An item in the Coming and Going column in Travel section, which is printed in advance, reports that Mexico had begun requiring people traveling into Mexico by car to pay a refundable deposit. After Travel went to press, the Mexican government suspended the program until further notice. No deposit required to drive a car into Mexico. For more information, contact the Embassy of Mexico at 202-728-1600. (Published 12/15/99)

WALLET WATCH

Peso Through the Nose

If you're planning to drive into Mexico, carry a credit card with a lot of available credit. Last week Mexico launched a maddening, complex program that requires those traveling by car from the U.S. to pay a refundable fee ranging from $400 to $800. The reason? Mexico's treasury department wants to screen out illegal auto imports and plump sales of made-in-Mexico models. Tourists are simply getting tangled in the net.

The deposit, which applies to rentals too, varies with the car's age: $800 for 1999-2000 models, $600 for 1993-1998, $400 for pre-1993. Credit cards--Visa, MasterCard, Diner's Club and American Express--are (generally) accepted, but you should carry an internationally inclined ATM card in case cash is needed; one weary Texas travel agent advises to "be prepared for surprises" like that. You get your money back--at any border crossing--when you leave. Make sure you have a car title or rental contract that matches your photo ID. American tourists also must pay a $16.60 visitors fee, implemented this summer, if they're heading to any Mexican destination beyond the border zone.

Exceptions: You don't pay a car deposit if you're traveling only within 15.5 miles of the border, or within Baja California and Sonora.

Info: Embassy of Mexico, 202-728-1600. A State Department public announcement provides more details-- 202-647-5225 or http://travel.state .gov/mexico_announce.html)

N.B. Avoid the whole deposit mess by flying into Mexico and renting a car there.

YOU BETTER WATCH OUT

The Thought Counts

Many travelers would love to receive a vacation as a holiday gift--but finding a way to give it is tricky. Unique among major Web travel sites, Preview Travel is selling gift certificates for air trips booked on its site. That's good, but it falls short of letting giftees travel wherever the cash value will carry them.

Certificates, valid for a year, are available for $50, $100 and $150. But only one certificate can be used per purchase, which effectively limits maximum gift value to a $150 discount per flight. To increase the value, give a couple or family one certificate per person; if they book separately, each gets the discount. Details: www.previewtravel.com/gift.

Expedia offers gift certificates from partners, including the Cruise Outlet and Starwood Vacations. Most carry restrictions (dates, times, places) that may annoy a loved one. Airlines, cruise lines and resorts also have gift certificates, often for higher amounts and highly restricted. Consider restrictions' impact before you give.

Preview likely will merge with Travelocity in early 2000. Though the companies are restrained from discussing plans, they don't anticipate problems redeeming Preview certificates after the merger.

UPRIGHT AND LOCKED

US Air's Holiday Gift

Area travelers concerned that a flight attendants' strike may ground US Airways over the holiday season can relax. We'll spare you the details, but thanks to the status of the talks and various labor negotiation rules, the Association of Flight Attendants and US Airways agree the first possibility of a strike would occur Jan. 15, long after holiday travel has been completed.

Bargain of the week

Holiday Ins and Outs

Most major airlines, including US Airways and Northwest, are offering holiday sale fares for domestic travel. Each airline is offering a slightly different version of the sale, but the lowest fares apply for travel Dec. 16, 25 or 31, and Jan. 1 or 5-8. Saturday night stays are not required. Advance-purchase requirements vary from zero to seven days. Ticket sale deadlines vary, but some airlines require purchase by midnight today. Sample fares: $94 between BWI and New York, $152 between Dulles and Orlando.

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cogo@washpost.com. By fax: 202-334-1069. By mail: CoGo, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Include your name and phone number.