How To Read an Airline Ticket?

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Whether you’re a fan of the old-school flight ticket printout or prefer the e-version, a boarding pass is a vital document that offers more than flight entry access. It consists of important information regarding your trip, even down to the minuscule details like special in-flight meals. 

What’s interesting and sometimes perplexing about this document is that while some of the information is pretty self-explanatory, such as the boarding group, flight number, etc., others look like alphanumeric mind-tricks. 

If you’ve ever skimmed through your boarding pass only to wonder if there’s a method to that ‘randomness,’ rest assured there is. This article decodes the airline ticket piece-by-piece, so keep reading. 

What Information is Covered in a Flight Ticket?

Often, passengers read through just the basics of a flight ticket, such as the boarding gate number, boarding group, flight number, etc. However, the ticket also includes bar codes and security codes, each serving a purpose. 

While you may never need to decipher such codes, it is still good to know what they mean. Summing up, an airline ticket can reveal the following information –

  • Issuing Date of the Ticket 
  • The Address of the Issuing Agency 
  • Number of Passengers Boarding the Flight 
  • Which Seats Have Been Booked 
  • Number of Baggage Already Checked 
  • Name of the Flight 
  • Airline Loyalty Status 
  • Whether You’re Chosen for Additional Security Screening 
  • Your (Passenger) Name 
  • Agency Calling Number 
  • Electronic Ticket Number
  • Partner Airlines (if Any)
  • Your Unique Identifier Number 
  • Terminal Names for Departure and Arrival 
  • Date and Time for Departure
  • Time of Arrival 
  • Ticket Validity Period 
  • How Much Luggage Check-in is Permissible 
  • Ticket Status 
  • Booking Class 

Let’s Understand the Basic Terms 

So, your boarding pass may appear to be a small piece of document, but it holds a world of hidden information (at least some of it). Now that we’ve listed down all the general data an airline ticket reveals, let’s go ahead and understand the terms that are not self-explanatory. 

Issuing Date of the Ticket 

Often located on the top right-hand corner of the flight ticket, the issuing date displays the date on which the ticket was booked under your name. In the case of online payment, the issuing date would become the date on which the payment was successfully processed. 

If you change your itinerary, the revised date becomes the issue date. Suppose you originally booked a ticket on March 7th but made some changes on March 16th. The issuing date, in this case, will be the latter. 

The Address of the Issuing Agency 

This piece of information is located on the top left-hand corner of the ticket, usually parallel to the issuing date. When you book a flight ticket, it is generally issued by an agent (agency) in collaboration with consolidators who own International Air Transport (IATA) accreditation. 

This makes the process smoother and faster. Agencies play a key role in helping you book desired seats and answering queries regarding fares, schedules, etc. The name of that agency, along with the address, will also be present.

Bar Codes and the Information They Contain 

The bar codes, usually visible in the form of a magnetic strip, are perhaps the most prominent part of an airline ticket. Though these codes are typically found on the bottom right-hand corner of the boarding pass, the placement may differ from airline to airline. 

These codes are meant to streamline and speed up the boarding process and are scanned at the entry gate. Upon decoding, one will find that the bar code reveals essential bits of information that mainly concern the airport personnel. 

Such details include which seats have already been secured, the number of people aboard the flight, and the number of baggage screened. 

A Mysterious Isolated Letter 

In many airline tickets, a stray letter like ‘B’ or ‘Y’ may be found hanging by itself. Being isolated from others, this letter usually stands out and can be found anywhere on the ticket. However, it usually appears somewhere close to the flight number, seat assignment, or the date and time of flight departure. 

Though the meaning of the letter may differ among airlines, it generally represents your flight loyalty status. For instance – letters like ‘F’ and ‘A’ stand for first-class airline treatment. If the flight ticket shows the letter ‘B,’ you will likely receive an upgrade should you want to. 

Similarly, letters like ‘Y’ and ‘Q’ generally stand for economy status, indicating that no upgrade may be possible. 

Security Codes 

Security codes, usually represented by ‘SSSS,’ are unlikely to be present in every passenger’s flight ticket. This is due to the nature of these codes. 

Found at the extreme bottom of the boarding pass, this code flags certain passengers for ‘Secondary Security Screening Selection’ by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Passengers with this code on their tickets are pre-selected for an additional round of security screening. 

It isn’t clear what exactly makes a passenger eligible to land on this list, but speculations surround the No Fly or No Boarding lists issued by the US government. Even if a passenger’s name is remotely close to a suspect or high-risk individual on the government’s Department of Homeland watchlist, they may be chosen for additional screening. 

Certain innocent behaviors may also land you a spot on this security list – purchasing one-way tickets back-to-back, buying an airline ticket within two weeks of flying out, etc. 

Agency Calling Number 

This information is usually available on the left-hand side again, just below the issuing agency’s name. As the name suggests, this number is the board-line number to speak to a customer care representative from the issuing agency. 

You can dial this number to resolve queries, address grievances or issues, etc. 

Electronic Ticket Number 

This number represents your personal ticket number, which is usually found on the right-hand side parallel to the agency calling number. It consists of a three-digit airline code followed by a four-digit application number and a six-digit check or serial number. 

Once this number is entered into the system, it will reveal all details regarding whose name the ticket was issued for, passenger details, etc. It’s vital that you remember this number, mainly if you’re traveling with a ticket printout. In case that goes missing, the number will help issue another ticket. 

Partner Airline Information 

This information is again something that not every flight ticket will contain. However, if you find the words “Operated By” printed onto your ticket, the two words will usually be followed by the name of the airlines actually operating the flight. 

Take American Eagle for an example. Despite being under American Airlines, it is operated entirely by a different company with separate structuring and rules. Similarly, your tickets may have been sold by an airline that partnered with the one actually operating the flight. 

Such codeshare flight tickets will include partner airline information. 

Unique Identifier Number 

You are a unique flight passenger, but your name is not how airline authorities and the electronic ticketing system recognize you. Every passenger is allotted a six-digit alphanumeric code that sets them apart as unique passengers. 

Adjacent to the booking reference on the left side of the ticket, this number of the Amadeus system can be found. It is also known as the PNR reference number. Weird as it may seem, someone may share exactly the first and last name as you. 

In that case, the PNR will reveal other unique boarding details such as seat allocation, luggage upgrades, special meals ordered, etc. This will make it easier to recognize you. 

Ticket Validity Period 

This piece of information is available through an entire box table on the right side of the boarding pass. A specific date (or range) is printed within the box. 

Some passengers mistake the ticket validity period as a span wherein you’re free to travel on whatever date within the given range. But that is not what the validity period represents. It signifies the period within which you can change travel plans. 

For instance – if the validity period box shows the range March 9th to March 18th and your date of departure was originally March 9th, you can shift it to any date on or before the 18th in exchange for an additional fee. Changes are also subject to seat availability. 

Permissible Luggage Check-in Limit 

This information is also indicated with the help of a box table situated right next (on the right side) to the ticket validity period table. It tells the weight of luggage that you can check in without additional charges. 

If you wish to exceed the permissible limit, you can do so after paying extra charges. The airport staff will issue a new ticket with an updated check-in luggage table. 

Ticket Status 

Next to the luggage check-in table (to the right again), you will find a lean box table printed with ‘OK’ all across it. This table indicates the status of your flight ticket. 

If the ticket says ‘OK,’ you can easily board your flight, but if not, you may be denied flight entry. So, it’s important that the ticket status is always ‘OK.’ 


In case your journey does not include a layover or stopover, your flight ticket will consist of just the rest of the information mentioned above (wherever applicable). However, if your journey does involve a layover, the same will be indicated with an ‘S/O.’

And if the stopover is a few-hour long, the same will be represented by an ‘SPTC’ on the boarding pass. In this case, you will also be eligible for a hotel stay. For instance – Turkish Airlines still offers the SPTC stopover flight tickets amid the pandemic, which comes with a free stay at a 4-star hotel. 

The Different Types of Plane Tickets 

While discussing flight ticket terms above, we have already mentioned certain kinds of flight tickets, such as a stopover. But there are many more kinds, wherein the information for each ticket will slightly differ. 

Listed below are the other types of flight tickets.

One-Way Ticket 

As its name suggests, a one-way ticket is one that is booked for a single trip or one-way journey. These tickets are generally more expensive than return tickets because half of the flight journey remains unused. 

However, they are a useful option when you do not have a planned return date and time. 

Return Ticket 

Also known as round-trip tickets, return tickets are booked to and from the destination. They are more economically priced than one-way tickets. 

These tickets are also very flexible as travel dates (for return) can be easily changed. 

Stopover Ticket 

As mentioned earlier, a stopover ticket involves a halt or layover in the middle of the journey before the final destination is reached. It is also a form of one-way ticket and can be expensive.

However, if you’re traveling to multiple cities in a single trip, this ticket is cheaper than booking separate one-way tickets. 

Multi-Stop Ticket 

Certain airlines offer the luxury of traveling to multiple cities on a single flight ticket. Suppose you’re visiting a particular country and wish to stop by several cities located a few hours from each other. It’s best to look for a multi-stop flight ticket. 

This will be cheaper than booking separate one-way tickets for each city. 

Open-Jaw Ticket 

This type of ticket is also a blessing for wanderlust chasers. With this ticket, you can fly into one city and out of a different one. 

It is most suitable for multi-city travel without the need for back-tracking. For instance – If you’re visiting Paris, Greece, Germany, and Rome on a single trip, you can use the same ticket to fly into Paris and then out of Rome. 

Double-Dip and Triple-Treat Tickets 

As the name suggests, these two tickets are about doubling and tripling the vacation fun. They are mainly used for multi-city travel trips. 

On a double-dip ticket, you get to fly to and from one destination before continuing the journey to the final destination. Similarly, a triple-treat ticket allows you to fly to and from one destination and then onto a third destination before you continue the journey to a final destination. 

Round-the-World Ticket 

This is another unique type of flight ticket. It allows you to travel around the world on a single ticket. Round-the-world ticket is most suitable for those who wish to visit multiple nations in a single trip. 

Of course, you can book separate one-way tickets to different countries, but that would be very expensive. Round-the-world tickets are fairly reasonable. 

Mixed Class Ticket 

Should you wish to fly in two separate cabin classes for a single trip, this is the ticket you need to purchase. 

For instance – On a mixed class ticket, you can travel to the destination in Economy class and return in Business class and vice-versa. 

Finally, another type of ticket that exists for multi-country travel is the International Airpass ticket. The fixed cost-per-miles ensure fares don’t shoot up if you were to switch flights mid-trip. 

Airline Ticket vs. Boarding Pass: Is There a Difference?

Sometimes, passengers confuse boarding passes and flight tickets and use each term synonymously. However, it is essential to remember that the two are not exactly the same. Even their purpose is different. 

The airline or flight ticket simply proves that you have booked a seat on a particular flight. But it is the boarding pass that allows you entry into the flight. It contains information regarding boarding, such as seat assignment, check-in baggage allowance, boarding group, etc. 

Regular Ticket vs. e-Ticket: Which One is Better?

While a regular plane ticket is purchased through a travel agency or the airline itself, an e-ticket is generally purchased online. The former is available in a hard copy, whereas the latter via a soft copy. Each comes with its set of advantages and disadvantages. Since e-tickets have become popular in recent years, let’s speak in terms of that version. 

The number-one advantage of e-tickets is that they are more economical with no booking fees involved. Plus, booking and payment can be made at the same time. Finally, these tickets also come with various perks, such as exclusive deals, discounts, etc. 

However, two main disadvantages of these tickets are that the booking cannot be canceled or changed. And even if you were to cancel, you may not be eligible for a refund. 

Final Thoughts 

If you’ve successfully made it to this part of the article, you should count yourself as an airline ticket reading expert. Even if you may not remember everything by heart, this article should have given insights into information beyond the regular flight name and number. 

While you may not need to decode any of the information on the flight ticket, the remaining numbers, letters, and alphanumeric randomness are undoubtedly factors of interest. Misreading your ticket may lead to hassles with the security personnel. 

Plus, know your ticket types well so that you don’t miss out on opportunities to double or triple the fun at discounted costs. When all is said and done, happy vacationing! 

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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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