Boarding passes – explained

Boarding passes – explained

Boarding passes – explained 2560 1707 Joe Bleasdale

I often talk about upgrades on this blog. One key thing that enables me to find upgrades, is a deep understanding of airline ticketing systems.

Did you know that the random lettering on boarding passes actually means something?

In this article, I’ll explain what those seemingly random letters and numbers on your boarding pass mean. It may just help you bag an upgrade.


Virgin Atlantic boarding pass

In the image below, I’ve drawn arrows pointing to some important items to know on the Virgin Atlantic boarding passes.

  • VSXXXXXX2459 – this represents the Virgin Atlantic Flying club number. If you do not see your frequent flyer number on your boarding pass, your points will likely not credit. As a result, you’ll have the hassle of chasing the airline for something that should have just happened automatically.
  • VS GOLD – Simply the flying club level of the passenger. This is needed to verify you have things like lounge access. If this is not on the boarding pass and you try to access a Delta Skyclub, they’d have to verify your booking manually which takes time.
  • Class G – Super important information. This is called the fare class, or fare bucket. It’s the thing that defines most of the rules of your ticket. How many points you earn, ticket flexibility and upgrade rules. In this case, it’s G which is the Virgin code for “Upper Class reward flight”. This ticket was actually upgraded from Premium Economy to Upper Class but G is also used for that scenario too.
  • BCN LHR072 – This is another interesting number. BCN stands for Boarding Control Number. Essentially, this is the position at which you checked in. So on this day, I was the 72nd person to check in for the flight. Quite late really because that flight only had about 96 customers onboard. This number is largely irrelevant for most people, but sometimes airlines use your position in the check in order to decide who gets upgraded or bumped off a flight. Some frequent fliers also try and get 001 – just for fun.
  • 1 932 xxxxxxxxxx 3 –  This is your e-ticket number. Each individual airline has a unique three-letter prefix so you can instantly tell who ticketed it. 932 is Virgin’s unique code. BA tickets are 125 prefixes. If this flight was a codeshare, the e-ticket will denote the “marketing carrier”, i.e. who sold you the ticket. The flight number will denote the “operating carrier”, i.e. who is actually operating the flight, for example – Delta.


TSA PreCheck

Note that on the first boarding pass, there’s no TSA PreCheck reference at the top. That’s because when flying out of a UK airport, there is no TSA PreCheck.

Usually, this is automatically printed on the ticket. If you are flying from the UK and connecting in the USA to a final destination and have PreCheck. You NEED to make sure this is added. If it is not, when you try and use PreCheck during your connection, the TSA will refuse you. The way to add PreCheck to your boarding pass is by giving the check-in staff your known traveller number. This should then add it to the pass. In the UK, you may need to explain why you want it added because most people do not quibble over this. Regardless of what the check-in staff say, if the boarding pass doesn’t say PreCheck, expect problems from the TSA.


British Airways boarding passes

The BA boarding passes are slightly different. In fact, boarding passes will look similar/different depending on what airline ticketing system the airline uses (fun fact). That’s why partner airline tickets often look very alike, they use the same system.

Thanks to Andy M for donating a recent BA boarding pass.

QQ3YF6 – booking reference. Basically a unique reference to the ticket and lets the airline staff access the booking without typing in the long ticket number.

SEQ 70 – Sequence number. Similar to the BCN on the Virgin boarding pass, this is the position at which you checked in. So in this case, Andy was the 70th person to check in for the flight.

125XXXXXXXXXX – e-ticket number. The prefix is 125, meaning BA themselves issued this ticket.

Emerald/BA/Gold – Frequent Flyer Status. Emerald is the One World name for “Gold”. Having this on your boarding pass means that not only is the passenger entitled to all BA Gold benefits, but also the Emerald benefits of the One World alliance. For example, lounge access on partner airlines.


Bottom line

Make sure all of your important information is correct on your boarding pass. If your frequent flyer membership number isn’t there, get it added. Check-in, lounge and gate staff can usually do it. Make sure the fare class you are in allows for upgrades (this is actually determined when you purchase the ticket, not at check-in).

Finally, if you have TSA PreCheck, make sure it is visible on your boarding pass if you intend on passing through expedited security in the USA.


Let’s plan your next trip…