Will airlines step up and provide a better hotel booking experience?
With an obvious interest in the results, the Expedia Affiliate Network has released research highlighting consumer appetite for booking hotels and other ancillary services as part of an integrated experience on airline websites.
The survey, carried out by YouGov with 2,000 US and UK consumers, has been aggregated into an infographic at the end of this article.
The principal results show that the vast majority of consumers – 90% – would book hotels through airline websites if they found the offers “compelling and convenient.” That’s a big IF, especially when looking at many of the current hotel booking experiences on airline websites.
Respondents said their current frustrations with booking hotels on airline websites are: Hidden costs, unclear pricing and limited options.
Of course, EAN would prefer that the hotels use their network to create a customized solution for airlines looking to boost revenues, so let’s take a look at the current state of ancillary bookings on airline websites.
The Good: JetBlue
JetBlue has one of the most compelling and convenient offers in the industry with JetBlue Getaways. Clean, crisp and easy-to-navigate, the product provides a simple way to buy a full packaged vacation, including flight and hotel.
The inventory is easy to explore, with the Top 10 Deals highlighting the most popular getaways available. Travelers are also provided with guaranteed 360 Support, which provides peace-of-mind when booking a hotel through the airline.
It’s always a risk to hand off customer service to a 3rd-party and losing control of the end-to-end consumer experience.
United’s hotel booking engine is deceptively straightforward. The branding is simple and the layout decluttered with plenty of white space. The key information is the focus here – there’s the map, the hotel rating and related reviews, the room category and price, and a simple slider to sort results.
By keeping the product clean and straightforward, United actually provides one of the most useful interfaces in the airline ancillary revenue landscape. Especially useful for the user is the ability to book a specific room category from the main search results – one less click to purchase a desired room.
United also offers a robust vacation package booking tool, which provides car rental, hotel and flight together in an attractive layout.
American Airlines has a decent hotel booking tool, but could benefit from some of United’s de-cluttering. Hotels can be easily selected visually according to amenity icon, TripAdvisor review rating, address or location, which is useful information to have when booking a hotel.
Reviews, photos and maps are also easily toggled, and provides more granular information control than United’s booking experience.
The Step Tracker at the top of the screen is also generally a nice thing to have, although it occupies a lot of prime real estate that may be better served to move the results up.
AA also offers car rentals, vacations, cruises and activities – and each of those interfaces could use a modern facelift to deliver the more direct, less complex experience users are familiar with.
The Bad: Delta
Compared with the interfaces of their airborne brethren, Delta just isn’t cutting it. It’s not inherently bad – just bad by comparison. The “Reviewer Score” is unclear, for example, and the various available rates and fees are hidden from the main search results. For example, why is the “Total Price” hidden in a small font below the nightly rate?
Delta has some work to do on their ancillary offering, especially given the general attractiveness and utility of their redesigned homepage experience. The Delta homepage was redesigned back in August 2010; as we reported then, Delta said that “we’ll be making more updates in the coming months to give you a better, more consistent experience throughout our site.” What happened?
The Ugly: Virgin America
Virgin is usually on the receiving end of compliments for their user experience. Hotel bookings, not so much.
Virgin America should take a second look at the appearance of this product, because it is surprisingly ugly, difficult to use and just plain unfriendly to users looking for a consistent, straightforward experience for booking hotels along with their flights.
Nick Vivion is a writer and strategist. He was a Tnooz reporter and global events lead between August 2012 and July 2015. He was the launch co-founder of Booty's, a global street food restaurant in New Orleans and was recently AVP Operations, North America, at Zomato.