E-Ticket vs. Itinerary vs. Booking Reference?

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Are you often confused between the terms e-Ticket, Itinerary, and Booking Reference? In this post, we will discuss the key difference between these closely resembling terms of the travel lingo while also learning more about each of these terms in detail.

E-Ticket vs. Itinerary vs. Booking Reference

An e-Ticket is your actual travel document which is equivalent to the old-age paper tickets (that surprisingly still exist). Your e-Ticket contains a serial number which is the most crucial facet of your ticket. The e-Ticket number is exactly the same as the paper ticket number, and it’s your actual travel document’s identifier. 

The ticket number is determined by the airline and used in conjunction with the various airline reporting agencies to keep track of finances. The first three digits of the ticket’s serial number identify the airline that issued the ticket. However, it is not always the airline you are flying on.

The Itinerary Number is simply a tracking number for the specific reservation system you booked through, be it an OTA (online travel agency), a bricks & mortar agency, tour company, or any other medium. It is only applicable when talking to the agency that made your booking.

An itinerary is not the same as an e-Ticket, let alone a paper ticket. It contains not only information about your flight, but also your hotel reservations, the fare from the airport to the hotel, etc., if you have discussed the same with your booking agency (and they have done more than just book your flight ticket).

Even the Global Distribution Systems, the networking systems used by travel agencies, issue their own itinerary and itinerary Number along with a Booking ID.

The itinerary can include a proposed route or confirmation of your travel plans, but you need to check in at the airport and get a ticket to board the plane. Even if you have an itinerary but no e-Ticket or plane ticket in general, you will unfortunately not be allowed to board the flight. 

Itineraries are great for an overview of your trip and sharing your travel plans with friends, family, or co-workers. On the other hand, for a tourist visa, it is best to have proof of a plane ticket out of the country if you need proof of onward travel. 

Although just your itinerary may work in some countries, some may only want to be bothered with a plane ticket since it is utterly unquestionable and more valid than an itinerary when it comes to issuing travel-related documents.

Having a flight itinerary is useful, as it contains information about your flight route and the confirmation number, but having a flight ticket is much more important. Without a flight ticket, the airline will not allow you to check in and board the plane.

Next comes the Booking Reference. The Booking Reference is the airline’s internal database of passengers’ names that is used to book flights within their computer system. Also known as PNR or Record Locator, Booking Reference is one document that is generated by the airline’s computer system, not the travel agent or GDS.

If your flights involve more than one airline, there may be separate PNR’s for each for use within their own systems, but you may be given only the ticketing airlines PNR. The PNR for that specific airline will be something you need to know when speaking directly with the airline.

Now that we have touched the base on how an e-Ticket, an Itinerary, and a Booking Reference are different from each other, let us elaborate on each of these documents, answering the most obvious questions that are boggling you.

What is an e-Ticket?

It is a travel document and can be purchased via websites and mobile applications and is possibly the most important document when flying. The need to print tickets is no longer necessary, thanks to e-tickets! That’s what the whole ‘e’ in e-Tickets is about. In simple terms, if you haven’t booked a flight ticket in a while, print tickets have been replaced by e-ticket or online flight tickets.

Passengers and airline companies enter a sort of contract when the former buys an e-Ticket from the latter.

Along with the personal details that are required for an online flight ticket purchase, the dates, destination, and arrival points and the number of people to travel are also required. All passengers are expected to give their full and accurate details. 

The company has a database that contains passengers’ ticket details. Passengers may purchase their flight tickets online and then only pass the security checkpoint if they have their passports with them.

Checking in with an e-Ticket

Here is a step-by-step method on how you can check-in with an e-Ticket:

Step 1: Print out your e-ticket or the validation e-mail you received before leaving for the airport. Before you hop into the cab and leave for the airport, print out your e-Ticket or the validation e-mail you received upon successful booking of the e-Ticket with the airline.

This gives you a more convenient form of proof than writing down your verification and reservation numbers, and it is a better form of proof that you bought the ticket. 

Step 2: The time margins are 60 to 75 minutes for a domestic flight and two to three hours for an international flight, even with an e-ticket. Thus, make sure to check in within this time frame – besides, it does not hurt to be a little early. The standard delays for checking luggage and security screenings are still applicable to e-ticket holders, even though the minimum check-in times have been changed. 

Step 3: Look for self-service check-in kiosks at the airline’s check-in counter. If you have a major credit card and passport, and the kiosks are functional, you can check in electronically for your international flight. In fact, it is advisable to do so.

Step 4: If there is a button on the screen that says “Start”, press it to start the program. The process requires verification, which translates to the requirement of entering your reservation/verification number and selecting your name or alternatively swiping your credit card. Credit card skimming is required for some self-service check-in systems. 

Step 5: If you are flying internationally, make sure to scan your passport as directed. 

Step 6: Check-in for each leg of the flight is done by following the instructions. Travellers can check-in for four flights at the same time with most self-service systems on the same Itinerary.

Step 7: Enter the number of bags that you want to check. If you are incurring baggage fees that are higher than the airline’s free baggage allowance, you’ll have to pay by credit card at the self-service kiosk. This happens when you are carrying a weight that exceeds the airline’s free baggage weight allowance. 

Step 8: If you want to make last-minute changes to your seat location, select seating arrangements. If you want a seat upgrade, you can pay for it at this time, depending on the airline.

Step 9: If you need to check baggage or have a problem with the self-service kiosk, you can go to the airline counter. You should submit your identification at the check-in counter and give the baggage to the clerk. If you check your baggage at the kiosk, it will save you time, but you still have to hand your baggage over at the counter.

How to read an e-Ticket?

It is difficult to decipher e-ticket receipts since they have lots of travel-speak or hieroglyphics on them (more on that later).

There are myriad details printed on an e-Ticket, from date and city info to even your e-Ticket number. If you want to try to retroactively access your file, you need to have some basic and important information, which is date and city info, your airline and flight numbers, and also the electronic ticket number, etc.

Instructions on how to read a standard e-ticket are included with your ticket e-mail (mostly). If you do not have an instruction on how to read your e-Ticket, here is a quick guide:

A – validating carrier

B – means that this document can’t be used to board your flight

C – place and date of issue

D – electronic ticket number

E – passenger name

F – departure airport code

G – arrival airport codes

H – airline code and flight numbers

I – class of service and travel dates

What is an Itinerary?

A flight itinerary is a document that can be used to confirm the flight schedule and your seat on the flight for a specific number of days.

The Itinerary is the route you’ll take for your flight. It includes the departure and arrival airports, connecting airports, dates and times of the flights, flight numbers, passenger name, any meal preferences, and your confirmation number.

If you need to apply for a visa, you can get a proposed itinerary by serving your flight, but most of the time, you get an itinerary after you book your flight. Many airlines allow you to hold a flight for a certain amount of time, which is usually 24 hours, either free or for a fee, so you can book it later if you so choose. You can keep your Itinerary for up to 72 hours, though the price is not guaranteed.

Depending on the embassy, a flight itinerary is also referred to as a:

  • Booked / Confirmed Flight Itinerary
  • Flight Reservation / Confirmation
  • Air Ticket Booking
  • Dummy Air Ticket Booking
  • Round Trip / Confirmed Flight Tickets
  • Dummy Flight Ticket
  • Flight Itinerary for Visa Application
  • Flight Ticket Reservation

An itinerary/schedule of your flight that contains details about it that can be verified online, which is the same thing as any of the terms mentioned right above. The document should contain the following information: 

  • The name of the person who booked the reservation.
  • The flight name.
  • A valid flight reservation number or booking ID is needed for a valid flight ticket.
  • Arrival date & departure date (given that it is a round-trip)
  • The duration and time of each flight.
  • The complete arrival and departure schedule of the flight, including in the airport IATA codes.
  • The price of the ticket when it’s fully purchased.
  • The details of your connecting flight, i.e., if you are going to visit more than one country with the same visa. 

Travellers usually receive this information via e-mail along with their flight tickets and receipt.

The flight itinerary is a guide to your travel plan, whether you are flying to a domestic destination or to an international destination. Whenever you book a flight, the airliner will always give you a flight itinerary.

Where do I find my flight itinerary?

You will most likely get a copy of your Itinerary from your airline. If you are not given a copy of your Itinerary by your airline, you can find it under your trips on the airline’s website, where you can pull up your Itinerary by inputting your name and confirmation number. 

Most airlines usually have a section called “manage booking” or “my trips” or something similar, wherein you need to enter the above-asked information to pull up your Itinerary. You can ask your travel agent or call the airline for more information on your trip, besides asking for an itinerary from their end.

You can receive a copy of your flight itinerary via e-mail, as well as get access to it on the airline’s website. If there is a download option on the airline’s website, you can download a copy of your flight itinerary. It is usually in a PDF format, so you can download, store and share it with others.

If you book your flight ticket from a third-party travel agency, you may be able to request your travel agent to give you the flight itinerary.

What is a Booking Reference?

A record locator or a booking reference is an alpha code used to identify and access a specific record on an airline’s reservation system. A unique record locator is generated by an airline’s reservation system whenever a customer makes a reservation or booking, which is solely why it is also known as a booking reference.

Depending on the reservation system, the record locator can be described as confirmation number, reservation number, confirmation code, booking reference, booking code, vendor locator, or other description.


Each computer reservation system creates record locators that are specific to that system. They’re usually six characters in length, though there are record locators for 7 or 8 characters. Record locators are unique to a particular point in time. Record locators can be used again once the PNRs to which they refer have been removed from the CRS. 

The characters I and L are sometimes not used in record locators because they can be confused, similar to 0 and o. The pool of available character combinations is reduced because of the rules about what combinations can be used for addresses that are booking locators or, simply put, your booking references. 

Use of a Booking Reference or Record Locator

When a reservation is made with the computer reservation system, a passenger name record is created, and the system will automatically generate a record locator for the PNR. Only one PNR will be created if the airline that operates the flight is the one making the booking.

If there is more than one airline in a booking, the reservation for the second flight will be made through the first airline. The first airline will send a message to the second airline to confirm the reservation, and the second airline will create a separate PNR with its own records locator from the second airline. If the booking is made through a travel agent, there will be a record locator and a PNR in the system used by the agency and in each airline reservation system.

Record locators are passed between airline systems during the confirmation process. The PNR can still be retrieved using the flight number or ticket number if the record locator fails to pass between the two systems.

Author - Willa Carson
Happywayfarer author Willa Carson
Hi, I'm Willa Carson, a passionate traveler who has been exploring the world for 7 years. Whether it's trekking through the Himalayas, exploring ancient ruins in South America, or simply savoring a cup of coffee at a local cafe, I believe that travel has the power to enrich our lives in countless ways. So join me on my journey and let's discover the world together!
Read more about me here.


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