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Christopher Elliot: Nontransferable ticket has wrong name

  • Published Sunday, June 26, 2011, at 12:07 a.m.
  • Updated Sunday, June 26, 2011, at 6:34 a.m.

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").

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.

A: 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 was 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.

Christopher Elliot is the author of the upcoming book "Scabbed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals" (Wily). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. You can read more tips on his blog, elliott.org, or e-mail him at chris@elliott.org.

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