A Warning About Mobile Phone Check-In

It seems like airlines all around the world are racing to allow passengers to check in for flights using only a mobile phone. Delta Mobile Check-In JokeI wrote about Air Canada rolling it out last year, and lately both Continental and Delta have put out tests of their own. Delta just put out a blog post on their test as well. It sounds great in theory, but you might want to think twice about it if earning miles is really important to you.

Fellow airline geek and aviation consultant Roy Rosales brought up a good point in an email yesterday. If for some reason miles don’t get credited to your account, you usually have to send in your boarding pass for credit. If you use your cell phone . . . there is no paper boarding pass to send.

In Roy’s case, he flew on a Hawaiian Airlines flight and expected to get Continental miles. They never showed up, and he called Continental to see what happened. Roy was told that an original boarding pass was required in order to get credit. He was curious so he asked what would happen if he had checked-in online and the airline kept the boarding pass, as some do. The agent said it didn’t matter – no pass, no credit.

So, until the airlines decide to somehow alter those policies and email you a PDF that can be used for redemption, you might want to consider keeping a paper record, especially if you’re flying on one airline and trying to earn miles on another.

20 Responses to A Warning About Mobile Phone Check-In

  1. Axel sarkissian says:

    Interesting. I like the idea, but i would like to get miles.

  2. Dan says:

    I really honestly don’t see the point of online check-in, unless you are super late to arrive at the airport.

    The Kiosks take literally 30 seconds to check in and print a paper boarding pass.

  3. Dan says:

    I meant mobile check-in, whoops!

  4. Gray says:

    Or, check-in online 24 hours before, and download a copy of that boarding pass to your computer. Then, use a mobile device for check-in convenience at the airport. Most airlines require the boarding pass to credit miles because of the unique ticket number printed on the pass. After completing a reservation, the airline recycles PNRs and record locater numbers, rendering them completely useless.

  5. Oliver says:

    Gray, the combination of PNR and passenger first/last name should still be sufficient to look up the old record, I would think. Chances of that resulting in a duplicate due to PNR reuse seem extremely minimal. Oh, and throw in date of flight and flight number…

    I never understood the need for a printed boarding pass as “proof” that you actually flew. It proves nothing. I can print a boarding pass and still not board the flight.

  6. Roy says:

    Gray – you are correct….but ticket number already print out on boarding passes…both webcheck and airport check. So the point here is this…with technology so ‘advanced’…why can’t I just email the carrier my ticket number and let them do the work. But of course…i’d probably get charged for that too! :-)

  7. CF says:

    Gray – I think the point of mobile check-in is to allow you to avoid having to go to your computer and get your boarding pass. If you do that, why not just print it out and take it with you? I suppose if you’re on the road, you may not have a printer, but that still significantly reduces the value of mobile check-in.

  8. Skinny says:

    How do the boarding passes arrive? If they come via a text or picture message, shouldn’t you should be able to forward that message to your email.

  9. David M says:

    Of course, some airlines keep part of the boarding pass and that part might not have the ticket number. US Airways comes to mind; the stub has the record locator but not the ticket number.

  10. David M says:

    And rereading what I wrote I realize it might not make perfect sense. I was trying to say that the part of the boarding pass that you get to keep might not have the ticket number on it.

  11. Jennifer says:

    That’s somewhat odd…. usually, if you have the e-mail receipt and confirmation with the ticket number on it, you can apply for the credits on Continental.com using the ticket number as the reference.

    Since the airline will show the ticket has been flown, and everybody knows it has to be that traveler who flew the ticket, you should get credit.

    Continental has always handled us quickly and easily this way.

  12. John says:

    That happened to us once. Now I just either print off a second set of boarding passes when my wife and I fly or make copies.

  13. CF says:

    Skinny – I believe they come in as an MMS message, so you might be able to forward it on, but there is supposed to be some sort of encryption. I’m not sure how that would work, nor am I sure that they would accept a forwarded text message. It’s more about airlines updating policies, I think.

    Jennifer – Yeah, for Continental credit on Continental flights, you can submit electronically. This is an issue when you’re trying to get Continental credit on partner flights, like Hawaiian or (currently) Northwest and Delta.

  14. Joe Jones says:

    That’s pretty scummy of the US majors, not giving passengers any sort of paper trail.

    Here in Japan, where the whole concept of mobile phone check-in started, you place the bar code under the scanner at the gate, and the machine gives you a little paper boarding pass right before you board the plane. It looks more like a commuter rail ticket than a traditional boarding pass, but it gets the job done as far as proving that you flew.

    It’s particularly important since Northwest lets Japan-based WorldPerks members fax in boarding passes from any domestic flight (regardless of airline) for 500 free miles per segment…

  15. Audit says:

    I’ve had several problems with using Continental’s mobile check in. They always seem to have a difficult time reading the bar code on my phone.

    Once, at security, it wouldn’t read at all so I was forced get out of line to go print the pass at a kiosk. Another time, my flight was delayed four hours. As we finally went to board, I tried to pull up the bar code only to find out that the mobile link was no longer valid. Apparently, the links expire after the scheduled time of departure. I then had to hurry to customer service to get a paper boarding pass.

    It’s a nice idea, and I agree with Cranky that it could be very helpful when I’m traveling and do not have access to a printer. However, I’m going back to paper until they work out the bugs.

  16. jt says:

    Have had the same problems as Audit with Continental’s mobile check-in; in retrospect, I think I should have turned the backlight of my PDA to maximum brightness (as well as print a back-up paper pass). Oops. The irate passengers behind me would certainly have appreciated it, as I brought the elite access line at EWR security to a screeching halt.
    Continental does appear to send the “boarding pass” as a web link that expires shortly after published departure.

  17. David says:

    CO’s Mobile application also allows you to e-mail a boarding pass. This should take care of nervous frequent fliers. ;-)

  18. CF says:

    David – That’s good to know, but will Northwest or Delta accept that emailed pass as proof of travel to give you miles? That’s the real question.

  19. Sarah says:

    Great invention – really convenient. There’s other places that do it in this article:
    http://www.atelier-us.com/emerging-technologies/article/airlines-adopt-cell-phone-check-in-for-paperless-boarding-pass

  20. Ben says:

    Delta doesn’t require a ticket for miles. They automatically add my miles to my account when I travel. Another reason why I like Delta better.

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