Couple forced to fork out $5,000 at airport over basic name mistake

The debacle has prompted a warning to travellers to be across one simple but crucial detail when booking flights.

A married couple looking forward to a hard-earned European holiday claim they've been "taken advantage of" by a travel website after being forced to fork out almost $5,000 just hours before takeoff, over what they say was "a simple oversight".

Brisbane-based pair Phil and Kate booked their month-long UK and Europe vacation in July last year, planning to visit family and enjoy the local summer. Phil said he was quite impressed with the price of their flights — which each cost $2,400 return — purchasing them via travel website Student Universe.

Simple mix-up costs couple big time

The flight path would see them fly from Brisbane to Melbourne with Virgin, then Melbourne to London via Doha on Qatar Airways. But merely hours before boarding the first leg, staff at the check-in counter noticed a discrepancy on Kate's ticket – the fact her full name is actually Katherine.

The couple sitting on their couch on the laptop, with an image of the booking service.
The couple were forced to fork out almost $5,000 just hours before flying. Source: A Current Affair.

"It was an administrative error, I think I married Kate in church and not Katherine," Phil told A Current Affair. "They simply said in order to fly, it was very simple, the passport name has to be identical to the letter to the ticket issue name." Virgin reportedly told the couple any changes would need to be made through the booking website.

Airlines deflect accountability when booking through third-party sites

The couple didn't think too much of it at the time, assuming it wouldn't be much of a hassle to swap in a few letters on the ticket, but Student Universe told them they'd need to cancel Kate's ticket — offering only a partial refund. The service then reportedly told the couple they'd have to purchase a new one in the name Katherine.

This price, they were warned, was a hefty $4,700.

"They didn't have time, that was their reasoning, to issue a name change on the ticket – but they had time to sell us a new ticket," Phil said.

Brisbane couple Phil and Kate pictured looking unhappy.
Brisbane couple Phil and Kate say they were taken advantage of by a travel website after being stung by a last-minute ticket cost. Source: A Current Affair.

"I begged them on the phone: 'Please, you can't do that — that's all our holiday money gone in a flash'," Kate recalled.

Match between passport and ticket 'crucial'

As the couple soon found out, having booked through a third-party website, they weren't eligible for help from the airlines either. Quentin Long from Australian Traveller said the match between passport and ticket is "incredibly crucial".

"It's not just about security it's also about visas, it's all about inter-government agencies, it is actually really, really important," he said.

"It really is one of those instances, where the later you find the mistake, the worse it's going to be."

While most airlines have a same-day, no mistake policy — making certain last-minute changes free — if travellers use a third party website, the offer is off the table.

"You've got to be across the details, there's no shortcuts," Long told ACA. "If you do seek out the cheapest airfares there is a ramification that you have very little room to move — if there is a mistake you are going to have to pay."

Taking personal responsibility for the mistake, and eventually forking out the cash, Phil said he felt the company exploited their situation.

"They've just taken advantage of the entire situation, particularly peak travel season and time was of the essence," he said. "We were caught in a situation where we needed to fly — and they knew that".