Bad tickets on Amex


Q: I purchased a ticket for my son to fly home at Thanksgiving. I used American Express Travel Web site and had entered all of the correct information. After hitting the “purchase” icon, there was an error message regarding the inability of the transaction to be completed.

There was a “back” button in the screen that took me back to the reservation in progress. The flight numbers were the same and seats were as selected. So I proceeded again to hit the “purchase” icon.

This time the transaction went through. But when I looked at the e-mail confirmation less than 30 minutes later, I noticed that the name had been changed from my son’s to mine. I immediately called American Express and told them about the problem.

After being out on hold for a few occasions, I was told that it was my problem and it would cost me $100 to change the name. I also tried American Airlines and was given the same answer: It would cost $100.

I have been a user of American Express products for over 23 years now, from Green Cards to Platinum to homeowners and automobile insurance. I have not been disappointed with the services from American Express until now.

Can you help me?

— Dan Lewis

A: What happened to you is easily the most common online booking problem. Travelers are usually to blame for the bad tickets – they either hit the “book” button twice or enter the wrong name or dates.

But your case looked different, so I asked American Express to look into it.

It turns out that it was different. When the site returned an error message and you paged back to complete the transaction, it replaced your son’s name with yours. The American Express site automatically fills in certain fields for your convenience, based on your user profile. Since you were the one buying your son’s tickets, the site filled the “name” field with yours. It shouldn’t have.

American Express is reviewing the way its travel site works, according to spokeswoman Desiree Fish. “We’re taking a look at this part of the site to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” she told me.

But American Express isn’t completely to blame. You should have carefully read the information you were submitted before trying to make your reservation a second time. If you had, you would have noticed the wrong name and could have corrected the error.

The real problem here isn’t you or American Express, but the airlines’ stubborn insistence that the name on your ticket matches the one on your ID. Although they say it’s a security precaution, it isn’t. The Transportation Security Administration will allow someone with a ticket that doesn’t match his or her ID to pass through security after an additional screening.

So what’s the reason an airline won’t let you simply change the name on your ticket? Having transferable airline tickets, although convenient for passengers, would cost the airline industry millions of dollars in lost revenue.

American Express agreed to cover your change fee and has issued a new ticket under your son’s name.