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The advantages of online check-in can be numerous, but those benefits can vary greatly from one airline to another, depending on the policies. Generally, the greatest convenience of online check-in is for travelers who have little or no luggage, and do not need to check bags. In such cases, they can bypass the typical long lines at the check-in counters, and proceed right to the airport gates. Extra benefits include being able to choose a seat before arriving at the airport and other incentives as well.
One of the major benefits to online, or Internet, check-in is the ability to make sure the traveler has a spot reserved before arriving at the airport. This allows the traveler to bypass the ticket counter, where waits can be long, especially before popular flights. Usually, this only works out for the traveler if there are no bags to check. In some cases, curbside check-in could take the checked baggage even if the traveler has already utilized the online check-in system; this will depend on the airline.
The online check-in system usually allows travelers to print boarding passes directly from a home computer. Therefore, the traveler is generally assured of having a spot on the flight, even if he arrives at the last minute. If the flight is overbooked, there are still no guarantees, however. Airlines are also not under any obligation to wait for a late-arriving passenger, regardless of whether he has checked in online.
Another benefit to checking in online is the ability to choose a seat assignment. While not all airlines offer this, it can be a good incentive for those who have tickets, but not assigned seats. It allows the passenger to choose a seat before all the desired seats are taken, especially if the passenger will be arriving at the airport close to departure time.
Financial incentives can also play a role in online check-in and be a big advantage for some travelers. Certain airlines, recognizing the benefits of the automated process, offer passengers bonus frequent flier miles for checking in via the Internet. This speeds up the process at the airport, which in turn leads to happier passengers and possibly more cost efficient staffing arrangements. Therefore, the system is good for both the passenger and the airline.
The final benefit of online check-in relates to those who will have a busy itinerary before the flight. Many airlines allow you to check in as early as 72 hours before the flight, or at least 12:01 a.m. on the day of the flight. This allows travelers who have commitments up until the time they arrive at the airport, the flexibility to check in at an earlier time so that there is one less thing they need to worry about later.