What Happens When You Want to Change Your Name But Already Have Airline Tickets Booked?

Reader Dan asks,

So I just got married (yay!) and we’ll be traveling on our honeymoon in September to the Seychelles (Etihad mistake fare, double yay). My wife is changing her name, but while I have read that getting through TSA with a certified marriage certificate will work, when it comes to dealing with customs in Abu Dhabi and the Seychelles, I can’t really find much info.

Since she needs a new passport now, would you suggest she get a new passport under her maiden name and travel on her maiden name (as it is booked on the tickets) since none of the name change paperwork has started and once we get back start the name change process, or move forward with name change process, then get a new passport under her married name and try with the marriage certificate at customs.

The simple answer is that you’re unlikely to be able to get Etihad to change the name on a mistake fare ticket. And you’re going to want to travel on a ticket that matches the passport. So in this case, get a new passport under the current name and then get a new passport with changed name later if so desired. That would mean more fees to the US government, but will likely be worth it under the circumstance.

Now more generally, an airline can change the name on their own tickets. Each airline’s policy may be a little bit different (a dozen years ago name changes on JetBlue tickets from one person to another were just $25; Scandinavian allowed name changes for $25 with an affidavit certifying the tickets were for personal and not for business travel). Things are generally tougher than they used to be, however!

It’s a very straightforward process usually when there are limited changes being made, and with some escalation major name changes can be made to a ticket. But it’s almost always the case that it can only be done when the airline issuing the ticket is the same one you’re flying on.

  • In other words, if you have an American Airlines ticket for travel on American Airlines it’s not hard to change a name.
  • But if you have, say, an American AAdvantage award ticket for travel on a partner you’re not likely going to be able to change the name.

So with partner awards for international travel you always want to make sure that the name on the passport matches the name on the ticket. (For domestic travel things can be more flexible since you can check in online and then clear security without ID by answer identifying questions at the TSA checkpoint in a worst case scenario.)

Here’s American’s basic rule:

name change on airline ticket due to marriage

For American tickets, and travel on American, it’s no problem to make:

  • Corrections to last name of 3 characters or less
  • Legal name changes, including changes in the event of marriage or divorce
  • Adding a second last name to a ticket
  • Changing first name
  • Changing first name from nickname to full name
  • Changing middle name or middle initial
  • Switching first and last names on a ticket

Some changes may require approval and a $25 processing fee, such as if you’re changing the name on the same ticket a second time.

Special circumstances:

  • I get questions all the time about middle names. I’ve never seen someone denied boarding because their middle name wasn’t on a ticket or there was a misspelling of a middle name.

  • Infant names can be usually be changed at any time even if there are partner segments on an award. (There’s generally just a special service request trasmitted to partner airlines about the infant, and changing this won’t cause problems with the rest of the reservation.)

It’s exceedingly common for people to book honeymoon travel, get married, and then change a last name. That only really gets complicated when there’s more than one airline on a ticket, or when the issuing airline is different than the one you’ll be traveling on.

Far far better to have tickets and names on relevant identification match.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. when I went to book ff ticket I noticed they had the month of my birthday wrong. in my profile. AA has made my life hell trying to change something that simple. Day and year are correct. I don’t want to book anything until corrected for fear of a check in problem. I’ve talked to two people one who was completely unhelpful because I don’t think she ever understood what I wanted. The second was helpful but ended up having a form sent from customer service for a name change. Responded with a picture of passport page and saying I wanted month changed in profile not name. Am I over worrying this?? They have you fill these forms out and if there is a mistake there is no easy way to change it. It still has not been corrected.

  2. Less than one year after a passport is issued, the name can be corrected without additional fees.

  3. Thanks for answering my question. I figured this would be the case. What we ended up doing is she applied for a passport with her old name and after our honeymoon we’ll go through the name change process and use the endorsement feature on the passport to change her name since as long as the endorsement happens in the first year of the passport, it is free. At least that is what I could find via the State Department.

  4. Do you know what happens with miles? It seems from my experience that if you travel under your marital name, the airline won’t credit the miles to the account using your maiden name.

  5. Really, I think the best option is to just not change the name on the passport until you finish travel.
    Some airlines will make your life hell trying to make a name change / spelling change.

  6. Customer Satisfaction is our number one goal.

    Have yet another fine fourth of July. You traitorous scoundrels.

    What can you expect? Sam Adams was a god damn revolutionary.

  7. Gary,
    I have an award ticket issued by AA for travel on JAL from SYD-NRT and then HND-SFO. The American agent misspelled my wife’s first name. What problems will this cause with JAL and with security at SYD and HND? How do you go about getting the misspelling corrected? Thank you.

  8. Hi Gary,

    I have a BA award booked from ORD to HKG on CX and then QF from HKG to BNE. Do I stand a chance at getting my wife’s name changed since it’s a) BA and b)partner award travel? I would just try and find new availability but the BA awards are almost double from when I breeks in December…

  9. @Nick getting names changed on a partner ticket is almost impossible, easier to change name to make sure there are travel docs to match!

  10. Thanks Gary! I might just have to cancel and rebook via AA once it gets released. Tough to lose 90k AA miles, but lesson learned!

  11. aloha,

    I’m going through the process of divorce and had booked a ticket for my “soon to be ex-wife” using my miles for a 1st class ticket to tahiti on hawaiian airlines for next march.
    I still want to go on the trip, as the hotel is fully paid, can I change the name on that ticket and bring someone else along with me?
    Thanks for your time!

  12. Hi all,

    I just want to offer a word of advice from my experience travelling to Moorea, French Polynesia a few weeks ago. I foolishly booked my ticket in my maiden name and then underwent a legal name change to my married name. My Passport arrived in my married name. I called Travelocity who I booked our vacation with and they said (after being several hours over a week over the phone) to travel with my original marriage license which I had. I also had my original birth certificate showing my maiden name as well as my driver’s license in my maiden name. When I got to the ticket counter at American Airlines to catch our flight from Phoenix to Los Angelos, I was NOT allowed to board. I was told there were no exceptions regardless of what documents I had. When I called Air Tahiti, they told me that if I showed up at their ticket counter in Los Angelos with my marriage license in hand, I would have been allowed to board. Each airline is different. So after many tears were shed, I got Air Tahiti to change my ticket to my married name so that I could travel. Just a word of advice to those who think they may slip by. I didn’t think I would be denied boarding and I was!!

  13. Hello, I’m experiencing hell with the airline to change my name from maiden to married and British airways told me it will cost me an additional $5000 to change my name. Could I get through TSA with my maiden name on my ticket using my name passport that has my married name? But my maiden name still on it because it has become my middle name. I cannot afford to pay this about that’s crazy.
    Thank you

  14. I have renewed my USA Pass Port. My previous pass port had my name different than my driver’s license. When I was issued my TSA precheck number, i had to give my name as on myprevious pass port. I want to change my name on my TSA Precheck, how do I do that?

  15. HI,

    A friend and I booked ticked to travel to the Punta Cana (DR) this upcoming June. This past week she found out she was pregnant and advised from her healthcare provider because of the “Zika Virus” It would not be a good time for her to go. Ive found someone to go in her place but American Airlines is giving me hell. Anything I can do. Also, these tickets were purchased with my CC. I was hoping for a simple name change or a refund but that seems next to impossible. Any advice

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