New security rule: Name on frequent flier account must match passport

VPF Travel advises MIT international travelers to make sure their frequent flier programs reflect their names exactly as they appear on their passports, in light of a shift in the responsibility for pre-departure watch list matching.

The responsibility for pre-departure watch list matching will shift from individual airlines to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in August, under the Department of Homeland Security's new "Final Rule on Secure Flight." The rule stipulates that all reservations contain the passenger's full name (including middle names, first or middle initials, etc.) as it appears on the document that will be used to verify identity at the airport.

On the surface, an easy fix would be to have the affected travelers change the names on their frequent flyer accounts to match the names on their government-issued ID. As with many customer-service issues related to airline information technology, such a solution often is far easier said than done and often requires faxing, mailing, and following up with phone calls.

The Secure Flight rule officially takes place in August, but given the phased-in approach the TSA is taking, travelers may want to take the necessary steps now to change names in frequent flyer accounts if they don't match their government identification.

Each airline has a different procedure for name changes. Some allow a letter to be faxed, some will do it by phone, and some require documentation to be sent via mail only. Below are links to airline name change information page (or phone numbers if they do not have information online):

Scenarios That Would Pose a Problem

Example 1: An American Airlines frequent flyer who has maintained platinum status in the carrier's loyalty program for 14 years. His reservations have always been booked under R. David Baker (not his real name). His ID reads Robert David Baker, but he has never had trouble getting through security to date. His frequent flyer account reads Robert Baker, but that's never been an issue with American until this week when American advised that he must either change his reservation name to match his frequent flyer account in order to receive miles and elite status recognition (i.e. upgrades), or he must change his frequent flyer account to match his reservation name. Ultimately, his government ID name will trump either process.

Example 2: A traveler's Continental OnePass account is listed as "Shawn," but his ID and passport is listed as "Shaun." In 10 years, he has never had a problem until attempting to check in last week for an international flight. It took quite a while to get him past security and checked in.