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What name should I use on my travel documents?

The first thing I ask clients when I am booking trips for them is “What is your legal name?” This question sounds pretty easy and innocent, but the answer is critical to having a seemless travel experience.

Many of us, especially women who have changed their name after getting married, have several names that we go by. Whether there is a preference for using your middle name or avoiding your middle name, as we move through life we adjust our names on documents such as checks, driver’s licenses, credit cards, frequent flier mile programs etc. Years ago as long as the names were close and a discerning person could look at two forms of ID and gather that they were for the same person, this was not an issue. Now with the tightened security around travel, just a slight adjustment in your name can make a difference. Take for instance a client I have that uses the initial of her maiden name as her middle initial everywhere except for her passport, where the full maiden name shows up.

What kinds of issues could you have?

You might think, I have never had any issues. What kind of problems could I have? The reality is you may never have an issue. It is all up to the computer that scans your tickets and the security agent at the airport. If they are going by the letter of the law, you could have trouble checking into a flight and need to see a ticketing agent to get your ticket corrected. This is not a big deal unless you are in another country where you don’t speak the language and you are running late for your flight.

How do I avoid these issues?

To avoid issues, particularly if you plan on traveling internationally, I recommend reviewing all of your legal and travel documents and assuring that they have the exact same name. This means clarifying what is your first, middle and last name(s). For instance, if your name was Jane Anne Johns Doe (first name Jane, middle names Anne Johns and last name Doe) an airline ticket should show up as Doe, Jane Anne Johns. If you purchased a flight with Johns Doe as your last name, a ticket would show up as Johns Doe, Jane Anne, which would now not match your passport or driver’s license. The same holds true for using initials in the place of a name as in Jane A Doe.

What types of documents do I need to check?

  • Driver’s License : This is the document you probably use the most frequently and the best place to start. Assure that this is the name you would like to use.
  • Passport : Next review your passport. You probu\ably used your driver’s license to get the passport and so they should match. However, if they do not match, changing the driver’s license is easier. (Note: if you have Global Entry or Clear also check these documents as well.)
  • Frequent Traveler Programs : Next review your frequent traveler programs like skymiles, cruiseline perks, hotel rewards, etc. This is where things start to fall apart most of the times. The most important programs are your airline and cruiseline, becuase this is how your tickets will be issued and your tickets must match your ID to avoid issues.
  • Credit Cards : Lastly, I would check your credit cards. While it won’t cause travel issues, most likely, you would hate to be in another country and have someone look at your ID when you are trying to make a charge and decline your purchase.


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