Question about changing the name on a plane ticket.
January 9, 2009 11:20 AM   Subscribe

I need help transferring an already-purchased international airline ticket from me to another person. The travel agent insists this is impossible, and that I will have to eat the $1,700 cost of the ticket. Is there anything I can do?

The flight is March 12 and the airline is KLM. The flight is from JFK to Uganda by way of Amsterdam.

The ticket was purchased through a travel agent in NYC by someone who is coordinating this trip for a group of people going on a study trip.

I have someone who wants very much to take my place on this trip. However, the travel agent is telling the person who is organizing the trip that he cannot simply switch my name to the new person's name on this ticket, and that I will have to eat the cost of the ticket, and then she will have to book a new ticket through him.

FWIW, the reason I am not taking this trip is related to my health, and I can get a letter from my physician to this effect.

I've never been on an international trip before, and I really don't know what my options are.

Thanks in advance for your insight.
posted by 4ster to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total)
Do you have the ticket in hand? If so, try calling the airline directly- bypass the travel agent. Just tell them that you have a medical emergency and want to transfer the ticket to another person. There might be a change fee involved, but this is typically $50 - $100.
posted by unexpected at 11:29 AM on January 9, 2009

Airlines are very strict about this for security reasons - 9/11 and all that. If it was easy to do, think how difficult it would be to monitor this kind of transaction for security reasons.

As recommended above, try calling the airline directly. HOWEVER, I don't think this is possible. What will probably end up happening is that they will give you a voucher to use the ticket at another time, plus a change fee and the difference is air costs if prices go up.
posted by HeyAllie at 11:36 AM on January 9, 2009

Do you have travel insurance? This is exactly the time to use it. They should cover the cost of the flight without much hassle.

If not, do what unexpected suggests, but I wouldn't hold out too much hope. In general, changing names on a ticket is impossible. Airlines don't like having secondary markets on tickets, so they prevent anyone from doing this. I've even seen cases where people's names were misspelled by a reservations agent and the airline still wouldn't correct the ticket! Incidentally, this is the primary reason airlines check IDs for travel. They don't care who you are, they just care that you haven't sold your ticket to someone else.
posted by saeculorum at 11:37 AM on January 9, 2009

I wouldn't recommend checking in online and alter the printable boarding pass to be in their name. But you could.
posted by kcm at 11:51 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

In the old days, pre 9/11, you could get a voucher and then use the voucher to pay for anyone's tickets. This was directly through the airlines and cost $50.

I cancelled my expensive flight and bought two cheaper tickets for me and a friend.

Not sure it'll still work but it's worth asking.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:57 AM on January 9, 2009

Thanks for the input everyone, just a bit more information:

The agent told me that it is indeed the airline's policy to not switch the names on the ticket, so bypassing the agent wouldn't work.

As far as the other suggestions go, they are certainly interesting, and I am investigating them now.
posted by 4ster at 12:07 PM on January 9, 2009

See if you can get a voucher for the unused ticket, then use said voucher to pay for a new ticket under the other person's name.
posted by nitsuj at 12:13 PM on January 9, 2009

I would call the airline anyway. I had to reschedule a flight not too long ago and I got told no by the first person. I got told no by the second person. I got told no by the third person. I got told no by the first person again. The next person I spoke with got done what I needed to get done at no cost. I was just persistent. I didn't yell (well I did get a little aggravated, but that person wasn't the one who helped me ultimately), I just kept asking, and in different ways, and repeated the need in a desperate but not demanding tone. The conversations ranged from 5 minutes to 25 minutes.

Also, don't step on your own toes. If the person says "hold on" or seems to be just restating something, give it time - they may be working something out for you. Don't assume just because they initially tell you that they can't do it, that the ultimate resolution will be that. Definitely bring in the medical part, offer to fax, and have the name of the person who you need to change it to.
posted by cashman at 12:23 PM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Dont believe the agent, just because they said that doesn't mean its true.

It could be just extra hassle or cost to them, so its easier for them to just tell you NO.
posted by Iax at 12:46 PM on January 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

Ignore what the agent said. Call the airline and let them tell you what their policy is, and then do as cashman did and don't take no for an answer. Really. This is where it pays to be insistent, polite, and determined. If need be, take your request high up the food chain. You may have to persist through some levels of bureaucracy, but I bet if you keep at it, you can get a decent resolution.
posted by incessant at 12:48 PM on January 9, 2009

$1,700 is too much money to just give up on. I second the "keep politely calling for help until you get it done" plan of action.

I can't imagine making Uganda my first international travel adventure. You are a bold one.
posted by cockeyed at 1:15 PM on January 9, 2009

KLM's own FAQ says to change the name, contact the travel agent, or contact their customer services, so it is possible.

KLM's US presence is via, and they have a nice simple interface to ask questions online.
posted by nielm at 1:34 PM on January 9, 2009

I learned from dealing with the IRS in the 80's that when somebody says they can't do a thing, take them literally. They are telling you that they can't do it, which is not the same thing as 'it can't be done'.

Now when I hear a customer service person say, "I can't do x", I just respond with, "Thank you for trying. Would you please connect me with somebody who can?" This is shockingly effective.
posted by trinity8-director at 2:21 PM on January 9, 2009 [10 favorites]

My credit card automatically has trip cancellation insurance if you pay for your ticket with it. Assuming you paid with a credit card, you should check your cards features to see if you have that perk.
posted by Yorrick at 4:59 PM on January 9, 2009

I agree that you should ring the airline - and if you don't get a satisfactory answer, try calling again. Frequently, staff are not properly trained and do not understand all the options possible. I had this when trying to book a frequent flier ticket on a partner airline - the first two people didn't even think that airline was one of their partners.
posted by AnnaRat at 6:16 PM on January 9, 2009

The cancellation fee is unlikely to be the entire cost of the ticket. I cancelled a round-the-world fare last year and the cancellation fee was $500. This was Lufthansa, but most airlines are similar. The cancellation on my ticket was handled through my travel agent.

I do know someone that got the airline to change the name on the ticket, because the person had died. They had to send the death notice in before the airline would change it. So they do have it within their discretion to do it, they just don't do it unless you really persist.

You may also want to check the KLM forum at Flyer Talk for more advice.

I've flown KLM, and they can often be a bit abrupt, but keep trying and you'll get the right person.
posted by wingless_angel at 9:09 PM on January 9, 2009

A friend won two tickets to Paris, invited me to go, we wanted to stop in London on the way there but fly straight back home to Austin. I made a few calls and was told no way, couldn't be done. But I'm a pretty determined guy, and I knew that if I could find the right person to speak with it could and would be done.

Thus began the telephone calls to various companies and individuals within those companies.

"No." "No." "No." "No." "No." "No." On and on. But I kept on saying thanks but I need to speak with someone who will say "Yes." rather than "No." and I'd like to speak with your supervisor please, or whoever it is that you think might be able to tell me "Yes."

I bet I made forty phone calls.

I knew I was in business when someone I was speaking with said "Well, I shouldn't give you this phone number, but..." and then proceeded to give the the last number I dialed, where the person I spoke with not only said "Yes." but said it was no trouble at all, just a switch to flip on her computer screen. She flipped that switch, we were golden, had a blast in London.

Screw your underpants on tight, sit down with a cup of coffee or tea or whatever, make sure to take copious notes of who what when where why, anything and everything and every person you speak with and what they told you. Be polite. Don't stop.

Have fun!
posted by dancestoblue at 6:41 PM on January 11, 2009

Hi everyone. As a follow-up, the travel agent got the airline to refund the cost of the ticket. He wasn't not sure if there will be a penalty or not. His hypothesis is that since Northwest is in its last days, they wanted to get stuff like this off their books.

Thanks again for your help.
posted by 4ster at 1:03 PM on February 3, 2009

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