E-tickets are everywhere: Long gone are the days of pulling up to will call looking for your fancy “paper” tickets, and no longer do we print movie tickets at home to “save time” before heading to the theatre. Everything is scannable, and that’s just fine — except when it isn’t. If your phone starts flipping out, or the internet connection at your venue is on the fritz, you can’t load your ticket, which means you can’t access your live entertainment.
One workaround people use is to screenshot their e-tickets: I recently stumbled upon this Reddit thread on r/lifeprotips, where user wanderingbilby suggested taking such a screenshot of your e-tickets before heading into a crowded venue. The idea here is to eliminate the risk of the ticket app malfunctioning or otherwise not being able to load your ticket due to the number of people accessing the network.
In theory, it’s a great idea: A static QR code is the same whether it’s in an app or as part of a screenshot. In these cases, it’s not the app that matters, but the QR code itself. It’s why you can print a QR code from your phone or computer and have it scan just as well in the real world.
However, many ticket issuers no longer rely on traditional QR and barcodes for their ticketing purposes. The codes of old are easy for you to use — too easy, in fact. It’s not impossible to imagine people who didn’t buy the ticket using it. In fact, it’s very possible, which is why organisations have started cracking down on the practice. Without some backup verification like an ID check, the code will scan no matter who presents it.
These new e-tickets, which Ticketmaster refers to as “enhanced tickets,” are smarter than a simple code. Rather than rely on a static image, enhanced tickets update their codes on a regular basis.
It’s the same process used for two-factor authentication (2FA) apps like Google Authenticator or iCloud Keychain: When your ticket is generated, the issuer’s server and the ticket share a secret “key.” Only the server and your ticket know this key, so it can’t be stolen or used by another party. In order to confirm the ticket is legit, the ticket will take the secret key and mix it with the current time to produce a unique code. The server looks for that code upon scanning: If the barcode passes, you get to go to the concert. If not, it’s back to the overpriced parking lot for you.
That secret code is constantly regenerating: It’s not something you can learn once and reuse. How often the ticket changes its code varies: 2FA codes usually change once every 20 to 30 seconds, but ticket codes can last minutes. However, the end result is the same. If you screenshot an enhanced ticket, once the code refreshes, that screenshot is useless. Unless you screenshot the code and use it immediately, there’s simply no point.
Then there’s the other side of enhanced tickets: moving parts. I see this with e-tickets I buy for the train, which uses a code but also a moving timestamp on the bottom of the ticket. The moving parts often have nothing to do with the digital authentication of the ticket (a scanner won’t pay attention to a moving timestamp). Rather, it’s a design by the issuer for the person taking your ticket to instantly know whether or not the ticket is real. The machines haven’t totally taken over, after all.
In this case, a screenshot definitely wouldn’t cut it: Your ticket taker wouldn’t be able to see the moving pieces of the ticket and instantly know you weren’t using the app. But, theoretically, you could screen record the ticket and get away with it. Of course, the code would need to be static, and the moving data would either need to be relevant at all times, or the taker would need to not look very closely at it, but, again, it’s possible.
How to know if your e-ticket has a static code
The easiest way to know whether or not your e-ticket has a static code (and whether or not you’re able to screenshot it) is if the issuer tells you so. Ticketmaster is not shy about the fact its tickets are not cool with their photo being taken. There’s no ambiguity here: You either present the ever-changing legitimate code, or you GTFO.
Not all enhanced tickets are so forthright, though. While some warn you not to screenshot the ticket, and others have obvious moving elements, others are more subtle. If your ticket doesn’t have an obvious tell, keep a close eye on the barcode: It will likely change on you after a short period of time, cluing you in that the code won’t work as a screenshot.
Another method is to pay attention to how the ticket ended up in your possession. If you receive an e-ticket by email, it’s almost certainly static, especially if it came through as a PDF. A PDF is as good as a screenshot, since it’s really a single image. These codes are safe to save to your phone as a screenshot, if there isn’t a mobile wallet option to begin with.
Similarly, if the issuer gives you the option to print the ticket, that’s a good sign as well: To a scanner, there’s no difference between a printed code and a digital one, but in order for a printed ticket to work, the code needs to be static.
Don’t be afraid to rely on technology
However, you might not even want to bother with screenshotting a ticket and risking a denial of entry if the issuer supports adding a ticket to your mobile wallet. Whether you have an iPhone or Android, your phone has a “wallet” app that accepts enhanced tickets. When you tap “add to wallet,” the ticket will conveniently live there until it’s time to scan it. These wallets support automatic updates, meaning the barcode will match the one the scanner is looking for (unlike a screenshot). Best of all, you won’t need to worry about an internet connection to pull up the ticket, since it’s already on your phone, in your wallet.
If you don’t feel like adding the ticket to your wallet, try accessing the ticket in the app ahead of time. Some apps will download the ticket to your phone once you do so, to help avoid any internet-related issues at the venue. However, some e-tickets expire quickly once activated, such as e-tickets for a train. Make sure the app won’t kill your ticket if you access it early before trying this trick.
Keep your screen bright
If you hate e-tickets because you find them unreliable, make sure your screen is as bright as can be. Scanners can have a hard time reading the code on your phone if the display is too dim, so bumping up the brightness to 100% is usually the safest bet.
Some apps know and care about this fact, and increase your brightness when you open the ticket automatically. However, if the app is a bit lazy, and doesn’t adjust your brightness for you, remember to do so yourself before attempting to scan the ticket.
Paper’s back, baby
Even in our futuristic world of 2022, many venues still operate with paper tickets (although the e-ticket is often the default). If you don’t want to deal with it, head to will call or your venue’s equivalent (or even a kiosk at the airport or train station) and request a physical ticket. You’ll likely need to provide ID, but in many cases, you’ll walk away with a traditional ticket that won’t crack, break, or die on you.