Waiting to Check in for a Flight — Reader Mistake Story

Apr 11, 2018

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Jeff, who nearly missed an international flight to start a vacation. Here’s what he had to say:

This past summer I was on a business trip in England, and planned to meet my wife in Mallorca for vacation afterward. I had booked an economy seat on the only non-stop flight from Heathrow to Mallorca on British Airways. I got an e-mail reminder to check in 24 hours before my flight, but as I had meetings all day and then went out with colleagues that night, I thought I could just wait to check in until I got to the airport.

When I arrived, I was told that the flight was overbooked and I would be put on a flight to Mallorca the next day. Apparently my seat was one of the first to be bumped because I had waited to check in. This was very stressful at the time, as my wife was already in the air on her way to meet me in Mallorca. I politely explained the situation to the BA staff (with a bit of begging and pleading), and then hung around the gate area until 45 minutes before takeoff.

At that point, they informed me that someone hadn’t shown up for the flight and they were able to put me on it. Ultimately, things worked out fine and my wife and I had a lovely vacation in Mallorca — thanks to TPG, we used points to stay at the Park Hyatt Mallorca — but in the future I’ll be sure to check in to my flight as soon as I’m able. Even though it worked out fine, I hope others can learn from my mistake!

Neglecting to check in is a simple mistake, but it can be costly. As Jeff experienced, some airlines use check-in times to help decide who gets bumped if a flight is oversold. The longer you wait in that case, the more likely it is you’ll be left behind. Checking in early may improve your chances of scoring an upgrade, or should at least give you a shot at grabbing a better seat in the same cabin — especially on Southwest, where waiting to check in puts you on the fast track to a middle seat in the back.

Seating aside, I like to check in as soon as possible just so I know it’s done. You never know when you’ll hit traffic or some other delay on the way to the airport; checking in ahead of time leaves you with one less step to worry about in case you’re running late. Check-in is available on every airline app I’ve seen, so you should be able to get it done even if you’re afk. If you’re going to be truly off the grid and will have no way to check yourself in, try to arrange ahead of time for a friend to do it on your behalf.

The only scenario where waiting to check in makes sense is if you’re confident your flight is oversold and you actually want to get bumped. That could improve your chances of getting bumped involuntarily, which might increase your compensation (though not necessarily based on some of the payouts we’ve seen lately. Even in that case, I don’t recommend waiting until the last minute, because check-in policies vary (especially for international flights) and you don’t want to miss the cutoff.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Jeff for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured photo of Heathrow Airport by JeanCuomo/Getty Images

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