Here’s why you should triple-check your reservations before you hit “confirm”

There’s an old saying that the devil is in the details. It’s especially relevant when you’re dealing with air travel. That’s because if you don’t pay careful attention to the details when making your reservations, there can be the devil to pay.

This past week we received three new cases with the same situation, an error in entering a family member’s name when making an air travel reservation. The problems that resulted were expensive and, in one case, cost the family their entire trip.

Consider what happened to Michel Pinault of Arlington, Mass. He booked a flight from Boston to Hong Kong for himself, his wife and two small children to visit her elderly parents. When they checked in for the Cathay Pacific flight, his wife’s ID was her passport, which was in her maiden name. Unfortunately, he reserved the ticket in her married name. That is a detail that Pinault didn’t double-check.

He tried to resolve the discrepancy at the ticket counter, asking the airline to reissue the ticket in her maiden name. The airline said it could not. It didn’t help that he had booked the trip through, an online travel agency (OTA). Cathay Pacific pointed the finger at JustFly, which pointed one right back at the airline, each saying it was up to the other to change the name or reissue the ticket. Neither would do anything, and the flight departed without Pinault’s family. They are out the cost of the tickets and say they cannot afford to buy new ones.

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The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) requires that the name on your ticket reservation exactly match the name on the form of ID you present when you check in. TSA allows 16 different forms of identification to be used for travel.

Whichever one of those you plan to use, double-check to make sure the name on your reservation matches it. If it doesn’t, the airline can refuse to check you in or TSA can refuse to let you through security screening, leaving you with a potentially expensive problem and little recourse.

Then there’s what happened to Rarione Maniece of Charlottesville, Va. She used her Expedia account to book a ticket for her mother. Maniece says the Expedia system apparently put her surname on the ticket, not her mother’s. She didn’t double-check everything before she hit “buy.”

Maniece spotted the error when she got the confirmation. She could and should have canceled the reservation at that time. If she had, she might have been protected by a Department of Transportation rule allowing for refunds if the reservation is cancelled within the first 24 hours after making it.

However, instead of canceling, she contacted the OTA and asked them to change the name on the ticket. How helpful do you think they were? She waited more than 24 hours for an Expedia representative to get back to her. Expedia wouldn’t make the change. So Maniece is out the $250 she paid for her mother’s ticket.

The third case this week involves Damon Terzaghi of Silver Spring, Md., who bought a $1,400 ticket on Air New Zealand for his son. The detail he missed: the way the reservation showed his son’s first name. Terzaghi admits that it was his mistake, and he’s willing to pay a change fee. But the airline is playing hardball, refusing to change the son’s first name on the ticket.

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Airlines and OTAs treat passengers this way because they can. I was unable to find any TSA regulation or government rule that prevents airlines from changing the name on a reservation or reissuing a ticket to correct an error. Whether they will do so is simply a matter of the particular carrier’s policy as spelled out in the terms and conditions on its website.

Going back to these cases, what they all have in common is that the person making the reservation didn’t pay attention to a critical detail – a family member’s name. I can understand, sort of, how that can happen. I go by “Abe,” but the actual name on my driver’s license and passport is “Abraham.” My wife has a similar situation with her name. I have almost made the mistake of using a wrong name when making a reservation for us. I have to remind myself to double-check all of the details.

Computers and the internet have made it fast and easy to find what you want, whether it’s merchandise or travel, and then just click “confirm” to buy. However, it is also a lot easier to make costly mistakes.

If you don’t pay attention to the wording that a reservation is nonrefundable, don’t expect the OTA or the travel provider to cut you a break if you want to cancel. They will say that mistake is on you. If you put the wrong name on a reservation, don’t expect any help from the OTA or the airline. They already have your money and won’t be inclined to give it back.

When you’re booking online, it’s up to you to look out for yourself. The people in the cases above learned expensive lessons. You can learn those lessons without it costing you cash if you take this to heart: Check, double-check, even triple-check all the details before you click “confirm.”

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Abe Wischnia

Abe started his working career as a television news reporter and newscaster before moving to corporate communications and investor relations. Now retired and having learned useful tips from, one of his volunteer activities is writing for us. Read more of Abe's stories here.

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