Before you head to the airport, be sure to check your reservation for an actual ticket number—or you might end up paying for a $1,200 same-day flight.
When you book a flight, you’re usually provided with a confirmation number in an email (the familiar six-character code on a reservation)—but this doesn’t guarantee your reservation is locked in. Until you receive a ticket number, your reservation is exactly what its name suggests: a hold on a flight.
On The Points Guy, one traveler shared his hellish experience at an airport, realizing he had no confirmed ticket number for his flight to Spain:
We were all set for our trip, or so we thought. The moment of shock came while checking in at the airport, where agents told us they didn’t see our names listed as passengers on the flight. Several supervisors were called in to tell us we were never ticketed despite receiving a confirmation email and selecting our seats months earlier! Iberia had emailed me a request to call and confirm my identity in order to pay the award taxes, but that email had gone straight to my spam folder. Meanwhile, my credit card was never actually charged.
The end result: $1,200 for same-day economy tickets, paid for at the airline’s counter. Why does this happen? In the Points Guy’s example, it was a missed email regarding payment. (I encountered a similar issue while booking a trip to Japan; a missed email also meant my seats weren’t confirmed until a few days before my trip.)
Generally, you should receive an immediate email with a confirmation code and another, separate email with a ticket number within 24 hours or both in the same email.
As TPG writes, however, award holds can happen; airlines allow customers to hold a reservation while they purchase or transfer additional points or miles to afford a ticket. If you forget to make the necessary changes, you might end up without a ticket.
A hold might also take place when you’re using award points to book flights with a partner airline. Payment processing issues might hold up your confirmed ticket, too.
To avoid this problem altogether, look for the ticket number near your name in your reservation or your itinerary. (If you’re booking on behalf of a group of people, there will be one reservation number, but several ticket numbers representing each passenger.) Better yet, call an airline and confirm your ticket.
If you can check in, it’s also an indication you have a confirmed ticket; just be sure to do this before you arrive at the airport to save you some time panicking at an airline counter.
Make Sure Your Flight Reservation Is Ticketed Before You Travel – Lifehacker