Online travel agencies are outperforming airline Web sites in terms of customer experience, and that is impacting their booking success, according to a recent study by Keynote Systems.
The Keynote Customer Experience Rankings for the Airline Industry are based on research with 2,000 customers as they evaluated and interacted with 16 leading travel and airline Web sites.
The study revealed a significant gap between online travel agencies and individual airline Web sites, and showed that the advantage is rooted in a strong online customer experience. The study also drew a direct correlation between customer experience performance and conversion of site visitors into customers.
“Online agencies are also creating a better overall online experience for customers and this is a significant contributor to the success of these sites over airline sites. The airlines are just not fully capitalizing on their loyalty programs and direct ties to the customer,” said Dr. Bonny Brown, Director of Research and Public Services for Keynote.
The top three agency sites — Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity — scored significantly better than any airline site, aside from Southwest, in customer satisfaction and customer conversion.
Low-cost carriers Southwest and JetBlue were rated best among other airline sites in terms of customer experience and conversion. In fact, Southwest was the only airline site to drive bookings as effectively as the online agency sites.
To better drive frequent flyers to their own Web sites, many carriers continue to offer bonuses. American, United, Northwest and Delta are among those that provide 1,000 extra miles just for booking at their sites.
It’s not just a matter of pride for the airlines, says the Washington Post. A study by the Government Accountability Office found that the airlines paid more than $7 billion to distribute tickets in 2002. Jupiter Research, a company that analyzes Internet use, concluded in a report published last year that online travel spending in the United States will grow from $54 billion to $91 billion by 2009. Airline executives are paying increasing attention to those numbers, realizing that they can save big bucks by persuading consumers to book on their sites.