Why an electronic ticket number still matters even without paper tickets

Once upon a time, we didn’t have electronic tickets — paper was king, the ticket number mattered then, and still does

ticket numberIt was one of those calls, over a decade ago, that we laugh about now. My travel agency client, who is also a friend, was traveling to Europe with her husband. The airline industry was moving from paper to electronic tickets. She needed her airline ticket number.

This particular trip involved a Lufthansa regional partner carrier in Europe. At that time, the ticket could only be issued as a paper ticket. When my friend tried to check in at the airport, she ended up calling our agency from the Lufthansa counter in a bit of a panic. She didn’t have her paper tickets with her.

She needed a ticket number. All paper tickets have one, but electronic tickets do not, at least not on your electronic device

Get refunds in cash when airlines cancel your flightWhen I’d given her the tickets months earlier, my friend knew they were paper, and important. She placed them in a drawer for safekeeping. Then, she just forgot about them.

She’d also flown a few domestic trips with electronic tickets and gotten into the habit of not bringing paper tickets to the airport.

Fortunately, we had the ticket numbers in our office.

Lufthansa was sympathetic. It reissued a new paper ticket at the original fare. Then, they refunded the original tickets after my friend mailed them in upon her return. So no harm was done other than a little stress and a temporary double charge on her credit card.

Today, almost all tickets are electronic. However, it helps to write down your ticket number. In case of trouble, it will come in handy. Most agencies don’t even have ticket printers. But while travelers may not need paper tickets, it’s still a good idea to be armed with e-ticket numbers.

The examples below are from past trips.

1. When a ticket gets lost in cyberspace, the ticket number is like gold

A United agent told one of our clients at the airport that they couldn’t find his e-ticket. The check-in agent thought he must have had a paper ticket. However, it was impossible, as our agency no longer prints them. He called me and handed the phone to the United agent. She said she couldn’t find the e-ticket number on the reservation. So, I gave it to her. She entered it manually and was then able to check him in with boarding passes.

2. If there is a SNAFU, a ticket number can save the day — or you may have to wait a day

A client had a draft itinerary for an international trip which we tweaked a few times. Either the final itinerary got lost in cyberspace, or she accidentally just printed off a copy of the first draft before she left home. In any case, she ended up missing her second flight.

Now, final ticketed itineraries have the ticket numbers on them, so had she looked for the number with the original draft, she would have seen it wasn’t there and either would have been able to find the correct one or call the agency and get the updated itinerary.

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3. Sometimes, a flight number changes, but your ticket number never does

This traveler eventually got on his flight with no problem. But there had been a schedule change, and the flight number was changed. His flight still left at the same time. He entered the new flight number into his TripIt app. But, since the flight number was changed, the app was confused. This resulted in him getting a flight-delay message for a flight he wasn’t on.

In this case, he reached Delta, but the agent originally couldn’t find the flight with the old number. He was told he wasn’t booked. Eventually, Delta sorted it out. With the ticket number, the phone agent would have been able to pull up the trip immediately and save him a lot of stress.

4. Sometimes airline alliance frequent flier tickets “get lost” among partners

A friend tells a story about flying on a British Airways (BA) frequent flier ticket issued through the American Airlines (AA) frequent flier program. The flight was from Boston to Europe. He had tickets for his nephew and himself. Upon check-in, he learned there was no ticket for his nephew. BA asked for the ticket numbers. Fortunately, he had the ticket number. (He had learned his lesson from a previous code-share airline alliance trip.) After BA had the ticket number, it was easy to assess whether or not his nephew had a valid ticket. The rest of the trip went well.

An airline ticket number is like a silver bullet when faced with ticketing hassles, even today

Basically, a ticket number indicates that the trip has been paid for; even if there are itinerary changes, Reservation or airport agents can retrieve the ticket particulars. Most airlines also let travelers pull bookings up on their own airline websites with the number. Keeping the number on file somewhere can also help if a trip is canceled. It’s an easy way to retrieve the old credit for future use. Not to mention getting mileage credit, especially since many people don’t have or keep paper boarding passes anymore.

Like many things that seem odd or archaic in the travel industry, the ticket number might never become an issue throughout a trip, even a long trip. But think of it as a kind of free insurance.

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