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What is the benefit of checking in online for a flight when you intend to check bags at the airport? I understand some airports have special lines for people that are already checked in but are checking bags. Are there any advantages for airports that don't have those lines?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 19 down vote accepted

Several things spring to mind:

  • Paying for excess baggage (if needed) is usually cheaper online than in person
  • When you check in online, you can pick your seats, so you can get that sorted before everyone else does theirs at the airport (so you can often get better seats)
  • You know you have a seat (reduced chance of getting bumped because you'll already have a seat assigned)
  • You may be able to arrive at the airport slightly later (especially for airports with a quick bag drop line)
  • Some airports make you check in at a computer terminal at the airport anyway, which prints your boarding pass, so you might as well save time and do it at your leisure at home
  • You can print out a 2nd copy of your boarding pass in case you lose one!
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When a plane is overbooked, the airline faces a situation where for example 125 people with economy tickets have shown up for a flight with 124 seats, there are various things they can do:

  • move one of the economy people up to first or business, which is never oversold (by policy every airline I know does not oversell first or business) and rarely full
  • ask for volunteers to miss this flight and take a later one. They have to bribe this volunteer
  • deny someone boarding and make them a small compensation (often less than the bribe they would have offered a volunteer.)

When deciding who to upgrade for free, the airlines I'm familiar with consider the fare class you're in and your status (eg Elite, 1K, whatever) with the airline. There are quite often several people with the same status and fare class. The tie is then broken by check in time. When I check in the very instant online checkin opens, I am more likely to get upgraded.

When deciding who to deny boarding to (because of a lack of volunteers etc) they may similarly choose the passenger who checked in last.

A minor thing, but what the heck - checking in takes so little time that even when I don't have access to a printer I do it. And yeah, if you have a printer and aren't checking a bag there are more benefits. But it never drops to no benefit.

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I wonder whether it could also be possible that the later you check in, the more likely you are to be upgraded? By the time the 125th passenger tries to check in, the 124 seats have been allocated and had their boarding passes issued – so surely it’s easier to upgrade passenger 125 than to try to find passenger 1 and give her/him a new boarding pass? The only time I’ve ever been upgraded was when I got to the airport quite late without having checked in online. –  Brian Nixon Aug 21 '12 at 16:04
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Sometimes lazy GA's will just upgrade the seatless person who arrived at the last minute. But the software prefers to upgrade someone in seat 42B and put the latecomer in there. As long as 42B isn't on the plane already, this works. Finding passenger 42B consists of paging them, or having the computer beep when scanning the pass as they board, which has happened to me more than once. –  Kate Gregory Aug 21 '12 at 16:08
    
@BrianNixon I know a person who is quite brave and sort-of "knows what to do". He told me that by checking in at the right time and being assertive, he managed to get a class up even in cases where he would not be chosen otherwise. I don't know how he does it and how often he succeeded, but it obviously is possible. –  tohecz Feb 3 at 20:33
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Checking in online definitely speeds up the process and you often get to take a look at some upgrade options for a very small fee, much less than the original difference in seating.

You can also register your checked baggage at that time. Most large airlines have checked bag drop off so you can leave your bag at the kiosk, typically outside, with little or no line. Then, proceed straight to security.

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