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Recently a situation came up where someone who didn't have any bank cards needed to buy an airline ticket on short notice (same day or next day). While fortunately the problem got resolved in the end, I wonder what solutions they could have used.

I thought of the following:

  1. Someone else could buy the ticket for them with a bank card. But many airlines require the card holder to travel, so this seems too risky. Is there a way around it? For example,

    a. If the card holder is present at check-in but doesn't travel, would they let the traveler board?

    b. Some airlines sometimes might just refund the first purchase and ask to pay the same price with a different card that the traveler has available. Would they accept cash instead of a second card?

  2. Is it possible to just buy the ticket at the airport with cash? Would this cost more than buying online if the ticket is for a flight departing the same day anyway?

What would you do if you faced this situation and you absolutely had to travel on short notice (preferably same day), thus only having a few hours to find a solution? The situation is complicated because different airlines have different policies and I'd expect that things are handled differently at different airports too. I was planning to call the airline and ask, but finally didn't get that far.

  • This is somewhat location-dependent. In Japan, where usage of credit cards is far from universal, you can pay for virtually all kinds of online purchases in cash at convenience stores. Yes, this includes air tickets. – fkraiem May 10 '16 at 17:45
  • @fkraiem Interesting. It would never have occurred to me that something like this exists. But how can you do this in Japan if you are buying a ticket from a non-Japanese airline on their website? Is it still possible? I mean, in this case the traveller had a paypal-like service but that payment method was only supported in their own country, so in practice (i.e. for airlines from elsewhere) it was useless. – Szabolcs May 10 '16 at 17:51
  • I would expect most airlines to offer it when booking from their Japanese website. Air France does. – fkraiem May 10 '16 at 17:56
  • Note that payment modes are very airline specific, and may be quite different if you compare the "traditional" ("full-service", "incumbent"...) airlines and their low-cost competitors. The former usually have sales offices in the airport, which will definitely accept cash. The latter try to get you to do everything online, usually using a card, and will generally charge you more to book/pay via other means, if they allow it at all. – jcaron May 10 '16 at 23:04
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    Book with a travel agent and pay cash. – Michael Hampton May 11 '16 at 4:11
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If the card holder is present at check-in but doesn't travel, would they let the traveler board?

Yes, typically. It's always worked for me and my kids.

Some airlines sometimes might just refund the first purchase and ask to pay the same price with a different card that the traveler has available. Would they accept cash instead of a second card?

I don't see why not (although you should probably check with the airline).

Is it possible to just buy the ticket at the airport with cash?

Certainly. (Although in the US, the TSA has an insane theory that terrorists pay cash, so don't be surprised if you get an extra screening.)

Would this cost more than buying online if the ticket is for a flight departing the same day anyway?

Probably. It isn't going to cost less, that's for sure.

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I have often bought (and paid with my credit card) tickets for friends, without traveling with them (or being anywhere within 5000 miles when they check in). There was never any issue.

This applies to travel within and between Europe, the USA, India, and Central America.

When you buy the ticket online, there are separate fields for the person that flies and the credit card holder. As long as the credit card works to pay the price, the airline would not care a second.

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    See this linked question. Some airlines, in certain markets, do care a great deal. It can depend on the timing of the ticket purchase and the countries involved, along with each airline's policy depending on the likelihood of credit card fraud. – Zach Lipton May 10 '16 at 22:13
  • @ZachLipton , that's why I listed the markets where I have been doing it often and successfully. – Aganju May 10 '16 at 22:17

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