is telling airlines how much of an administrative fee they can impose when honoring the tickets of bankrupt Vanguard Airlines.

It would be nice if we had a law saying that when a carrier suspends service, its competitors must honor its tickets at face value plus $25. But we don't.

What we do have is the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which had only this to say on this topic: that airlines shall provide transportation to the ticketholders of bankrupt airlines "to the extent practicable." That's it. The law says nothing about doing it for $100, for $25, for $10 or for free.

Nevertheless, the free spirits at the Transportation Department interpret the law to mean that airlines can charge no more than $25.

We would be more concerned about this back-door method of rate regulation were it not for two things. First, it's good for consumers. Second, this section of the law expires in May, so the DOT's offense to free-market sensibilities will be short-lived.

For the record, however, we'd prefer to stick to the spirit of the Airline Deregulation Act: No matter how bad of a job the marketplace is doing in setting airline fares and fees, the government should not set them.

If the DOT, in divining the intent of Congress, can get away with telling airlines what to charge, it can tell their agents and wholesalers what to charge -- and we do not want to go there.

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