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.

  • AJPeabody

    At this point, buying a ticket is like walking through a forest where hunters have set traps: Tripwires, deadfalls, hidden spikes, etc., which have to be anticipated and avoided, along with poison ivy and ticks. One false move and BAM!

  • BubbaJoe123

    Really, it’s not anything like that at all. It’s much more “don’t wander into traffic while playing Candy Crush on your phone.”

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    right, I mean how hard is it to copy the details off your ID? And it’s not like this is a new thing, it’s been like this for 15 years at least

  • thinfool

    Apparently the PR value of doing something easy and positive for the customer is $0.00 or less.

  • Alan Gore

    Every time they can resell to someone else the ticket you thought you bought, cha-ching!

  • greg watson

    Whenever I travel, I take out our passports & copy the exact information to my reservations. I notice that not many people have said they entered an incorrect passport / i.d. number. Book with caution, although it would be a better world if airlines / businesses showed a little more compassion & understanding.

  • Bill___A

    “Maniece says the Expedia system apparently put her surname on the ticket, not her mother’s” Really? “the computer did it?”
    Yes, triple check AND don’t blame others.

  • Alan Gore

    A better analogy is that they shove you onto a busy Interstate and chortle while you desperately try to thread your way through the traffic back to safety.

    Herewith, a constructive suggestion. Being just back from a trip, I note that many of the airport checkin kiosks now have passport readers that scan your ID page to connect to your reservation. DIA even has one that reads your passport and leads you through a customs declaration. Eventually, this will replace those infernal little handwritten forms you have to chickenscratch on the last segment of an international journey.

    Why not put this technology into airline reservation apps, having it also accept driver licenses for domestic travel, generating foolproof passenger information the first time? Phone cameras can scan in bank checks now, so they should be reliable enough for this application.

  • Lindabator

    unfortunately, people have let things slide, and take no responsibility – then want everyone else to cover their butts – doesn’t work that way.

  • Michael__K

    People have always fallen for the maiden/married name pitfall. Human beings are human and make mistakes, even when they aren’t distracted or multi-tasking. Even airline employees make their share of mistakes and publish their share of fat finger fares.
    It’s a fairly recent phenomenon that airlines inflexibly prey on obvious passenger mistakes to pocket thousands in profits rather than exercise discretion and customer service and attempt to work with the customer.

  • jsn55

    In Pinault’s case, was the family able to cancel all the tix and receive a credit towards a future flight, less the cancellation fee?

    I am disgusted by this blatant gouging by the airlines. My message is this: If a name needs to be changed and it makes sense with proper documentation, just change it. Charge a small fee to recoup the costs of your agent’s ten minutes if you must. If the passenger does it herself on the computer, it costs you nothing. If I want to change my flight date more than 30 days out, let me change it on your website without a charge. Inside 30 days, charge a small fee to cover your costs. By all means, charge extra for a checked bag, a meal, a cocktail, a better seat Stop cheating your customers just because you can.

  • Annie M

    And this is a travel agents biggest fear. If we spell it wrong, we are buying a new ticket for our customer.

  • Chris_In_NC

    So true…. 20 years ago, the same mistakes happened, but the agents were given the discretion to fix things. Now, its a “no waivers, no favors” policy.

  • Patrica

    My disabled sister didn’t look at EVERY detail. At the airport on the return flight, she discovered In the small print, that her “free check in luggage” was not covered by the partner airline. As I recall, that warning consisted of 4 words, no the details I used. She was shocked that a “partner” wasn’t much, merely someone they hook up with to transport you. I wish they’d have a bullet point system of “warnings” “cautions” instead of hidden on your confirmation . I Agree AJ!

  • Patrica

    yes, there is auto fill in by computer! And boy does it need to be watched.

  • Daddydo

    I love this article! It proves that “measure twice / cut once” pays off. It happens a hundred times a day.
    I do know that you are very supportive of store front travel agents. We are not perfect, but I have “never” had an airline refuse to assist us is any of the 3 situations in the commentary; yes I have done all 3 in the past. “What is the name that appears on your passport or what name appears on the driver’s license are 2 very different answers. Well, you can have up to xxx errors on the name is a rule long expired. We also request a scan of either form of ID and then it is all on our shoulders if there is an error.
    But, back to the subject, travel agents generally can get these things fixed a lot easier than the people mentioned above. $1000’s were lost against my 30.00 fee.

  • Attention All Passengers

    Changing an international ticket is really not as easy as you perceive it to be. Once a ticket is issued (usually weeks or months in advance) and then you want to do a name change, it essentially involves canceling and rebooking the ticket and starting over. Will the fare class you booked be available? Will it price out the same exact way ?…No, not likely at all. Pricing changes, taxes fluctuate day to day, the flight might not even be available in any class to be rebooked, so no, a name change does not involve crossing out the old name and writing in the new or cutting and pasting in the new name – it’s all about the actual ticket – booking class, faring, penalties involved etc.

  • Pegtoo

    Especially when entering airport codes!!!

  • Extramail

    Except that I live in a state that, come January, my drivers license will not be accepted as proof of identity. Hoping that gets changed but you do have a good idea.

  • Extramail

    The other thing you have to double check is spell check. My name gets auto corrected more times than I care to count so I’m trained to double check.

  • Alan Gore

    There is no IT reason why a name change has to involve ” canceling and rebooking the ticket and starting over.” The reservation isn’t being changed, just the name field in the passenger record. That’s an update in place of a single row in the database. If your employer told you that such an operation involved canceling and rebooking a ticket, he was feeding you the fake line they use to screw people over – you as an agent as well as the passenger, because if you knew how simple the actual internals of making a name change were, your first instinct would undoubtedly be to help a passenger having problems – just as you were allowed to do in the old days.

  • Attention All Passengers

    Once a major change is made on a PNR (a name change would be one item), it will not retain the same fare and it is not going to reprice automatically with the same (original) fare. I don’t know of any airline system that will do this (Sabre, Apollo), certainly not CO’s SHARES, the most antiquated thing out there. I do know of the one that used to exist and it was able to be done (ancient history).

  • Alan Gore

    There is a federal Real ID Act, which sets a common standard for how driver licenses and state ID cards are to be formatted. A few states, mine included, are not on the Real ID standard yet.

  • Alan Gore

    That’s just a company policy, not a technical IT reason.

  • PsyGuy

    People just need to learn how to type, especially in a transaction with real economic consequences. I blame autocorrect, but really who doesn’t know how to spell their name or their wife’s name and why aren’t you reading the exact spelling from their travel document right in front of you. I get busy dad, lot’s of things on your plate, you think this one is easy, and move on to the next.

    They will say that mistake “is on you”, because they are right, it’s your fault, life can be a cruel teacher.

  • PsyGuy

    Why would anyone walk through a forest filled with traps, I’d just take an Uber.

  • PsyGuy

    Now that I agree with, or don’t run into traffic because you’re playing Poekmon GO and you see a Squirtle across the intersection. I’ve seen augmented reality head rigs, and they need to come with warnings not to use them outside.

  • PsyGuy

    DIA just started a new fingerprint scanner system that links your fingerprint and scanning stations to your passport and your reservation.

  • PsyGuy

    You know Americans have the LOWEST percentage of passport ownership among first world nations.

  • PsyGuy

    Get a passport card.

  • PsyGuy

    The savings aren’t even substantial, it’s literally a few bucks difference.

  • PsyGuy

    It would still work at smaller airports that don’t scan tickets and bar codes.

  • PsyGuy

    I have to agree, however the airlines could change those policies.

  • PsyGuy

    Then you’d be looking for a new job.

  • PsyGuy

    Don’t blame inanimate machines either.

  • PsyGuy

    Airlines aren’t run on recovering costs, but generating profit.

  • PsyGuy

    Was probably still cheaper than a new ticket.

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