Using the wrong name cost me $500 — reader mistake story

Feb 21, 2020

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Kelly, who neglected to review the personal information on a recent airfare purchase:

For my daughter’s 21st birthday, I planned a spring break trip to Iceland to see the northern lights (hopefully). I purchased the ticket through Vayama in July of 2019 for travel in February of 2020, and paid $540 for flights on Icelandair out of Orlando. I recently discovered a huge mistake: I had input her correct middle initial and date of birth, but I put my own first name instead of hers! I have no idea how it happened — perhaps autofill on my computer, or just a good old-fashioned mistake?

I contacted Icelandair immediately, but they refused to correct the name since I was requesting a name change and not a correction. They referred me to Vayama as the travel agency that sold the ticket, and Vayama said they would change the name, but Icelandair wouldn’t allow it. I even went to the airport to speak with someone at the Icelandair check-in desk. They couldn’t help me, but said it happens more frequently than you would think. They gave me another number to call, but it just led to Icelandair and Vayama passing the buck back and forth with no resolution.

My only option now is to cancel her first ticket and eat the cancellation fees of $200 from Icelandair and $100 from Vayama. That leaves me with $240 to purchase a new ticket, which is currently priced at $721. So it’s basically a $500 kick in the teeth for a stupid mistake. A word of advice to all: double/triple check your names before and after you purchase a ticket. Despite being a seasoned traveler who has booked a lot of flights online, this happened to me.

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Airlines are reluctant to change the name on a ticket both for security reasons and to protect their revenue, but it can be done with varying degrees of difficulty depending on the nature of the change and when you attempt it. The usual 24-hour cancellation policies apply to eligible flights, so if you input the wrong name and recognize your error in time, you can refund the ticket and buy it again under the correct name. This opportunity to correct errors with minimal penalty is a compelling reason to double check personal information before and after you buy, as Kelly suggests. If you’re booking for someone else, have them confirm the details too.

Beyond the free cancellation window, the outlook is less favorable. You may still be able to avoid paying a fee if you’re just correcting a typo (like a single errant or omitted character), or if you’re updating your itinerary to reflect a change in your legal name. More complicated changes (like transposed first and middle names or flagrant misspellings) are likely to incur a fee even if the person traveling is the same. If you’re trying to change a name completely like Kelly did, plan on having to either pay a change fee or cancel your flight and rebook.

It seems unlikely that Autofill was the origin of Kelly’s mistake, since the middle initial and date of birth were correct. Regardless, Autofill is a persistent source of errors for travelers (and web users in general). It sometimes enters incoherent information (like a postal code where a frequent flyer number should be), and according to Popular Mechanics, it may also present security issues. I recommend entering each field manually when booking travel, but if you prefer to use Autofill, scrutinize your personal information before you submit it.

Related: Can I change the name on an airline ticket?

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing us to post it online), I’m sending Kelly a gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured photo by Anton Petrus/Getty Images.

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