Can you change the last name on an award ticket? (Maybe!)

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Can you change the last name on an award ticket? That’s a question I didn’t anticipate having to ask years after I got married and had already flown something in the hundreds of thousands of miles of award flights…but there I was last week, Googling just that phrase.

Family Background

My wife and I have been married for several years and together for more than a decade. We collected a lot of points and miles in the lead-up to our wedding and we took (what felt to us like) an epic 4-month honeymoon. With that huge trip (mostly) booked before we got married, we decided it was much easier to keep everything in my wife’s maiden name for that trip rather than trying to figure out if we could change her license, credit cards, passport, and all of the various tickets on foreign carriers. She intended to take my last name, but neither of us felt any sense of urgency to make it happen. (And I’ll note here that I understand and respect those who think the whole process of taking a partner’s last name to be archaic, it was something we discussed and she had/s the final say).

Of course, during that trip, we started planning the next trip….and soon we just constantly had stuff booked. Rather than going through the hassle of changing everything over to a new name and hoping that all the airlines played ball, we’ve just constantly put off getting the paperwork done.

When we were anticipating the arrival of our son, we anticipated we’d finally get that done. And that’s why….

I booked a flight in her married name before officially changing it

Read that sentence again and go ahead and say out loud how stupid that was. I don’t disagree.

Last October, when we were a few months away from having our son, I booked a flight for later this year on Delta using Virgin Atlantic miles (See: Holy availability! Transcon flat beds in Delta business for 18K points; Hawaii cheap, too). At the time, I figured we would take advantage of the downtime either just before or just after the birth of our son and get that paperwork submitted. I now recall even making a joke saying, “Well, you’re going to have to change your name now, because I booked you a flight next year with the last name Reyes”. But I had completely forgotten about that joke and detail until last week when I was looking ahead at travel plans…..

Which is when I realized I had a problem: Oops. I had a flight booked in her married name, but her ID still shows her maiden name.

My first thought was that this was fixable: she intended to change the name. If we hopped on getting the paperwork done, we could probably make it happen in time. Then I pulled up the next award ticket I’d booked with Virgin Atlantic miles. Wouldn’t ya know it….I booked that one in her maiden name. Ugh! How I managed to book two tickets back-to-back with different last names and not realize that is still beyond me. But I realized that my problem was the same either way — one ticket was going to have to be changed or both would have to be canceled.

Booked with Virgin Atlantic on Delta Metal: Who do you call to change a last name?

Experienced flyers immediately know you need to contact the ticketing carrier in order to make any changes. I knew this was usually the case. However, I Googled “Virgin Atlantic award name change”. At the top of the five million results Google picked up in under half a second was this:

That didn’t sound promising……so I figured I’d call Delta first and hope that they would take some pity on me. It’s a domestic US flight and I read some conflicting reports on potentially being able to get through with a marriage certificate, etc — but I didn’t want to have the two of us and a baby at the Delta check-in counter relying on a random agent to be in a good mood.

So I called and waited on hold for the better part of an hour. The Delta agent who finally picked up certainly sounded like she wanted to help and didn’t immediately respond that it wasn’t possible, so I had a little hope. My hopes were quickly dashed when she said it looked like I booked through an agency. I explained it was an award ticket through Virgin Atlantic and that ended that. She told me to call Virgin.

I hung up the phone and resigned myself to another hour on hold with Virgin Atlantic — but much to my surprise, an agent picked up on the first ring (though he let me know in no uncertain terms that it was pure luck).

I explained the situation and he went to work looking into it.

Rules said you could only change 3 characters

After a few minutes, the agent told me that the rules for Delta (the way he said it indicated to me that the rules vary) say that he can only change up to 3 characters. As a little Googling showed, that’s actually pretty standard. My initial thought was, “OK…so let’s change 3 characters now….and then change 3 characters in a few minutes”. I figured the worst-case scenario was that it might take a few phone calls to slowly change the name. That actually sounded pretty good to me.

But the Virgin agent wasn’t a quitter. He continued looking into it and eventually put me on hold so he could call Delta directly. That took a while as he sat on hold for another 30+ minutes, coming back now and then to apologize. Eventually, he got through and came back to tell me the good news: Delta said as long as we don’t change the passenger, we could change the last name. Ok, great!

He made the change and then put me on hold to call the Virgin Atlantic ticketing desk to see if it could get immediately re-issued. Unfortunately, they were busy. He said I’d receive an email with a re-issued ticket within the next 24 hours. Best of all, he didn’t charge me any fee at all. I expected I might have to pay at least the $50 change fee — I was happy to pay $0 for this fix. But….

48 hours passed with no email, no changes

I didn’t receive anything from Virgin Atlantic over the next two days, and when I pulled up the reservation online, it still showed the wrong last name. Almost exactly 48 hours later, I called Virgin Atlantic again.

One thing that impressed me was how quickly each Virgin Atlantic agent I spoke with understood all the details of the situation. I laid out the problem for the new agent and gave her the confirmation number. She could immediately see the notes from my previous call and I only had to explain what I needed one time. She put me on hold for a while and eventually came back and said that she had successfully changed the last name — if I looked online, I should see that reflected in the itinerary and then I would receive a new emailed ticket within about 20 minutes. I pulled up the reservation, and she was right — the last name was fixed. Success!

Except…

My reservation totally disappeared

A few hours later, when I hadn’t received an email, I went to pull up my reservation. This is what I got:

Uh-oh. Neither the Virgin Atlantic nor Delta sites could find anything under my record locator. I double checked I had the confirmation code right and checked multiple times – no reservation found. I logged into my Virgin Atlantic account and it had no record of the reservation: no note about it being canceled, no detail in the “activity” section showing how the miles were used, no miles refund. It was like the reservation just never existed.

Call #4: No news is…no news

I gave it a couple of hours of being lost in the ether and when it didn’t resolve itself, I decided to call again. There was no “saver” availability anywhere near my dates, and Delta wanted bucketloads of miles. I was worried this wouldn’t be an easy fix.

Again, the Virgin Atlantic agent could see all previous notes and she went right to work on it. Unfortunately, it proved to be difficult. She noted a couple of times that they weren’t sure why Delta had “______”, where the blank space is something she repeated but I couldn’t understand. I gathered that she was saying Delta had made my reservation disappear.

Eventually, she said that she had to contact the Virgin Atlantic ticket desk who in turn had to contact the Delta ticket desk. However, the Delta ticket desk wasn’t able to resolve this and had to contact another department. This was all going to take a while, so she took my number and promised me a call back.

Day #3, Call #5: Yes, you can change the last name on an award ticket

On the third day, I called again. Once again, the agent got it without much input from my end. After a long hold, she said that she had just spoken with Delta and that if I looked up my record locator again, I should once again see the reservation (and with the correct names). Sure enough, I did — and she also pulled up Delta.com to be sure she could see it. That was encouraging, though I contained my enthusiasm since this had already happened once.

Thankfully, it seems that whatever she did worked. We lost our seat assignments (which I was able to quickly fix on my own as our original seats were still available), but everything else was back to normal.

At least, that’s mostly true. There is one other slight oddity that I still don’t quite understand: when I pull up the reservation on Delta.com, everything looks good (it has our correct flight and date information just as when I booked it last October, but with my wife’s last name corrected). However, when I click “view receipt”, it shows the date of Call #1 last week as the “Date of purchase”. In the passenger information section of the receipt, it shows the wrong last name for my wife. That is to say that her last name on the receipt does not match her last name on the itinerary. I’m working under the assumption that doesn’t matter. Hopefully, I’m right.

Bottom line

I know this must happen to people all the time. I’d bet it’s a frequent problem for honeymooners who book one way or another and things work out differently than they expected. I’m just glad that I happened to look at the reservation before we were on our way to the airport. During one of my long hold times, I reached out to a friend who works for Delta and she said this happens at the airport all the time — and being based out of a small airport, she sees people scrambling to catch the one flight a day to their destination while trying to get something like this straightened out. The good news is that my experience and other reports indicate this kind of change can be done, you just want to be sure you catch the mistake sooner rather than later.

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