A self-booking mistake cost this traveler $1,300

By | May 2nd, 2017

It was a tiny error. But a costly one.

Last March, Sharon Mixon bought two tickets from Orlando to Auckland, New Zealand. But a month before departure, she realized that the names on the tickets didn’t exactly match the names on their passports. In today’s travel environment that could have created big problems during their trip. As it turns out, it created big problems before the trip even began.

“We booked flights through Air New Zealand that included a segment on United from Orlando to Houston,” she told us. “The two airlines are partners, but not very cooperative partners. When calling Air New Zealand a month before departure to adjust the names on the tickets — adding a Jr. to one and a maiden name to the other, so the tickets would read exactly the same as our passports — Air New Zealand made the changes and charged a change fee for each ticket from Houston to Auckland. Fair enough.”

Unfortunately, the flight segment from Orlando was another matter.

“Air New Zealand said it was ‘locked out’ of making changes to the United Airlines flights and indicated we would have to call United to get the changes made. We called and were forced to cancel the original tickets and pay over $1,300 for two new ones to get from Orlando to Houston and back.”

She attempted to get a refund of the cost of those new tickets, and what followed was a telling lesson in the complexities of “code-share agreements.“


“We have tried working with United Airlines’ refund department, but it says any refund must come from Air New Zealand. Air New Zealand says funds have to come from United.”

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In an email, Air New Zealand explained to her that part of the reason obtaining a refund was problematic.

“Unfortunately we are not able to provide a refund for the original flights between Orlando and Houston as these sectors were part of a ‘sale’ fare which is at a heavily discounted rate, meaning the domestic US flights are effectively added to the itinerary at no extra cost. A direct fare from Houston to Auckland is actually more expensive than the promotional sale fare you purchased for the longer journey from Orlando to Auckland.”

So there you have the good and bad of code-share agreements all in one example. Mixon had scored a terrific deal for her flight, but when she made a mistake, that terrific deal vanished into the complexities of such agreements. Air New Zealand’s agreement with United didn’t allow them to make an adjustment in the names on the tickets for the United portion of the trip, and because the ticket was issued by Air New Zealand, United wouldn’t do it.

The takeaway from this story? Always be absolutely certain that the name on your airplane tickets exactly matches the name on your passport.

Sadly, intervention by our advocates couldn’t help either, so we must file this under Case Dismissed.

Who was responsible for this mess?

View Results

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  • Alan Gore

    In the forthcoming Passenger Bill of Rights, there has to be a provision nixing name error fee gouging. The actual IT cost of making this “update in place” to a passenger record is close to zero. $25 would more than cover the cost.

  • BubbaJoe123

    The “junior” I would have just ignored (I have a suffix on my name and on my passport, but not on most of my airline tickets, and it’s never been an issue). Maiden name (i.e. different last name) is a different question entirely, though.

  • Hanope

    I’ve bought international tickels over the internet many times. In every case, I’ve had to include my passport humber, forcing me to get out my passport to enter the number. That provides me with the opportunity to double check that the names are exact with my passport.

  • Rinacres

    I have also bought int’l tickets online many times, and never have to enter the pp# at that moment. It requests the number, but the field is not mandatory and I am always able to go back into my booking later and add the pp#. That being said, I am always careful to use my full name, as it is on my pp, when booking as I usually go with a shortened version of my name on everything else, including DL, just to be sure I avoid any problems like this.

  • FQTVLR

    When I booked with Air New Zealand the passenger detail page was very clear about putting in the names exactly as they appear on the passport (2014) . The LW is completely at fault here for not reading and then completing the information that was requested. Paying a change fee is reasonable to correct the names. Being required to purchase completely new tickets to Houston for $1300.00 is highway (skyway?) robbery. The entire ticket should have been changed for the one fee even if two different carriers were involved. As has been noted here time and time again correcting a name on an airline ticket is not rocket science . This is a very expensive and completely avoidable lesson.

  • Rebecca

    I agree that for obvious errors, that’s perfectly reasonable. The problem becomes what happens when it isn’t an obvious error? In this case, adding a Jr to a name seems reasonable enough. But a maiden name? That means a completely different name. I suppose so long as the date of birth is still the same, it’s reasonable. Because the statistical likliehood of someone with the same first name and date of birth using a ticket intended for someone else is almost zero. So I’d add to your perfectly reasonable $25 fee, the date of birth must be the same as that of the original ticket holder.

  • Rebecca

    While it isn’t rocket science, you also have to look at it from the company’s perspective. They can’t let front line customer service people, or even their direct supervisors, have access to change names on tickets. It exposes them to fraud and also other valid terrorism related concerns. While I agree $1300 isn’t reasonable, I don’t think no fee is reasonable either. It isn’t like they don’t make it glaringly obvious to enter your name exactly as it appears. A small fee to discourage people from mistyping and/or not checking their passport/ID and to cover the overhead associated with employing a high level supervisor to correct it is not unreasonable. Alan suggested $25 and I find that inherently reasonable. Enough to deter people from doing it, and enough to cover the cost of employing someone with access to it.

  • FQTVLR

    Confused here as I did say a change fee was appropriate but that the $1300 was not.

  • sirwired

    I’m of the view that for an obvious mistake, a reasonable fee, say $30/ticket is fine.

    Certainly the airlines have a strong interest in preventing ticket arbitrage (buying cheap leisure fares and then selling them at a markup to last-minute travelers) but fixes like Will vs. William, adding Jr., spelling mistakes, maiden vs. middle name, etc. don’t fit that category. It’s unlikely Rob Smith is buying a leisure ticket months in advance betting he can find a Robert Smith to sell it to a week before the trip.

  • Rebecca

    I was just responding to the rocket science comment. I kind of got off on a tangent. Inevitably, whenever one of these name change stories comes up, I’m the one pointing out that you just can’t let anyone have access to changing a name. Front line customer service shouldn’t be able to do it, and neither should their direct supervisor. While an obvious error should be corrected, because it’s obvious when it’s an actual error, giving access to front line customer service in the form of a carte blanche to change the name field on a ticket is unreasonable, for plenty of obvious and not so obvious reasons.

    I think we actually agree here. A small fee, to cover overhead and act as a deterrent is completely reasonable. $1300 is not reasonable. Paying 2 separate airlines to change a ticket that only 1 sold as a codeshare is also not reasonable.

  • Alan Gore

    What I have in mind are the trivial misspellings that we see so many cases on here. One IT step that carriers might take to alleviate the problem is to add a feature to the booking apps they create for the smartphones that people increasingly use: snap a picture of the identification that you intend to bring to the airport. Because most self-bookers still use the website on computers, this would not be an immediate solution to the problem, but it would be increasingly important in the future.

  • Bruce Burger

    Why can’t they give front line customer service people the discretion to make changes like this? That is the essence of customer service. Good companies empower their employees to use common sense. There are myriad other ways of protecting against employee fraud and this has nothing to do with terrorism.

  • Bruce Burger

    Everyone’s at fault. Of course the customer made a mistake but it shouldn’t cost $1300 to correct. If Air New Zealand can sell a United ticket, it should be able to change a United ticket; their IT departments should make that work. If ANZ can’t change it online, their employee should pick up the phone and call United to make the change. If they force the customer to make the call, United should recognize that the right thing to do is to make the same name correction that Air New Zealand already has made.

  • Carol Molloy

    Rebecca, I think I understand your reasoning, but I wonder if you have considered that the same front line people would be making the change even if a small fee was charged? The fee doesn’t change the security process.

  • Rebecca

    No, it really doesn’t. It could easily be set up to only allow certain individuals to change it, either based on login credentials or an override function. That’s actually why I also said the direct supervisors shouldn’t have access either; they have a tendency to give out their login/password information.

  • Rebecca

    In theory, yes you’re absolutely right. In practice, not so much. The truth is that there simply aren’t enough qualified people that you could give said power to working a job like this. Unfortunately, while the vast majority of people will do the right thing, the bad few ruin it for everyone else. That’s just how life goes. I worked in corporate fraud, and I thought of several issues that could pop up off the top of my head by allowing employees access to changing the name field (because from an IT perspective, it’s all or nothing – they’d have to have access to change the entire field).

    The solution to this from a customer service standpoint is simple. You need to have someone that’s able to fix it readily available. A good business has a streamline process. You don’t have folks sitting around waiting for overrides or to speak to managers. For example, I’m sure you’ve been at the grocery store and the cashier needed an override for some reason, it happens relatively often. If the cashier is pleasant, the manager shows up in 10 seconds to fix it, said manager is pleasant and resolves it quickly, it’s no big deal. Sometimes it isn’t an easy fix, and the manager should move the rest of the line to another register immediately and keep the customer with the issue informed while it’s sorted out. When you’re sitting around waiting and the line is growing, only then is it a problem. A good business makes sure things keep chugging on along while there’s an issue that requires attention outside of normal transactions.

  • Rebecca

    That’s actually a great idea. Lots of people check-in to their flight on their phone. Offering a small incentive to create an online account and upload your photo could also autofill the data for future purchases.

  • Nathan Witt

    It seems that adding a field to the reservation process (i. e. “Name” and then “Name exactly as it appears on your passport or other photo identification”) might vastly reduce these kinds of problems. I suspect that there may be a legal or logistical reason this isn’t done already but if not, it certainly wouldn’t hurt.

  • Asiansm Dan

    The Airlines try to extirpate the money from Sharon.
    My brother-in-law had travelled on the ONEWORLD Round-the-World ticket with an error in the Name but with a note on the PNR without any problem on that itinerary Switzerland-India-Vietnam-Australia-USA-Canada-Switzerland with American-Cathay-Qantas-Japan Airlines-British Airways. And without any extra cent to correct the name.

  • Asiansm Dan

    They can solve it at no cost by putting a note on the PNR. They just want to grab more money.

  • Mark

    I’m assuming Sharon had married since her passport was issued.

    Assuming she’s choosing to adopt her partner’s surname (which seems to be the case based on the maiden name mix-up), it would surely have been much cheaper and easier to just get her passport reissued with her married name?

    I appreciate that things may be different in the US – but in the UK you can get same-day service on passport renewal / re-issue if you attend in person at one of the passport offices

  • JewelEyed

    The problem is that OCR technology is squiffy. I actually had a job fixing all the errors in textbooks that were scanned through OCR to text that could be zoomed into or screenread for disabled students. It took a long time and was a lot of work.

  • Alan Gore

    Apps that handle money have always been plagued with users mistyping long account and routing numbers, so Apple Pay already auto fills from a picture of each credit card and pass you put into it. It even reads bar codes when needed. Bank apps read checks to take deposits.

  • gpx21dlr

    I sided against Sharon. She messed up.

  • Extramail

    I have a question somewhat related to this issue: my drivers license has my full legal name on it, first, middle, last. I have never included my middle name on a reservation. And, I have never had an issue at the airport and I am almost 2 million miles into one airline alone. Now, granted 99.9% of those flights are domestic and I’ve only had a trusted traveler number for about two years. Do I need to be concerned that I am going to face this issue any time soon?

  • Annie M

    Why don’t people check their confirmations as soon as they are sent and verify name? They have 24 hours to make changes. There is no excuse for these type of problems when you are given the tools and a 24 hour window to fix them.

  • Annie M

    When will people take responsibility for reading the confirmation they receive right after booking and correcting the errors within the 24 hour window they have to do so at no charge? There is no excuse for these type of errors.

  • John McDonald

    how can airline be responsible ?
    Surely the easiest & cheapest solution would be to simply get a new passport in married name. In Australia, this can be done in as little as a few hours if prepared to pay rush fee or few week, if not.
    Jr shouldn’t make any difference to name field, although we don’t use such titles in Australia.

  • John McDonald

    My name is Obama, (really it’s Osama). Spell your name right & no problems. Most airlines now allow name changes for a fee. Selling a non-refundable ticket cos you can’t travel is tricky, cos people don’t know the rules, which vary by airline. A passenger Bill of Rights, will only increase airfares. Be very careful what you wish for.

  • John McDonald

    you can do this now. It’s called a group & many tour operators do this, so that can put together great value packages. Names don’t need to be supplied until close to departure. It’s called business & nothing dodgy about it at all. I used to work for a large wholesaler, who would buy blocks of international seats OZ to USA up to 11 months in advance. They would spend AUD$100k at a time(USD$75k) & airlines loved them, as it took all the risk away from airline. With Korea likely to blow up, many airlines will have big problem surviving 2017.

    It’s not a 2ndary market !!! Often you can buy a package holiday, with some accommodation included, cheaper than you can buy an airfare alone, BUT you might have to adjust your dates slightly.

  • John McDonald

    where do you draw the line ? An islamic terrorist on a watch list, is hardly going to book an air ticket in his/her exact name. I think any changes should be charged for & make it substantial.

  • John McDonald

    you can have your drivers licence in say one name, eg. married name & have passport still in your maiden name. In OZ, adult passports last 10 years.

  • John McDonald

    not a good idea at all, for women with different married/maiden names.

  • John McDonald

    seen cases when mistresses pretend to be married, get air tickets issued & then say, “I’m not his wife” so ticket has to be reissued.

  • John McDonald

    24 hours only applies in USA or from USA & means higher fares. Some of your domestic airfares in USA are just stupidly high. You can often fly to OZ from eg. LAX or SFO, cheaper than you can fly to NYC.

  • John McDonald

    what if you fly a lot & know your passport number ? How many people don’t know how to spell their real name ? Suggest, if they can’t spell their name, they probably shouldn’t be travelling anywhere.

  • John McDonald

    you obviously didn’t read the situation. Months seem to have passed from time she booked to time she corrected. Lucky there were any seats at all left. If eg. a flight is full, she could have cancelled the original ticket & then someone on a waitlist, got confirmed instantly, so no available seat at any price reappeared.

  • John McDonald

    & all this rubbish leads to more hold ups at check in. Why do Americans love lining up for everything. Australians don’t line up. We just say stuff this & move on.

  • John McDonald

    so you’re proposing another 1,000 rules, which people on minimum wages are meant to interpret. Much easier & better to say go away & next time spell your name right.

  • John McDonald

    you don’t need to enter your middle name or initial, except in Asia for some reason. There are plenty of ways to get a married certificate in any name you want. It’s called stealing someones identity & happens very regularly these days.

  • John McDonald

    $30 is far too little & airlines can’t & don’t want to stop ticket arbitrage. They would lose a lot of business to other airlines if they did.

  • Attention All Passengers

    The “Jr” and the maiden name were the last things that needed to be added. As long as the Last Name, and First Name are on the passport and the ticket, nothing else matters. My God, how either one of these airlines’ employees do not know this is beyond belief. Stop being so hung up on extraneous information that is not needed……no more than Miss, Mr, Mrs — TITLES !!!!!

  • John McDonald

    card chargeback would be denied. Most airline tickets sold these days are non-refundable, under any circumstances. (don’t even bother asking) BUT you can sell it or give it to someone else, by paying name change fee.

  • John McDonald

    yeah so did I. My ticket said Obama, but my name is Osama.

  • John McDonald

    in Australia you don’t need to show ID (most of the time) to fly domestically, only a boarding pass, which you can print at home.

  • John McDonald

    stupid 24 hour rule only applies in USA or from USA as far as I know. The 24 rule, means you pay higher airfares. Anyone who can’t see that, probably as silly as someone who can’t spell their name.

  • sirwired

    But they DO stop ticket arbitrage; a name change on a leisure fare to a random person is pretty much impossible on every US airline. At best, you can transfer a ticket credit, but not the ticket itself.

  • Alan Gore

    No airline vets the security status of passengers other than checking them against published no-fly lists, because that’s the TSA’s job.

    And yes, I’m assuming that a Bill of Rights specifying minimum standards and policies will raise fares slightly. Right now, pax willingly pay slightly more to book Southwest, if available, because their policies are more friendly.

    Just today, American announced that it is shaving another two inches off seat pitch. You can bet that by the end of the week, every other carrier will be gleefully announcing skinnier seat pitch. We need to pass the PBOR before all passengers over five-eight are required to book J or F just so they will fit in the seat.

  • John McDonald

    very dodgy U.S. airlines then !!! Easy to change international tickets or OZ domestic tickets.

  • John McDonald

    you are confusing seat pitch with legroom. You can reduce seat pitch by 2 inches & keep legroom the same, by reducing thickness of seat back by 2 inches.

  • John McDonald

    seat design has come a long way in last 3 decades. The difference between the thickest seat back & the thinnest can be up to 5 inches, plus newer seats weigh a lot less, so less fuel used.

  • Alan Gore

    We’ve heard of airline math, but now you’re arguing airline physics. Can’t you work ‘quantum’ into that explanation somewhere? Sure, seat us all on unpadded resin chairs on our flight to Europe, and you could fit another couple of rows in. And today’s cherry on top was that American is making the bathrooms even smaller.

    Meanwhile, all the news stories on American’s action just come right out and use the phrase “cutting legroom.”
    http://money.cnn.com/2017/05/02/news/companies/american-airlines-legroom/

  • Mark

    A lot of non-US airlines have that policy too, in case of fat-fingered online bookings

  • Rebecca

    Licenses also expire. All you would need to do is upload a new photo when you get a new license. Not ticket science.

  • Rebecca

    No. Just one rule. Large corporations have dedicated internal supervisor lines. Front line customer service simply calls a specific dedicated supervisor line for that type of issue, which is staffed with access to people able to fix it.

  • Rebecca

    I’m not saying that it isn’t easy to figure out. I’m saying, based on my experience working for a large company (and especially one that often has contractors in customer service jobs), there’s simply no way you can allow just anyone access to update the name field. That’s going to get reamed in any audit, and the QA people would be all over that. It’s an unnecessary exposure to a relatively high risk. Of course, the vast majority of people aren’t going to take advantage. You’re also assuming con artist customers don’t exist, and i can assure you they do. An employee with good intentions could easily get conned. I make the same exact argument every time there’s a name change story like this. Only a select few people can have access to something like this. Like it or not, it’s just how it has to be. So long as there’s a simple procedure – calling a dedicated line staffed with people who have access to someone that can fix it – it really shouldn’t be a big deal.

  • John McDonald

    if selling a fare ex USA they have to, but generally most don’t if flying into USA. Not sure the NZ link applies to fares sold ex Australia or ex NZ. Note the web address is .com

  • John McDonald

    seat width has never ever changed on most of the worlds fleet of narrow body aircraft B737/757 & A318/19/20/21.
    The very 1st B737 & 1st A320 had the same seat width as now. It can’t change unless aisle is wider or aircraft shell narrower. People are just getting fatter & Australians are worse than Americans, believe it or not.
    Some of the new thinner backed seats are very comfortable. It’s just better design & not trying to imitate a lounge chair.

  • John McDonald

    just one rule ? Don’t think so & what about smaller airlines ? There fares will have to increase a lot more to cover extra handling costs.

  • joycexyz

    Yes. And why wait until a month before the flight to check the info??? Should be done immediately, if not sooner.

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