The problem: You overslept and missed your plane — and you have a nonrefundable ticket.
Aggravation factor: 3 if you're headed to Las Vegas or the Bay Area on Southwest Airlines; 5-plus if you're headed to most other U.S. cities, 6-plus if you're leaving the country.
The cause: Illness? Hangover? Doesn't matter.
The effect: You wait another hour (if you're going to Las Vegas or another city with frequent service), many hours or even overnight.
The remedy: Call the airline (or head for the check-in counter) and book your next departure.
The cost: It depends. With nonrefundable tickets from most carriers, you start with the ticket-change fee — $150 at American, United and others. You'll also need to pay the difference between the cost of your unused ticket and the new one. There could be no difference or it could be $300 more. With Southwest Airlines' nonrefundable fares, you apply the cost of your original ticket to the cost of a new ticket on the next flight, and there's no change fee.
The trick next time: Watch the clock and give yourself more time to get to and through the airport. Airlines recommend you arrive 90 minutes in advance for domestic flights.
The problem: Your name is misspelled on your airline reservation.
Aggravation factor: From 1 to 5, depending on when you discover it and where you're flying.
The cause: A typo, or bad spellers
The effect: This could keep you off a flight, especially if an agent sees that the name on your ticket doesn't match your government-issued identification. But in practice, typos happen often without serious repercussions. Transportation Security Administration spokesman Nico Melendez says TSA agents are trained to sort out one- and two-letter discrepancies from more serious issues. So are gate agents. "If there's a misspelling in the name, it's not something to be overly concerned about," Melendez says. In fact, he adds, agents often use commercially available databases to confirm identities for travelers whose wallets or purses have been lost or stolen or for those who have been married recently. That, he says, "might take a few extra minutes at the security checkpoint." With foreign flights, a perfect match is more important. The officials involved are typically customs and border protection agents, not TSA.
The remedy: Call your airline ASAP. Even if TSA is willing to wave you through, who knows what another country's customs agents will make of the discrepancy? That misspelling could also mess up your mileage-program points.
The cost: Maybe none, maybe a few minutes of your time. But airline practices vary. Sometimes a name correction is free. Sometimes agents will leave the spelling uncorrected, but put a note in your file to prevent confusion at the gate. In some cases, you could face a $150 ticket-change fee.
The trick next time: When you make your booking, proofread carefully. If you get married and change your name and there's not enough time to get the names on your identification and air tickets to match up, take a copy of your marriage license with you to the airport.
The problem: Your rental car company is dinging you for damage you never saw.
Aggravation factor: From 4 to 6, depending on the amount.
The cause: Pothole? Keying? Maybe you just didn't notice the damage or it happened after you returned the car.
The effect: Rental company supervisor informs you of the damage, followed by a bill in the mail.