Flying out for the holiday of a lifetime in retirement is something that many dream of, but simple mix-ups over the details can easily derail an entire trip and leave travellers hundreds or even thousands of pounds out of pocket.
Airlines’ varying policies about changing passenger details, and the complications that can arise when a third party booking agent or multiple airlines are involved, can quickly turn into a nightmare.
That is what happened to Joan and Francis Pope, 79 and 80, when they booked flights to New Zealand to celebrate a relative’s 95th birthday.
Mrs Pope booked the flights over the phone with Expedia, the travel firm, in January, to fly out this month. The non-refundable tickets were for premium economy class and the total cost was £5,394.
The first sign of trouble came when no booking confirmation arrived. Mrs Pope had requested tickets to be sent by post, but two weeks later nothing had turned up, and with no other correspondence from Expedia she became concerned.
She asked her son David to speak to Expedia on her behalf. He discovered that paper tickets had never been coming but an email confirmation had been sent, although there was an error in the address.
When the email confirmation came through, both names were incorrect. Because of confusion on the original call her husband’s name did not match that in his passport, and her own surname had been recorded as “Popa”.
The agent did however manage to record her surname correctly to process the credit card payment. Martyn James, of complaints service Resolver, said: “The difference between the card name and the booking name should have flagged that there was a problem.”
David and Mrs Pope’s other son, John, began trying to resolve the problem. They have provided Telegraph Money with the transcript of a dialogue with Expedia conducted over the Facebook Messenger service.
They were told that because more than one airline was involved in the booking, a name change would not be possible. The UK to Australia legs were British Airways flights, while the Australia to New Zealand legs were with Air New Zealand. Mrs Pope had not realised that her booking was with multiple airlines.
Expedia suggested that the couple cancel the booking, although this would allow them to receive only a small tax refund.
The family approached the airlines themselves. British Airways does allow name changes, but the request would need to come from Expedia.
According to the family, Air New Zealand said it would be happy to make the changes if BA led the way. Its usual policy is that name changes of up to three characters can be made after a ticket has been issued – before that, more significant corrections are possible.
The Popes relayed this to Expedia, which said its requests for name changes had been denied and it would need to see authorisation from the airlines to make changes.
BA suggested a second solution: ask Expedia to decouple the BA and Air New Zealand portions of the booking, incurring penalty charges. It could then change the names on the BA flights, and the Sydney to Wellington leg could be dealt with separately.
Following Telegraph Money’s involvement Expedia arranged for new tickets with the correct names to be issued and covered the entire cost of the trip for the couple “as a gesture of goodwill and by way of an apology”.
John Pope said: “As a family we are astounded that a simple error or misunderstanding could have resulted in my parents losing thousands of pounds.”
What are your rights?
This depends on a number of factors, but key is whether the name is wrong because of your mistake or the airline or booking agent’s.
If a third party booking agent or airline has introduced the name mistake, it is its responsibility to correct the situation.
Mr James said: “If you’ve booked on the phone and someone has taken your name down wrongly, you should be able to change it free of charge, as it’s not really your problem. The organisation you booked through, whether the airline or a third party, is responsible for getting it sorted out.”
With a phone booking, who is at fault can be a point of contention. Ask for a recording of the booking call – if the company doesn’t want to provide it, you can use a procedure called a “subject access request” to obtain it.
If you have made the mistake, you will be subject to the airline’s policy on changes. EasyJet, for instance, allows errors to be corrected free of charge, while BA allows free changes but with various conditions, and Ryanair charges £115 or more.
Although third party booking services are useful, holidaymakers should be aware that they give up certain protections if they use them, such as “Section 75” rights if you pay with a credit card. “And if there’s a problem, you may find yourself being bounced between the companies,” said Mr James.
He called for firms to implement simple systems to prevent such problems from happening, particularly now that more retirees are choosing to travel.
“There are ways these things can be sorted out for free. Giving a consumer 24 hours to look at a written confirmation, confirm details and send it back before a booking goes through would solve these issues immediately. If they don’t have email, there could be a written option,” he said.
“Given the amount it must cost firms to deal with the implications of getting it wrong, it doesn’t seem to be too much of a stretch to come up with a solution.”