Did you make a typo or error when inputting your name in your airline ticket reservation? Or are you trying to completely change the name on the ticket that you purchased to someone else? In either case, you’d likely need to request a name correction or name change.
This can be a slightly confusing process because there are very different restrictions for each but in this article I will break it all down and explain how this can be done, sometimes even for free.
Can you change the name on a plane ticket?
Yes, assuming there is sufficient time before departure you may be able to make a name correction or name change. Name corrections involve simple changes such as fixing one letter and are generally free. However, for major name changes many airlines will force you pay a pretty hefty fee. Keep reading below to find out how this process works.
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Why can’t you change your name on a plane ticket?
There are two major reasons why you are not allowed to freely change your name on a plane ticket without approval or fees from the airline.
Changing your name on a plane ticket can present major security issues. When you purchase a plane ticket, you can expect your name to be ran through a database to make sure you are not on a no-fly list.
This could be a no-fly list ran by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) or the individual airline. Either way, airlines need to know that when you board the plane your background has been checked.
If you could change your name at will this could make it much more difficult for the background checks to be done properly, since they would be continually getting updated.
If passengers could freely change the name on a boarding pass they would essentially become transferrable and you could imagine a secondary market emerging for airline tickets.
People could buy airline tickets far in advance for holidays or peak seasons for routes heading to tourist hotspots like Orlando. They could then sell those tickets for sky-high prices similar to the way people do it for concerts, sporting events, etc.
This could make it more difficult to find tickets and introduce uncertainty when dealing with shady aftermarket vendors. It also removes a lot of price control power from the airlines.
How to change the name on a plane ticket
There are basically three different types of name changes that take place and the process for each is different.
Minor name corrections
When a change is being made to fix a spelling mistake or typo and ensure that the name matches a government-issued ID, this is typically considered a “name correction” or “minor name correction” and NOT a name change.
Examples of minor name corrections could include:
- First names (Jon to Jonathon)
- Last names (3 letters or fewer)
- Adding/removing middle name
- Changing initial to full name
- Nickname to legal name (“Bob” to “Robert”)
- Adding an additional last name (hyphenated last name)
- Inverted first and last name
- Suffix and prefix changes
If you find yourself needing to correct the name, contact the customer service phone number for your airline as soon as you can and let them know that you need to make a minor correction to the name (not a change). Some airlines request that you make this known to the airline at least one week prior to your trip.
If you have a travel agent simply let them know and they may be able to make the change for you and without any penalty.
But if you don’t realize the error until you arrive at the airport, some airlines will still allow you to make the change there.
Sometimes a minor name correction may have a limit on the characters that can be changed such as three letters. This is especially true if you are correcting the last name (shorter last names may be limited to changes of only two characters).
It depends on the airline and perhaps even the discretion of the agent you are dealing with but you can pretty much rest assured that if you need to simply correct one or two letters of a misspelled name, it will be considered a minor name correction.
Most airlines should allow you to make minor name corrections for free. This is the case even for some budget airlines as Spirit states: “Reservations with slight misspellings or legal name changes are eligible for a free name change.”
Here are a few more things to keep in mind about minor name corrections:
- If you need to make multiple minor name corrections, airlines will usually consider that a major change and begin charging you to process the change.
- If you need to make changes to the gender and/or date of birth as well as the name, that will also often be considered a major name change.
- If your itinerary involves flights on codeshares or partner airlines, making a minor name correction could be more difficult
Major name change
Now let’s say that you need to change the name on your boarding pass from John Doe to Sarah Sally. This is referred to as a “major name change” and is often possible but it can be a very expensive endeavor. The reason?
This type of change will involve fees which could include:
- Name change fee
- Difference in fare from the time you booked to the current date
- Possible change fee
In some cases the fees can total up to several hundred dollars pretty easily. So your best bet is to try to avoid this approach as much as possible or be prepared to shell out a lot of cash.
Tip: If you realize your mistake within 24 hours of booking your ticket you should be able to cancel the ticket without any penalty.
If you are not allowed to make a major name change then your only real option is to purchase a new airline ticket (assuming that you can find availability).
Assuming your ticket was nonrefundable, you may be able to get a flight credit for your original ticket. Make sure you take note of the expiration time for it because these flight credits/travel funds usually expire within one year. Sometimes you can change the name on the flight credit but other times you cannot.
Legal name change
If you need to change your name because your legal name changed due to things like marriage, divorce, adoption, etc. every airline should be willing to work with you so long as there is enough time before takeoff.
Airlines may allow you to make a name change based on a legal name change for free provided that you submit the necessary documentation.
Possible documentation needed could include:
- Marriage License
- Court Order
- Divorce Decree
- Or Legal Name Change Document
Some airlines will have a dedicated webpage for you to submit this information and attach copies of your documents and in other cases you may just need to email them to a specific email address. As you can imagine this process will take a little bit of time so it is best to make your submission as soon as possible.
However, based on the DOT Fly Rights it seems you could show up at the airport with your documentation and be fine as is states:
If your name has recently changed and the name on your ticket and your I.D. are different (or will be different by the time of your trip), bring documentation of the change (e.g., a marriage certificate or court order).
Just be sure to give yourself extra time for the verification process.
Name matching issues
Sometimes middle names can be a problem. In some cases, due to glitches your middle name might appear as part of your first name or simply an initial in front of your first name. If an airline is familiar with this glitch they should be able to recognize it and allow you to proceed with a minor name correction.
In other cases there are issues were a middle initial is used in one case but the full middle name is used in another. This should be okay in a lot of instances but my advice is to always be consistent with the use of your middle name. This is especially true for international travel.
If your name has non-ascii characters, and you are trying to make sure that it matches with your passport you can check the name on the bottom of the main passport page and go with that. This will be located in the red rectangle found in this image here.
Sometimes you might encounter routes where name changes are not permitted. For example, as of the summer of 2021 Delta does not allow changes on international flights between the US and China. Other times, there may be special policies in place to deal with name changes on certain routes.
In these cases you may have to call a special phone number and speak with an agent and the name change process may not be as smooth, even for minor name corrections.
If you run into an issue where your name is not accepted and you need to modify or change the name there’s a good chance you will not be issued a refund.
Why can’t you get your money back?
Typically, a refund is only granted by the airline if they were at fault. For example, if they have staff shortages that lead to a significant delay in your flight, it’s possible that you could receive a refund.
In the case of needing a name correction or name change, you are the party who filled out the identification information and therefore you are the party at fault.
When you proceed through the booking process, airlines usually make it very clear that your name you fill out needs to match exactly what your government issued ID shows.
For example, here is the warning from United Airlines.
This is key because it means that if you input a name during the booking process that does not match your ID, the mistake is on you and not the airline.
That doesn’t mean that you will never get a refund but it is just going to be more of the exception and not the norm.
This is one reason why it helps to fill out your frequent flyer profile and save your account information. This will prevent you from needing to input your name each time you book a flight with that airline and thus decrease the odds of an error happening.
Getting through TSA security checkpoint
Whenever you head through the TSA security checkpoint a TSA agent will be screening your ID to make sure that it matches your boarding pass. This is why you need to handle your name change request as soon as you can.
Contrary to what a lot of people think, TSA agents usually do not scan your ID which is one reason why people with outstanding warrants are often allowed to get through security.
On one occasion I was actually allowed to get through security with a boarding pass that did not match my name. I made it through the TSA Pre-Check line and realized that I had a boarding pass with Brad’s name on it. I told the agent that my husband had my boarding pass and the agent allowed me to get through security.
It turns out that actually Brad somehow had a duplicate of his own boarding pass so I actually made it through TSA security without having any boarding pass with my name on it.
But you don’t want to rely on blind luck like that and instead you should just take care of your name change needs.
Changing your name for a plane reservation can be a simple process if you are only fixing a typo, have the necessary documentation needed, and you give yourself plenty of time before departure.
Things get pricey when you need to make a major name change and everything can get a lot more complicated if you are trying to sort this out just before departure. So do your best to take care of everything in advance.
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Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.