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Playing the name game

When you buy an airline ticket on the Web, but the site gets your name wrong, what can you do to make things right?
/ Source: Special to

When you buy an airline ticket on the Web, but the site gets your name wrong, what can you do to make things right? For one traveler who books a ticket to Rome through Expedia, the answer is: not much. After the site erroneously issues a ticket in her husband's name, the best it can do is to issue a $700 credit - to him. How do you prevent this from happening to you? And will this Expedia customer ever see her $700 again?

Q: I recently booked a ticket to Rome on Expedia. For convenience sake, I used my husband's account, but I paid with my own American Express card and requested that the ticket be sent to me in my name.

As soon as the itinerary details appeared on the screen, I saw that instead of it being in my name, the ticket had been issued in my husband's name. I immediately e-mailed Expedia correcting the error, so it was a matter of seconds between the discovery of the error and me contacting Expedia.

When I received a reply from Expedia by e-mail it did not address the issue. It just said that I should call the Expedia support line. A representative on the support line told me that it was too late to do anything, since the ticket had already been sent to me.

Expedia insisted that my only option was to cancel the ticket, incur a penalty and receive a credit which can only be used by my husband and not by me. In essence, after spending $700 on an airline ticket through Expedia I ended up with no ticket, and my husband, who had no involvement in this is to be given a credit which he has no use for.

The airline has since said that the ticket should be sent to Expedia for a refund but Expedia has failed to provide details of where it should be sent to, and a refund has not been obtained. Can you help me?

-- Maria MacKay

A: Normally, a travel agency can void a ticket before it's issued. But you have to give it enough time.

Expedia's records show that you bought your ticket at 9:08 a.m. It received an e-mail from you at 9:21 a.m. notifying it of the error. It wrote you back three hours later, which is an average response time.

"Our customer service group needed to speak with Ms. MacKay directly in order to do anything with the ticket," said Jason Reindorp, a company spokesman. "They needed confirmation of critical customer information in order to ensure the request to cancel and re-issue was valid and authorized."

You didn't call Expedia back until 4 p.m., according to the agency's phone records, by which time its automated system had already issued the erroneous ticket. If you had phoned only 40 minutes earlier, you could have still made the change.

At that point, you were left with only two options - ask the airline to bend its rules or get a credit to the Expedia account the ticket was booked under.

"There are definitely a few things that could have gone better here," Reindorp admitted.

Tell me about it.

First of all, if the airline allowed you to change the name on a ticket, then this wouldn't be a problem. Instead, carriers like to play the "name" game - forcing you to cancel, pay a fee and then rebook. What's worse, they require you to do that even when there's only a small discrepancy between the name on your ID and the one on the ticket. (They say it's for your safety, which is nonsense. It's for money.)

Expedia says it couldn't void the ticket without talking directly with you, citing privacy issues.

But I don't understand why it couldn't have placed your ticket on "hold" and not issued it until it had confirmed the details with you. Alternatively, there should be some way of notifying the agency of a ticketing mistake that doesn't involve a three-hour delay.

"As part of our ongoing process of improvement, we have been examining and updating some of our customer service policies over the last couple of months and this kind of scenario is being addressed in some of these resulting changes," Reindorp assured me.

Maria, you were no angel either. In your letter to me, you glossed over the fact that it took you four hours to call Expedia back. Why did you wait so long? Also, you should get your own Expedia account. You're not the first person who has had a name default problem like this during the booking process.

Expedia offered its apologies and a full refund on the tickets as "an exception," which I think is pretty generous.