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?
Several things spring to mind:
- Paying for excess baggage (if needed) is sometimes cheaper online than in person, with some airlines
- 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)
- Some airlines have a separate line for passengers who check in online. This "bag drop" line is often shorter than the regular line, and passengers are usually processed faster.
- If your airline has a "bag drop" line at your origin airport, you may be able to arrive at the airport slightly later.
- Some airports make you check in at a kiosk 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!
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.
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.
These days there are several airlines that do charge for checking in at the airport, quite a bit in some cases when compared to the ticket price.
If you want to check in luggage on those, and other, airlines and you have not yet added those to your ticket and check-in, you will have to pay quite a bit more than you would have had if you had added them before.
Now you check in online, walk to the luggage drop off, sometimes automated, othertimes one station for many airlines, hand in your case or bag and walk on to security and/or passport control.
If you are not able to check in online, make sure you enter the airport early and see if you can check in on a console. This will not work for all airlines, so make sure you know whether there is a surcharge to check in at the airport.
It may come in the future (if not already) that some airlines do not allow airport check-in anymore.
Few points come to mind when online check-in has more advantages:
You are able to select your seats well in advance (quite a big advantage, if you are traveling with family or in a group)
save time airport check-in (sometimes airport check-in queues are longer and may take up 15 minutes - 40 minutes), if baggage drop off is a separate queue
in case of over-booking, you are safe to secure your seats (in case same seat is not booked multiple times by the airline software)