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What happens if the name on your passport doesn’t match your ticket?

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Consumer reporter and ombudsman

Can you fly off to an international destination if the name on your ticket does not match the name on your passport?

The answer to that question is “No.”

Ralph Lantz found this out in a devastating way. He booked his friend, Jackie, a ticket to meet him on a dream vacation to Greece. But his generous gesture went all wrong at the check-in counter. That’s where Jackie’s Mediterranean plans came to an abrupt end when a Virgin Atlantic agent pointed out that the name on her ticket was not the same as the one on her passport.

Now Ralph wants to know how he can get his money back for the flight. 

This tale is an expensive lesson in the importance of self-booking vigilance. If you don’t involve a travel agent in your planning, the onus is on you to ensure that the name on your ticket matches your passport — precisely. Because if you don’t, you (or, in this case, your friend) won’t be going anywhere.

Denied boarding: “The name on your ticket does not match your passport.”

“I feel I was ripped off for almost $1,000 by Virgin Atlantic,” Ralph lamented. “When Jackie tried to check-in, the airline refused to allow her to board. She is a 50-year-old woman who ended up crying her eyes out in the airport because she was not going to be able to make her dream vacation.”

Ralph says that he and his friend knew for some time that the name on her ticket did not match her passport. He said that he had called the airline and Orbitz to alert both companies of the passport problem. For this reason, he believed that the responsibility for his self-booking mistake had transferred to the airline and the OTA.

“I booked the ticket in the name I have always known her as — Jackie. But her passport is in the name of Jacqueline,” Ralph explained. “We found the problem almost a week before the flight and contacted Orbitz and Virgin Atlantic to fix the ticket. Virgin Atlantic refused to change the name because of policy.”

Airline policy regarding name changes on tickets

Yes, the old pesky policy that all airlines share about changing names on tickets. For the most part, it can’t be done. Or I should say, it isn’t done.

I’m sure that it could be quite easy to change the digital record on a ticket. But airlines don’t allow for it, citing security reasons. However, a cynical person might conclude that the reason is more financial than security-based. Charging for name changes is a revenue source for all airlines — some more than others.

Virgin Atlantic’s name correction policies, though, are some of the most passenger-friendly we know.

If you’ve spotted a spelling mistake

If there’s a small spelling mistake in your name on the ticket, we can also amend this for free.

Virgin Atlantic website

But our advocacy team has seen complaints where airlines have charged hundreds and even thousands of dollars to correct names in which only a few characters are incorrect.

What is the 24-hour rule, and does it apply to your airline ticket?

It’s critical that travelers verify that the name on their ticket matches the name on their passport. This verification must be made within the first 24 hours after purchase. These 24 hours are when, for most airlines, you can cancel without penalty if you need to make corrections. Then you’re free to rebook in the correct name.

There are a few things to keep in mind about the Department of Transportation’s 24-hour cancellation rule:

  • The Department of Transportation’s 24-hour rule requires all airlines that operate in the United States to allow passengers to cancel purchased tickets within 24 hours after purchase or allow for a 24-hour hold, but not both. So travelers should be extra vigilant when using an airline that still allows for a 24-hour hold.
  • If you purchase tickets on a foreign airline for flights operating entirely outside of the United States, the 24-hour rule does not apply. Make sure to check the airline’s cancellation policy before you buy the ticket.
  • Flights that are booked less than seven days before departure are also ineligible for a penalty-free cancellation.
  • If you purchase your ticket through a third-party booking agent, you might be out of luck. The DOT’s rule does not apply to these tickets (although some booking agents will follow this rule as a courtesy.)

Fact: If the name on your international ticket does not match your passport, you’re not flying

As Elgy Gillepsie found out when she tried to fly internationally without a passport, certain rules for international travel can’t be bent.

Travelers must possess a valid passport in their legal name with at least 3-6 months before expiration (depending on destination). There are no exceptions to that rule.

Ralph uncovered another unbendable rule during this travel fiasco: 

FACT: If the first and last name on your international ticket does not match your passport exactly, you’re not flying. 

What about middle names?

  • Note: In general, middle names on a passport do not need to be reflected on your airline ticket. In fact, many airlines do not have a field for passengers to add their middle name when making a reservation. But if you do add your middle name to your ticket, make sure it is in the right place, or you could have a big problem on your hands. (See: Middle name on your ticket? Don’t make this airline ticket mistake!)
Passport name must match ticket, US passport, map and passport.
Is it a match? Carefully review your passport before and after your airline ticket purchase to make certain the name is the same on both.

This passport mistake is an expensive one

Ralph believed that because he let Orbitz and Virgin Atlantic know of his mistake with his friend’s name a week before the flight, the airline should have allowed her to fly to Greece with the mismatched passport and ticket.

“We accepted our responsibility for making sure the name was correct on her ticket,” Ralph told me. “I made an effort well in advance of the flight to correct the error, but at every turn, the airline refused.”

But the airline told Orbitz and Ralph that it would not change his friend’s name on her ticket so that it would match her passport. At that point, there was only one way to have fixed the problem so that Jackie could travel to Greece. But it is an expensive fix:

  • Cancel the ticket.
  • Pay the change fee.
  • Rebook at the current fare in the correct name.

Unfortunately, this resolution quickly adds thousands of dollars to a dream vacation.

Since the name on her ticket still did not match her passport, it’s unclear why Ralph’s friend believed she was on her way to Greece on the day of the flight.

Fact: No airline will allow a passenger to fly internationally when the name on their passport and the name on the ticket aren’t the same.

So self-bookers beware: There are no refunds owed when a passenger is refused boarding because of this mismatch.

What to do if the name on your ticket doesn’t match your passport

If you discover any spelling mistakes on your airline ticket after purchase or realize you’ve used a name that isn’t the same as what is reflected on your passport, you have several options:

  1. Less than 24 hours since the purchase:
    If you’ve purchased directly with the airline, you’re likely protected by the 24-hour rule. Call and cancel the ticket. You can then rebook without penalty. Keep in mind if your flight is within seven days of the purchase, the 24-hour cancellation rule doesn’t apply. Also, if you’ve booked your ticket with a third-party agent, the cancellation rules of that company will apply. Some booking agents, such as Expedia, also have a 24-hour cancellation rule in their terms and conditions.
  2. More than 24 hours since the purchase:
    Don’t expect an inexpensive fix to your problem. But it never hurts to ask. If you follow the guidance in my article about getting great customer service you can escalate your request to someone who can help — and do it the right way!
  3. The expensive solution:
    If all else fails, the expensive fix to an incorrect name on a ticket is to pay the change fees and rebook at the current cost of the flight. It will be a costly lesson, but you won’t miss your dream vacation. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)

*Before you go: Need a passport fast — like really fast? Here’s how to get a passport within days!

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle Couch-Friedman is the founder and CEO of Consumer Rescue. She is a consumer advocate, ombudsman columnist, mediator, writer, and licensed psychotherapist. Michelle is a public speaker, and her expert guidance has been cited in MarketWatch, Consumer Reports, Travel & Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Popular Science, CNN, CNBC, Boston Globe, CBS News, National Geographic, Travel Weekly, Reader's Digest and more. You might even catch Michelle on TV reporting on a situation. :) Michelle is also the travel ombudsman columnist for The Points Guy and is the former executive director of the nonprofit Elliott Advocacy. During her six years in that position, she resolved thousands of cases for troubled travelers and other consumers. You can read hundreds of 5-star reviews Michelle earned during her service to the nonprofit since 2016 here on Great Nonprofits. She is also a member of the Society of American Travel Writers. Today, she continues to spend as much time as possible fiercely defending consumers and traveling the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Couch-Friedman or on Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook.