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2.4. Electronic tickets and ticketless travel

The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World The Practical Nomad Guide to the Online Travel Marketplace

from The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World

and The Practical Nomad Guide to the Online Travel Marketplace

by Edward Hasbrouck


While airlines promoted e-tickets and ticketless travel as a convenience to passengers, e-tickets were developed and promoted solely to serve the interests of the airlines, not those of passengers. For your own protection, insist on paper tickets whenever possible. They may cost you extra, if they are available at all, but they are worth it. Most users of e-tickets don't realize their drawbacks, and wouldn't use them if they did and if they still had a choice of paper tickets.

  • Flights may still operate when reservation computers are down, but only holders of paper tickets are transported, since e-tickets can't be verified offline. E-ticket holders get left behind.
  • E-tickets establish a positive correspondence between reservations and tickets that doesn't exist with paper tickets. This enables airlines to crack down on many tricks that enable people to pay less, such as buying a round-trip ticket for a one-way journey to avoid paying the higher one-way fare. With an e-ticket -- unlike a paper ticket -- the airline can tell that you didn't use half the ticket. Under the terms of your ticket purchase contract, they can then bill you for the difference between the round-trip price you paid and the higher one-way fare for your actual trip.
  • For all tickets paid for by credit card over the Internet or by phone, airlines reserve the right to inspect the credit card and require the cardholder's signature when you check in. Because airlines only make occasional spot checks of credit cards, most people don't realize that this is possible. Many people purchase e- tickets for family members or business associates as a way to avoid the cost and risk of mailing tickets. But there's a risk in this: If someone else pays for e-tickets, and isn't present with their credit card when you check in, or if you buy your own tickets but don't have the credit card you used with you when you check in, you will be denied boarding unless you can come up with alternate payment on the spot. This isn't required with paper tickets. Spot checks of credit cards used to pay for e-tickets are rare, but they do happen. I've seen some very distraught travellers being turned away from flights paid for as e-tickets by spouses, colleagues, or other people who weren't there to show their credit card and sign a charge slip when they tried to check in.
  • For international travel, tickets are required by many countries (including, for most foreign visitors, the USA) as proof of onward or return transportation for immigration purposes. Since airlines can't usually see reservations or e-tickets on other airlines, onward or return travel on a different airline can only be demonstrated by a paper ticket. A traveller arriving in a country on one airline, and leaving on an e-ticket on another, is currently unable to provide any proof of onward transportation at check-in, and is likely to be refused passage.
  • E-tickets are especially disadvantageous in the event of a strike or operational problem affecting an airline. Normally, major USA airlines honor each others' tickets (even, in the interest of converting passengers' loyalties, inexpensive "nonendorsable" tickets that they are not required to honor) during strikes and the like. But they can't access, verify, or honor other airlines' e-tickets. As e-ticket usage has increased, each impending airline strike has prompted an increasingly overwhelming run on airlines and travel agents of passengers trying to get their e-tickets printed in order to be able to get them accepted by other airlines during a strike.

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"Don't believe anything just because you read it on the Internet. Anyone can say anything on the Internet, and they do. The Internet is the most effective medium in history for the rapid global propagation of rumor, myth, and false information." (From The Practical Nomad Guide to the Online Travel Marketplace, 2001)

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