An electronic ticket, often called e-ticket, is the digital ticket equivalent of a paper ticket. The term is most commonly associated with airline issued tickets. Electronic ticketing for urban or rail public transport is usually referred to as travel card or transit pass. It is also used in ticketing in the entertainment industry.
An electronic ticket system is a more efficient method of ticket entry, processing and marketing for companies in the airline, railways and other transport and entertainment industries.
E-tickets in the airline industry were devised in about 1994, and have now largely replaced the older multi-layered paper ticketing systems. Since 1 June 2008, it has been mandatory for IATA members to use e-ticketing. Where paper tickets are still available, some airlines charge a fee for issuing paper tickets.
When a reservation is confirmed, the airline keeps a record of the booking in its computer reservations system. Customers can print out or may be provided with a copy of a e-ticket itinerary receipt which contains the record locator or reservation number and the e-ticket number. It is possible to print multiple copies of an e-ticket itinerary receipt.
Besides providing itinerary details, an e-ticket itinerary receipt also contains:
- An official ticket number (including the airline's 3-digit ticketing code, a 4-digit form number, a 6-digit serial number, and sometimes a check digit)
- Carriage terms and conditions (or at least a reference to them)
- Fare and tax details, including fare calculation details and some additional data such as tour codes. The exact cost might not be stated, but a "fare basis" code will always identify the fare used.
- A short summary of fare restrictions, usually specifying only whether change or refund are permitted but not the penalties to which they are subject
- Form of payment
- Issuing office
- Baggage allowance
Checking in with an e-ticket
Passengers with e-tickets are required to check-in at the airport for a flight in the usual manner, except that they may be required to present an e-ticket itinerary receipt or personal identification, such as a passport, or credit card. They can also use the Record locator, often called booking reference, a code of six letters and digits. Producing a print-out of an e-ticket itinerary receipt may be required to enter the terminal of some airports or to satisfy immigration regulations in some countries.
The introduction of e-tickets has allowed for various enhancements to checking-in processes.
Self-service and remote check-in
- online/telephone/self-service kiosk check-in (if the airline makes this option available)
- early check-in
- printing boarding passes at airport kiosks and at locations other than an airport
- delivery of boarding pass bar-codes via SMS or email to a mobile device
Several websites assist people holding e-tickets to check in online in advance of the twenty-four-hour airline restriction. These sites store a passenger's flight information and then when the airline opens up for online check-in the data is transferred to the airline and the boarding pass is emailed back to the customer. With this e-ticket technology, if a passenger receives his boarding pass remotely and is travelling without check-in luggage, he may bypass traditional counter check-in.
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The ticketing systems of most airlines are only able to produce e-tickets for itineraries of no more than 16 segments, including surface segments. This is the same limit that applied to paper tickets.
Another critical limitation is that at the time e-tickets were initially designed, most airlines still practiced product bundling. By the time the industry began 100% e-ticket implementation, more and more airlines began to unbundle previously included services (like checked baggage) and add them back in as optional fees (ancillary revenue). However, the e-ticket standard did not anticipate and did not include a standardized mechanism for such optional fees.
IATA later implemented the Electronic Miscellaneous Document (EMD) standard for such information. This way, airlines could consistently expose and capture such fees at time of booking through travel reservation systems, rather than having to surprise passengers with them at check-in.
IATA mandated transition
As part of the IATA Simplifying the Business initiative, the association instituted a program to switch the industry to 100% electronic ticketing. The program concluded on June 1, 2008, with the association saying that the resulting industry savings were approximately US$3 billion.
In 2004, IATA Board of Governors set the end of 2007 as the deadline for airlines to make the transition to 100% electronic ticketing for tickets processed through the IATA billing and settlement plan; in June 2007, the deadline was extended to May 31, 2008.
As of June 1, 2008 paper tickets can no longer be issued on neutral stock by agencies reporting to their local BSP. Agents reporting to the ARC using company-provided stock or issuing tickets on behalf of an airline (GSAs and ticketing offices) are not subject to that restriction.
The industry was unable to comply with the IATA mandate and paper tickets remain in circulation as of February 2009.
Amtrak started offering electronic tickets on all train routes on 30 July 2012. These tickets can be ordered over the internet and printed (as a PDF file), printed at a Quik-Trak kiosk, or at the ticket counter at the station. Electronic tickets can also be held in a smart phone and shown to the conductor using an app. Mobile tickets are common with operators of US commuter train networks (e.g. MTA LIRR and Metro North) but they are usually only offered on the US version of the App Store and only accept US-issued credit cards as the app's payment page asks the user for the credit card's ZIP code to complete the purchase.
Several European train operators also offer self-printable or downloadable tickets. Often tickets can also be delivered by SMS or MMS. Railway operators in other countries also issue electronic tickets. The national operators of Denmark and Netherlands have a nationwide system where RFID smartcards are used as train tickets. In the UK, the issuance of printable or mobile tickets is at the discretion of train operators and is often available for advance tickets only (i.e. valid only on a specific train). This is very common in Europe for local urban rail, such as rapid transit/metros.
Sport, concert, and cinema tickets
Many sport, concert venues, and cinemas use electronic ticketing for their events. Electronic tickets, or "eTickets" as they are sometimes referred, are often delivered as PDFs or another downloadable format that can be received via email or through a mobile app. Electronic tickets allow spectators to download their tickets, as opposed to waiting for physical tickets to arrive in the mail. A printed copy of these tickets or a digital copy on a mobile phone should be presented on coming to the venue. These tickets now normally also have a barcode, which may be scanned on entry into the venue to streamline crowd processing. Electronic tickets have become increasingly prevalent in the entertainment industry over the last decade.
In some cases, spectators who want to see a match may not need a printable electronic ticket. If someone with a membership to a football team books a ticket online, the member can just verify his/her reservation with a membership card at the entrance. This is common with teams in the English Premiership League.
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In January 2017 it was reported that Germany's Federal Minister of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, Alexander Dobrindt wants to create an electronic ticket to connect public bus and train services as well as parking spaces and potentially car-sharing services across all cities.
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- Airline codes and ticketing codes
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- "eTickets Available on All Train Routes - Amtrak". Retrieved 7 January 2017.
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- "Germany plans nationwide e-ticket for all city transport". The Local. 6 January 2017. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
- "Öffentlicher Nahverkehr: Dobrindt plant digitale Fahrkarte für alle Städte". Die Zeit. 6 January 2017. Retrieved 6 January 2017.