‘I spelled my husband’s name wrong on his plane ticket’ – and other marriage-ending travel mistakes

Even the savviest of travellers can find themselves in the midst of a holiday nightmare, especially after two years off the road. It happened to me recently in New York. I forgot to pack a credit card. No problem, I thought. I have several payment cards stored in my phone’s Wallet and I was carrying two plastic debit cards. 

I checked into the Pod 51 Hotel in Manhattan at 11pm at night and handed over a Starling Bank debit card. Declined. Then my RBS debit card. Declined. No problem, I told the weary clerk, I’ll pay with the Halifax credit card on my phone. 

“We need to see a physical payment card,” she said smugly. “If you can’t pay, you can’t stay.” 

I accept that this was a cheap hotel (for New York) but it did already have the security of holding my credit card details in its booking system. 

As visions of bedding down in a doorway on Third Avenue swam before me, RBS pinged a message. “Did you just try to pay £482 for Pod 51 in New York,” the bot asked? I sent back a Y for Yes and my account was reactivated immediately (it can take up to 10 minutes) and I sank exhausted into bed. Lesson learnt.

Here are 10 common mistakes that can turn your holiday dream into an expensive nightmare. All are scenarios regularly experienced by readers who have contacted Ask the Experts for help.

You put the wrong name on a flight ticket

This is the No 1 error. It’s easy to make. You book a ticket for a friend called Jon but his passport name is Jonathan. Your parents-in-law surprise you with tickets to the Maldives for your honeymoon but book them in your married name before you have applied for a new passport.

Air tickets must be issued in the exact name written in your passport. Otherwise, you will be refused travel by the airline.

Some airlines will correct names free of charge, or put what they call “a note on the booking” for a small mistake; others charge up to £200. A few still insist the ticket is cancelled and reissued, incurring high cancellation charges.

If you have booked through an agent (Trailfinders excepted), you will find them very unhelpful in this regard. It will be a battle of wills to get the change made – even if the airline allows it.

You buy the wrong flight 

I know this may sound patronising but it is a really, really bad idea to buy a flight ticket in the evening. This is because: (a) you are tired; (b) the cut-off for correcting a mistake free of charge is often midnight on the day you book, and (c) the correction will probably have to be made by phoning a call centre, which will have closed for the day. Not all airlines allow you to change dates or destinations once you have clicked “Buy” but quite a few allow a grace period of 24 hours.

When booking a flight, it’s always best to do so in the morning

Credit: Getty

You find your passport is invalid

After years of moans from British citizens about “losing months” by having to renew their passports early to allow for entry to countries that insist on a six-month validity, the Government thought it would be nice and extend the expiry date of the renewed passport to take account of this. 

The result is that most British passports are now valid for up to nine months longer than the usual 10 years. This is fine for travel to some countries such as the United States, but not for others including those in the EU.

The rules were tightened in January 2021 but nobody in government bothered to alert the travelling public who, of course, couldn’t travel at the time. 

British passports are now valid for a maximum of 10 years in Europe, whatever the expiry date. In addition, they must now have three months’ validity on the day you leave the EU, though six months is recommended in case you come up against a jobsworth as this is the rule for some other non-EU countries. 

Thousands of travellers have been caught out already and turned away at the airport. Passport renewals are taking at least 10 weeks to process; even the Passport Office’s Fast Track service now takes a week and may involve travelling to a distant office (though you can nominate someone else to attend). See gov.uk for details.

You forget a crucial entry document

As the rules and regulations for entry to countries change from day to day, it is essential to keep a close eye on what paperwork you need to enter your destination and – very importantly – in what format. Do not rely on your airline or tour operator to tell you.

Consult the Foreign Office (gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice), which is doing its best to keep up with the latest rules and also gives links to local government websites in your destination. Follow the links as the FCDO doesn’t always keep up. 

A smartphone makes storing and displaying QR vaccination codes and country locator forms that much easier. They will soon become travel essentials but you should also take paper printouts as a back-up.

You discover your car rental is voided

There are several ways to fall into this nasty little trap:

  • You book the car rental with your partner as the lead driver. The check-out clerk asks for the card used to make the booking but it’s yours, not the lead driver’s. Rental denied.
  • You present a debit card as security when picking up the car. Rental denied. Most companies only accept credit cards because debit cards only offer security up to the balance in your account.
  • You pay to reserve the car as the lead passenger but your partner, who is also down as a driver on the rental agreement, buys the excess insurance policy. Crash claim denied. The policy must be in the name of the lead driver.

There are many ways to fall foul of complex car rental rules

Credit: Getty

You bring the wrong plastic money

As I discovered in New York, come well prepared. Even if you tell your bank you are going away, the chances are that your credit or debit card will be flagged for a security check at some point. This will always be when it is least convenient such as at the petrol pump or in a restaurant.

Always take three payment cards: a debit or money card with low foreign exchange fees; and two credit cards (one linked to MasterCard, the other to Visa). American Express is fine as an alternative, but be aware that it charges merchants higher fees so is not accepted everywhere.

Never rely on paying with your phone. We have grown so used to tapping and clicking in Britain that it’s easy to forget that other countries are only just starting their fintech journey. In the US, for example, most restaurants only offer swipe-and-pin and present you with a receipt to sign and fill in the alarmingly large tip. 

You buy a non-refundable hotel room

It’s tempting, isn’t it, to click on that non-refundable offer and save 20 per cent or more on the cost. Don’t do it unless you are absolutely certain you can make the trip. 

At the start of the pandemic, online booking agents and hotels showed some generosity. That goodwill has vanished now. If you accept a non-refundable rate it is exactly that, whatever the reason for your cancellation.

That said, some hotels still recognise the times we live in. I had to cancel a night at the Hotel du Vin in Poole last month, booked through an online agent, as I had a cold that I thought might be Covid and was awaiting a test result. They didn’t charge me as a goodwill gesture.

You can’t find a quick turnaround Covid testing service

As countries shorten the time limit for pre-departure Covid tests (within 24 hours of departure for entry to the US, for example), it can be hard to find a reliable provider offering a postal service. For peace of mind, it is worth paying for an in-clinic test despite the higher cost.

Dam Health (dam-health.com) has 60 clinics around the UK offering pre-booked PCR and antigen testing with the option of results in three hours. An adult-and-child deal costs £100 for two PCR tests. It also offers on-the-day emergency appointments: £149 for a PCR test and £39 for an antigen test.

Express Test (expresstest.co.uk) has 38 clinics, many at airports and railway stations. You do need to book ahead but it offers on-site antigen tests for £35 with results in 30 minutes. 

With countries tightening requirements for pre-departure Covid tests, it’s worth paying extra to attend a walk-through centre at the airport

Credit: Getty

You forget to buy holiday insurance

Insurers don’t like to sell you insurance once you are on holiday because of the heightened fraud risk. Two insurers which will cover you are Freedom Insurance (01223 446914; freedominsure.co.uk) and Battleface (020 8089 5338; battleface.com). Cover starts 24 hours after you sign up.

Holiday accommodation doesn’t exist

Holiday scams on Airbnb and other holiday rental sites have abated during the pandemic but no doubt they will come roaring back as we start to travel again. The way it works is that the scammer posts a listing for a gorgeous apartment owned by someone else – or takes over the unsecured website of a genuine property owner – and gets you to start liaising directly instead of using the secure messaging facility on the rental  platform. To avoid being caught out, never contact the owner or host directly during the booking process. 

Scammers often offer tempting discounts if you pay them direct by bank transfer. Never agree to pay by this method. Always pay through the rental agency’s site, preferably using a credit card. That way, if something goes wrong, the credit card company is jointly liable for your loss.