Those four missing letters on your child’s airline ticket will cost you $2,000

Damon Terzaghi plans a trip to New Zealand to introduce his recently born child to his family. When making the reservations, he mistakenly uses his stepson’s nickname on one of the four tickets. Of course, it doesn’t match the name on his stepson’s passport.

The difference is only four letters — “Nico” instead of “Nicholas” — but Air New Zealand says his only recourse is to cancel all four tickets and pay $2,000 in change fees to rebook them correctly. Can our advocates persuade Air New Zealand to bend its rules?

Terzaghi’s case is one that we’ve seen a lot recently. It reinforces the axiom we preach nearly ad nauseam: Make sure that all of the information on your booking is correct before you hit the “Enter” key.

Our advocates are generally sympathetic in cases like this, but usually the outcomes are not positive. Rarely are we able to persuade an airline, hotel or event ticket company to give our readers a break.

Terzaghi booked his tickets through Kayak.com, which routed him to JustFly.com. This further complicated his case. On our website, we strongly urge our readers not to use a third party to book airfare. Doing so makes it much more difficult to resolve issues when they arise.

“I spoke with Air New Zealand on their customer service line several times,” Terzaghi says. “I used the ‘contact’ form on their website and I emailed the corporate contacts that I found on your website.”

That’s a good thing.

In his polite and concise letter to Air New Zealand, he even fell on his sword, telling them, “I recognize that this is my own mistake and understand that there might be some change fee associated with the correction. However, I have been unable to secure any kind of resolution. When speaking with your representatives, they say that I must make the change through the website used to book the tickets.”

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Even when our advocate contacted Air New Zealand, it stood firm in its denial of our request.

Names on international bookings must align with the name on the passport, for security and legal reasons.

While we are able to make changes to names on bookings that only involve travel on Air New Zealand operated services, we are unable to make changes to names on tickets for any flight that is operated by another airline. In this case we require the ticket to be cancelled and a new one issued.

Should a booking that includes other airlines be made via a travel agent, the customer will need to contact their travel agent who will follow the same steps outlined above to correct the name error.

In his case, that is a double whammy. His return flight to Washington National is operated by United, and his travel agent is JustFly.

He contacted JustFly, again using the contacts on our website. JustFly informed him that his only option was to cancel all four tickets and rebook the entire trip at the cost of $500 per ticket, or $2,000. To make matters worse, it said he may also have to pay any fare differential between his original fare and the new one.

A $2,000 change fee is a big hit for anyone, but especially for a family with young children. Unfortunately, we have no relationship with JustFly, and they typically ignore our emails.

Despite our best efforts, neither Air New Zealand nor JustFly is willing to help him or provide another, less costly option. For those reasons, we were left with no choice other than to dismiss his case.

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This is an expensive lesson for Terzaghi and his family, and I wish there was something more we could do.


Chip Hiebler

Chip enjoyed a successful career in the IT field. Now he's retired and splits his time between experiencing destinations and cultures beyond his home in Baltimore and generally having fun. He currently supports the mission of Elliott.org as the co-director of the research department.

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