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Warning: Strange Airline Credit Card Requirements For Check In

by Jason Steele

Like many of you, I have a variety of credit cards that I use for different purposes.  Some give great rewards on certain purchases while others have no foreign transaction fees.  When a bank changes its fees or I find a better deal, I will cancel my card and get a different one. I do not necessarily carry all my cards with me at all times.

I also like to book my travel far in advance.  Often it is because at least one person in my party is using an award ticket and the only way to secure award space is by doing so months in advance.   In fact, I even purchased a ticket for my daughter before she was even born, I had to call back later to have them put her name on the ticket once we had given her one.

This Is A Recipe For Disaster

It turns out that there are some airlines that have bizarre policies where they ask customers to show their credit card used to their ticket at the time of departure.  This is a stupid policy for many reasons.  Off the top of my head, I can envision several highly plausible scenarios:

1. A passenger does not bring to the airport the card used to charge the ticket.

2. A passenger has since canceled their credit card used to purchase the ticket.

3. The card used to purchase the ticket was either lost, stolen, or had expired.  It is unclear whether or not the airlines are sophisticated enough to link a new credit card number to an existing account.

4. A passenger is traveling without the holder of the credit card.   For example, companies and people often purchase tickets for others with their credit card.  Even a family traveling together might need to travel on separate flights from time to time.  This happened to me when I needed to return from a vacation before my wife and my daughter.  It is also common in my family for someone to purchase an airline ticket for another and be reimbursed.  Sometimes it is for convenience when I am researching and booking a flight for someone, and other times we like to use a particular credit card to maximize rewards.

5. The mere possession of a credit card might be the least reliable means of identification that I can think of.

So far, I have never faced the problem of an airline demanding to see the credit card used for purchase before permitting check in.  Nevertheless, I have read enough horror stories to know that this can happen when you least expect it.    Take this article at Chris Elliot’s site. In this case, it was South African Airlines that forced a passenger to a second ticket on the spot, yet failed to provide a refund.

There is also an entire thread at FlyerTalk about United Airlines staff occasionally demanding to see the credit card used for purchase.  As is the rule at United, their policy is little understood by their own staff, inconsistently enforced, and can even be circumvented via online check in.   Thankfully, no other domestic carrier seems to be playing this strange card game.

Other airlines also have been known to do this.  Nicholas Kralev has written about this practice, singling out Singapore Airlines as one of the most stringent enforcers of this policy.  In the absence of the credit card used to purchase the ticket, the purchaser is “required to sign a Letter of Indemnity (LOI) and submit it to the nearest Singapore Airlines ticket office.”   Naturally there is a Singapore Airlines ticket office on the street corner of your home town, right?

Other airlines out there that have this policy include Turkish Airlines.  Their web site indicates: “The credit card used by online sales transaction on our web site must be presented at check-in. If you have made your payment via virtual credit card, then main credit card is required to be presented during the ticket delivery.”

How Do I Avoid This Problem

If you think traveling on an award ticket will work, think again.  Singapore Airlines has even been known to request to the see the credit card used for the taxes and fees on award travel, no matter how small.    In these situations, proving your identity with a driver’s license or even a passport is insufficient for reasons that no one can explain.   In the case of Singapore Airlines, even an offer to pay for the fees again, in cash, was denied!

The only realistic way to protect yourself is obviously, to carry the card with your.   You should also investigate the policies of the airlines you are ing tickets from when you are not part of the traveling party.    While you should be safe domestically if you don’t fly United (wise advice in any circumstance), all bets are off with even the most well respected foreign carriers.   For example, Kralev warns; “Passengers on Germany’s Lufthansa have had problems, but there appear to be no specific rules.”

Just what you want when you check in for your flight from Ulan Bator back home: problems, but no specific rules.

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