The Travel Troubleshooter: Why do I have to pay twice for the same ticket?

Question: I am hoping that you can help me with a current problem that I’m experiencing. My wife, 13-year-old stepson and 5-year-old daughter are taking our first big family vacation together to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

We booked the trip through Expedia a few months ago, but last week, when we reviewed our itinerary, we discovered that Expedia messed up my stepson’s last name (his is “Nielsen” while the rest of us are “Slain”).

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We have contacted both Expedia and our airline, Mexicana, but the answer is the same: Because the ticket is nontransferable, they can’t make the change. Well, we’re not trying to transfer the ticket; we’re trying to correct a mistake. Every other piece of information that we entered about Bailey, including his middle name and date of birth, matches up. We simply want him to be able to use the seat that we bought for him.

Some friends that we have talked to say that this shouldn’t be an issue because my wife and I can use our IDs to check in, get boarding passes issued, and go through TSA without ever having to show our children’s passports. When we get to customs, they will check the passports but not the tickets we used to fly. What is your take on this? — Jared Slain, Mattawan, Mich.

Answer: I wouldn’t risk it. It’s true that kids’ IDs aren’t checked as thoroughly as adults’ — I just experienced that this morning while traveling with my family — but that doesn’t apply to international flights. While it’s possible your airline or TSA might let this slide, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Is this Expedia’s fault? I don’t think so. Since you booked the flights through its website, you would have had to type in all of the passenger names. You goofed.

The question is, should you have to pay for a brand-new ticket? I don’t think so, but airline rules say otherwise. Air carriers want more money from you, so if you can’t pay for a new ticket, they’ll at least charge you a hefty change fee for fixing the ticket. I am not at all surprised to see Mexicana refusing to budge.

But Expedia’s refusal puzzles me. After all, it promises to take care of you from start to finish as a human travel agent would. I mean, you made an honest mistake. Why can’t the agency advocate for you?

This isn’t the end of your vacation. You could always get a passport for your stepson in your family name, which would cover him for this trip. Or you could ask Mexicana to make a notation in your reservation, which it could do for free. I’m sure this isn’t the first time the airline has come across this issue, and odds are, a helpful ticket agent would change the name at the airport at no charge.

In the end, neither Expedia nor Mexicana were required to do anything to help you. Technically, you needed to buy a new ticket.

But they should have helped. Like you, I think it’s wrong to essentially charge one passenger twice for the same ticket. So I contacted Expedia on your behalf. A few days later, you contacted the online agency to find out about the status of the ticket, and a representative told you “someone at a higher level” had approved the name change.

Have a great vacation.

(Note: Mexicana declared bankruptcy and suspended its flights a few months after this case was resolved.)

Photo: HBar rison/Flickr

51 thoughts on “The Travel Troubleshooter: Why do I have to pay twice for the same ticket?

  1. Chris, you said that the OP “goofed” on entering their son’s last name.  However, the way they posted, it sounded like they did enter the correct last name for the son but Expedia changed it to match everyone else’s name.  At least, that is how I read it.  Was there more that wasn’t shown?  If Expedia made the change, then it is up to Expedia to correct the problem.

    But I agree with this name change fee ripoff.  It is just a way for airlines to pad their pockets more.

    1. You have to enter your full name when you book through Expedia. If this had been a phone booking, he might have had a better case. Also, if he’d checked the reservation sooner, Expedia could have fixed the name without having to consult with the airline. Either way, this did eventually get fixed.

  2. The wrong name is the least of his problems. Mexicana ceased operations almost a year ago. Whatever name is on the tickets, he ain’t flying Mexicana.

      1. +2. Must be a slow day for Elliott.
        Nevertheless, if you read (defunct) Mexicana rules – No Name Changed Allowed. However, in GDS, name changes WERE allowed if the passenger was a Frequent Flyer (member of Mexicana’s club). So the go around was to enroll the family or the kid first and enter the FQTV info.
        That said, there WAS probably a way to also REISSUE the ticket with the correct name but after paying some fee (customarily $100 for most airlines). But since Mexicana hit the dust, these are all MOOT.

  3. I find it distubing that airlines and travel agents will not do something as simple as change the name of a 13 year old to the correct last name. DOB and all other info remains the same, so it’s not like you are trying to let someone else use the ticket. What should have been a simple phone request turned into a consumer needing help from an advocate.

    1. Travel agents have to follow the rules set by the carrier on the ticket.  We don’t get to do things a whim, it isn’t our product and we get fined for not following their rules.

      A letter off on a name is one thing, but to make a complete change from one name to another is another. 

  4. MikeZ – he didn’t use a real live human travel agent.  He booked his trip online through an online travel agency.  Like Chris said, he goofed.  Even if he did it over the phone, they aren’t travel agents, they are order takers.  Also, very doubtful that they would have changed the name to match everyone else. 

    Had I made that mistake as a real live travel agent, it’s me that would have paid out of pocket to get it corrected.  Book it yourself, you’re on your own.

  5. Airlines have a DOUBLE DIP these day. They save money to shrink their reservation center and squeeze the money out of the customer when something are wrong with the reservation, whoever the fault.
    10 years ago, the reservations are free by phone, and they maked money.

  6. What I find most disturbing in all of this is the OPs inability to notice this at time of booking.  Whether you’re buying via an opaque site or the airline’s website, purchasers are always given a screen that says, in essence, “Is everything correct?” This page has always come before I hit “Buy now”.

    It would seem reading comprehension skills would have fixed this before it became a problem.

    It’s like my mom always said, “If you can’t find the time to do it right, where do you find the time to do it over?”

      1. Nobody’s perfect. But one CAN find time to review or ponder what they’re about to do before jumping in, can’t they?

  7. I booked a flight for my then gf a few years ago (from UK-France) without realising that, although she’d legally changed her name from her birth name to her mum’s maiden name, her several-years-old passport was still in her birth name. However, the airline (Easyjet) were happy to accept the change-of-name certificate as proof that she was eligible to fly as the person in question.

    AIUI, a legal change-of-name certificate only costs a few tens of dollars in most states – possibly worth considering for anyone else who finds themselves in the same situation…

  8. I seriously doubt that any travel agency, online or not, would go through and change passengers names at random because they are not all the same on the same itenerary.  Many family sized groups I know travel together and have differing last names for various reasons.  None have ever been “changed” by the travel agency so they all match.  So if the name was “messed up” it was the doing of the OP.

    Maybe I am different than most people, but I always check any travel reservations as soon as I receive the confirmation email or documents to make sure everything is as expected.  It would seem to me that booking a family vacation the OP would have done the same checking especially since there is the situation of different last names.

    Another possiblilty for the different last names is the adoption process that is required in most states to change a step child’s last name to that of the new step father may have been in process at the time of the booking and the OP expected it to complete before the travel date.  The actual father could have gone to court to prevent the child’s last name from being changed thereby causing the name issue.

    Whatever the real reason, at least they were able to go on their vacation and were not left stranded by the airline going out of business like many travellers were.

  9. This isn’t the end of your vacation. You could always get a passport for your stepson in your family name, which would cover him for this trip
    The young man has a legal name and it takes legal steps to change a name before being allowed to get a passport in a name different than on a birth certificate. 

    1. I agree. This seems like a poorly thought out statement. The customer indicated that the child’s legal last name is different than the rest of the family’s. Since you have to provide legal documentation such as a birth certificate to get a passport, they can’t just “get a passport…in your family name.”

  10. Well, I think the airlines should be required to process name changes for clear legitimate issues (obvious mistake, legal name change in process or after purchase, etc).

    The airlines (and many here) claim that they shouldn’t be responsible for their “fat finger fares” that the customer assumed were legitimate and should be able to change the price/cancel later even if there is significant cost to the customer (hotels already booked, other good fares passed up, etc) — there’s no reason they can’t process these when there is basically zero cost to them.  Yeah, yeah, it costs time for an agent and computer cycles in the database system.  So what, changing your seat is just as much effort and most airlines let you do that 10 times a day if you want.  That’s just part of the cost of doing business.

    Ironically, this is the reason I prefer to book online — I have these issues when I call an agent (travel or airline).  My wife’s last name is different from mine and our kids, and they also often mess up the first names, despite them being common and me spelling them out clearly.  I much prefer to enter something and review it myself. 

  11. I have had problems with my last name as well, since some e-ticketing sites don’t allow for a space or a hyphen between names. My last name is legally MaidenName Husband’sName on my social security card, MaidenName-Husband’sName on my driver’s license, and, according to my most recent airline ticket, MaidenNameHusband’sN. At the gate the TSA guy tried to argue with me about the fact that my ticketed name did not match the name on my driver’s license, but (fortunately for me) he relented and let me go through.

    What may have happened with the original poster, too, is that the online form automatically filled in his stepson’s last name. And of course it is his fault for not double-checking before he hit the final button, but I’d like to think that a mistake like that could be rectified with a phone call.

    Additionally, I have heard of cases where there was a mere misspelling of a last name and the airline/travel company refused to change it. Of course they will refuse — they can force you to buy another ticket. Customer goodwill seems to be a low priority these days.

    1. Airline computers don’t recognize a hyphen.  My name is done the same as yours so the two names are run together.  Sounds like the TSA agent wasn’t seeing that.  The ticket can only hold so many characters in a name, so it is not unusual to find your boarding pass and ticket to not print out your full name it is exceeds the maximum allowance. 

      A mere misspelling isn’t an issue and we call the carrier and have it noted in the PNR.  We use to be able to reissue tickets…back in the olden days.  But people took advantage of the name correction and the airlines found a good revenue source.

      1. That’s good to know — too bad I encountered Mr. Hyper-vigilant.

        I have to say that I have received enough kindness from online agencies to be surprised when someone has trouble with them. Once I made a reservation for a flight to Budapest when it should have been Bucharest, and when I called Expedia 20 minutes later, the customer service representative allowed me to cancel the one reservation and make the proper one with no penalty. I was very grateful to her for that.

        1. Many airlines do give a 24 hour window for canceling a ticket without penalty giving you a full refund.  So I would think that the airline’s policy helped you more that the agency’s generousity did.  

          I am fairly certain that the OP could have corrected his issue as easily as you did your issue if he would have looked at the tickets immediately instead of months after they were purchased.

      2. Absolutely agree that the airlines took advantage of the name correction to squeeze the bucks out of the travelers pocket. It seems only in US. Last year, a British Airways put the wrong name of my brother-in-law in a OneWorld Round-the-World trip PNR. She only put a NOTE in the PNR and he could travel without any problem, even there 4 segments in the US.
        Myself I travel with a half of my name without hassle.
        By the way, the Canadian Passport Bureau Personnel suggest to me that I don’t put the hyphen in my passport Name and Surname.

  12. It costs the airline money when a Travel Agent, or online ticket website, issues a ticket. Even without paying a commision, the distribution systems take a percentage. Booking via the airline’s website makes them the most $.

    If an airline sees a travel agent, or ticket website, is involved, they will generally refer you back to the agency, or ticket website, for handling since they want the ticketing agent to handle it rather than incur the miniscule cost of handling.

    At that point, the agent, or person working at an online ticket website, must follow the airline rules…as they are both ticketing agent for the airline. A good travel agent can call the airline and obtain a waiver code, but the clerks working at the online ticket website are trained not to do that.

    Your best bet is to buy from the airline directly, or pay a fee to a real Travel Agent. In the OP’s case, a qualified, competent Travel Agent would have verified the individual names and other documentaion required for international travel and saved the headache. If this was booked on the airlines website, the OP could have appealed to the airline personally and gotten the change.

  13. Here’s an idea for those that are worrying about names not matching their ID exactly:
    If you can check in online and print your boarding passes, save a copy to your computer rather than send it to your printer. Then open paint or photoshop and just change the names yourself there. That way you can get through security no problem, but take a real one as well at the gate (they check that it matches their computer, not your ID).

    I’ve done this several times and it’s always worked.

    1. Ummm. Why have you had to Photoshop your boarding pass “several times”? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to just double check before you hit submit?

    2. That sounds like a brilliant solution for getting into security (especially if you happen to be on a terrorist watch list!) but I don’t understand: once you got to the gate, wouldn’t they notice that the name on your real ID didn’t match the name in their computer?

      1. My experience has been that at the gate, they usually just scan my ticket to make sure that it matches the computer reservation — I have never had to show ID before boarding. Which is kind of worrying, since obviously there is a way around the ID verification process.

        Of course, I only fly about 2-3 times a year, so maybe my experience is not common.

    3. I don’t understand why you don’t know your own legal name when you book your tickets. If you have done this several times before, I would think that booking the ticket correctly in the first instance would make more sense. 

      1. It’s just a matter of making mistakes or small screw-ups like the OP here rather than not knowing your own name. Tell that to Chris and whoever he helps with issues like this.

    4. I can understand screwing up once.

      But screwing up several times? Maybe you should stop booking your own tickets online.

      1. I recall reading recently about how one man has done this repeatedly to document this very basic flaw in security.  (If I recall right, the boarding pass read “Adolf Hitler”.)  @OrangeJuice isn’t suggesting anything that hasn’t already been done and publicly discussed.  What it does suggest to me is that if @OrangeJuice has done this “several times” is that he’s either remarkably fumble-fingered when typing or that changing names to remedy a “mistake” isn’t all that he/she is doing.

  14. So wait a minute….Expedia should pay for the OPs mistake?  I’m sorry, I don’t get it.  If they could have got Mexicana to just do an exchange, it would have cost a minimum of $150.  Why should Expedia pay for that?  And MikeZ – why would yo blame a Travel Agent as I “why won’t they do something so simply”?  If a Travel Agent just went in and changed a name, s/he would be subject to a very large “debit memo” a “fine” if you will, that would have been MUCH higher than $150.  When I make a mistake, I correct it and pay the penalties, but I send my clients the booking to review and approve before I ticket and I only ticket after they’ve reviewed and approved.  If they don’t remember the way their name appears on the Passport and they tell me the wrong thing AND they approve the booking for ticketing, I am not going to pay the cost of correction.

    And Orangejuice – if you get caught, you are in BIG trouble.  The TSA Agent marks your boarding pass in pen after they check it – often in a color – if a Gate Agent notices that you are handing him/her an unmarked boarding pass, you will be in deep trouble.

    1. Gate agents don’t care about boarding pass markings – connecting flights never have boarding pass markings, and you can always just get a new boarding pass at the gate by giving them your booking code and saying you lost yours

      1. um, they do if you have a certain kind of BP. and i’m sure you don’t know what the difference is between the one that they have to verify has been marked by TSA and the one they don’t. we do.  please stop spreading this misinformation.

        1. And again, you can just get a new BP from automatic kiosks (if the airport has them) or the gate agent if you just say that you lost your boarding pass. Those won’t have markings so are they invalid?

          1. then if your reprinted BP comes up with the “certain” markers that we recognize, you are supposed to be sent back to the TSA checkpoint, even if that means missing your, PLEASE STOP.

          2. Why go to all that trouble?  Why not just ticket it correctly?  I do hope you realize that what you are doing is wrong and illegal.  I hope you get caught and the punishment you deserve. 

          3. Well, tell Chris that whenever he helps someone with issues like this.
            And if it really is wrong and illegal (why?) then the airlines/TSA would actually figure out how to enforce and care about it. Or it doesn’t matter to them.

          4. Really?  Drunk driving is illegal and wrong but people get away with that all the time, does that mean that it really isn’t wrong or that law enforcement doesn’t care?  I can think of a lot of illegal activities that may not have an effective method for enforcing or preventing, it doesn’t mean that it is ok. 

          5. Why is it ‘illegal’? It’s a matter of airline policy, not actual law. Police do crack down on drunk driving (DUI checkpoints or whatever else), and if the airline wanted to prevent stuff like this they could.

            You are not pretending to be someone else (a fake ID would be, which is illegal) and it’s up to the airline and TSA to enforce their own policies and regulations

          6. Ok, if you believe their is nothing illegal about altering your boarding pass and using it to gain access to a secured area in an airport then why don’t you give me your real name so that I can forward it to the Transporation Security Administration? 

          7. OJ – it is technically forgery, which is illegal. AND Chris would NEVER suggest something as lamebrained as this!

          8. Really?  Drunk driving is illegal and wrong but people get away with that all the time, does that mean that it really isn’t wrong or that law enforcement doesn’t care?  I can think of a lot of illegal activities that may not have an effective method for enforcing or preventing, it doesn’t mean that it is ok. 

  15. as a ticket agent for a major airline for over a decade, i can say with all honesty that i have never charged a customer for a name change on a misspelling or an obvious mistake/correction. maybe that’s just me, maybe that’s just my company.

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