One neat thing I liked about Passbook, was that it's location based. So using the theater chain they signed as an example, when a user is physically close to the theater, the theater ticket automatically shows up on the lock screen waiting for you to click it. Same with the airport. Get to the airport, and there's a little link waiting for you on your lockscreen to show you your ticket and info.
I don't think NFC is being used enough right now for them to feel much negative feedback from it. Although I really would have preferred NFC, it doesn't surprise me a bit that Apple would bet against it.