How to Book Travel During a Name Change

May 30, 2019

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Regardless of the reason for changing your legal name, chances are you are ready to start using your new name. However, when booking travel around the time of your name change — perhaps a honeymoon after your wedding — you’ll need to be careful. This is because airlines, hotels, security agents and immigration officers will need to verify your identity, and obviously you want to make these interactions as quick and painless as possible.

Ideally, you’ll determine the correct name to use before applying for a passport (if needed) and booking flights, hotels and other non-refundable activities that require identification. So, this guide will focus on how you should book travel and apply for a passport during and shortly after a name change. But, as mistakes are bound to happen with some travelers, we’ll also consider how to fix your travel plans when you realize you’ve used the wrong name.

How to Book Travel

Whether to use your previous name or new name when booking travel that will occur shortly after a name change depends on one thing: whether you plan to update your passport — or ID, for domestic travel — before or after your trip. This is because the name on your passport must match the name on your airline tickets — regardless of whether this is the name you currently go by.

If you don’t have a valid passport — and need one for your trip — you’ll want to apply for a passport using your previous name if you will be traveling within six to eight weeks of your legal name change. After all, you can request a new passport with your new name within a year of your passport being issued for no additional charge. Just submit the following by mail once you’re ready to update the name in your barely used passport:

  • Form DS-5504
  • Your most recent US passport
  • Your original or certified name-change document, such as a marriage certificate, divorce decree, or court order
  • One color passport photo
Passport visa page
(Photo by yenwen / Getty Images)

When to Use Your Previous Name

If you’ll be traveling with identification that uses your previous name, use your previous name when booking travel. For simplicity, just travel as if your previous name is still your name. If you’re uncertain whether you’ll be able to get a new passport with your new name before traveling, take the conservative route and use your previous name and carry your passport showing this previous name.

Photo by Andra Lesmana via Twenty20.
If you’re doing a destination wedding, or taking honeymoon immediately after your wedding, book travel using your previous name. (Photo by Andra Lesmana via Twenty20)

When to Use Your New Name

If you’re not traveling soon after your name change, and hence have time to deal with changing your name legally and getting a new passport before travel, then you can book travel using your new name. For example, I got married in August and didn’t take a honeymoon until December so I had ample time to go through all the name-change procedures and get a new passport before my December travel. Once you get a new passport, be sure to update your Global Entry.

Of course, if you travel frequently you’ll need to consider when you’ll be home long enough to get new identification. Although some states can print a new driver’s license the same day, passports usually take longer. However, if you have urgent international travel plans within the next two or three weeks you can make an appointment at a passport agency or center; these passport agencies or centers can get you a passport within hours of when you arrive at their office if needed. Otherwise, you’ll want to allow four to six weeks for expedited passport service and at least six weeks for routine passport service.

Some LGBTQ families travel with even more documentation than is routinely necessary (Photo by goodmoments/Getty Images)
If you’ll have time to change your name legally and get a new passport before travel, then use your new name. (Photo by goodmoments/Getty Images)

How to Fix Issues

So, your trip is approaching and you’ve determined that you’ve booked travel under a different name than the identification that you’ll take on your trip. If the name mismatch is for a hotel or tour, this may not be a huge issue. In these cases, your first plan should be to call the hotel or tour company, explain your situation and ask them to simply update your name.

But, in the case of air tickets — or other transport where you’ll be crossing borders or going through ID checks — a name mismatch will likely be problematic. So, you’ll want to fix this issue sooner rather than later. Here are some suggestions, generally in the order of the most reasonable to the least reasonable:

  • If the ticket is refundable or offers free cancellation, cancel your ticket and rebook a new ticket.
  • Call the airline and change the name. There’s usually a change fee involved, and these fees can range from modest to ridiculous. A name change may not be possible with some airlines, even with a document like a marriage certificate.
  • Obtain identification that matches the name on the ticket.
  • Purchase a new ticket in the correct name, and abandon the original ticket.

Some of these solutions won’t cost you anything, while others will end up being rather expensive and/or time-consuming. Credit card travel protections won’t cover these costs — although change fees may be eligible for the airline incidental fee credit that comes with cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express, The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, the American Express® Gold Card, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card and the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card — but some individual travel insurance plans may cover you. So, if you purchased travel insurance for your trip, take a look at your plan to see if these fees might be covered.

Photo by Caiaimage/Agnieszka Olek / Getty Images.
If you don’t fix your name mismatch issues before travel, you may be spending a lot of time at the airline ticket counter — likely looking a lot more upset than this passenger. (Photo by Caiaimage/Agnieszka Olek / Getty Images)

Or, although I don’t recommend it, you could try to travel on a ticket with a different name. My one experience flying domestically on a ticket with a slightly different first name — Katie versus Kathryn — didn’t even elicit a comment from the check-in agent or TSA agent. But, chances are you won’t be as lucky if you attempt to fly with a mismatched last name, so be ready to pay an expensive name change fee, purchase a new ticket or even miss your flight if things don’t go well.

Bottom Line

When booking travel that will occur around a name change, use the name that will appear on the identification that you’ll use when traveling. This means that if you don’t have a passport or your passport is expired, you may need to apply for a passport with your previous name even if you’ll be traveling after a wedding or other event during which you adopted a new name. In some cases, this may mean that all of your bills, records and identification except your passport may show your new name — but if you’re traveling internationally, you’ll want to book travel using the name that will be on your passport.

Featured photo by David Cleveland/Getty Images.

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