Finding the best flight deals online can be an exhilarating experience. Almost every booking site today promises the lowest fares available and, in some cases, even a price match guarantee. With such a wide range of flying options and airlines stepping up their online game, we decided to take a look at the top players providing the best travel booking options - along with some travel sites which are clearly lagging behind.
To understand the current travel landscape, Userlytics invited a group of 10 US-based consumers age 18 to 65 who had searched and booked a flight online in the past 60 days, to share some of their thoughts based on their recent booking experience. The study asked participants to complete a series of guided tasks simulating searching and getting detailed flight information on their preferred and least preferred travel engines.
Taking advantage of Userlytics features such as Picture in Picture view, we were able to follow each of the participants approach and reactions to the required tasks.
Participants’ experience at various stages of the study. In combination with the on-screen recordings, we got a glimpse to the time spent on specific tasks based on the metrics provided by Userlytics. Making it easier to compare the results between the top and worst travel platforms. For the test, the first open ended question: “Think back to a travel website that you have you have used in the past to book flights that provided an excellent experience…” yielded two main contenders: Expedia and Orbitz. Both sites have been around for quite some time and have become a go-to destination not only for flights but for complete travel bundles (hotels, cars, cruises).Ranking of most popular travel sites based on testers’ preferences
Based on their response, testers were tasked with navigating to their preferred travel site (and their least favorite one) and finding a flight with a specific scenario in mind.
Here are some of the key insights from this exercise.
The most popular sites like Expedia and Google Flights offered users a preview of the price results, even as they were inputting search parameters. Expedia and Google Flights displayed tentative prices on a collapsible calendar for each date as they were selected on the home page.
Tester highlighting the fare prediction functionality on Google Flights. Another feature welcomed by some testers was the option to filter their flight options by setting a price limit on the results page.
Currently, most sites allow for sorting results from ‘lowest to highest’ but only Google Flights uses a sliding scale to filter out the options that fall outside a traveler’s budget.
For this staging, users were given a limited budget to find a flight to Paris during one of the busiest months of the year: December.
For this specific parameter, travel engines like Priceline presented some of the most ‘budget-friendly’ options in the industry. A special offer called Express Deals or Mystery Flight turned out to be a good match for this purpose. But it came with a catch…flight details are not made available until the reservation is completed. This means, that there is no information about the airline operating the route (although possible airlines are listed with their logos), no estimate on the flight duration or expected layovers. Additional fees are also kept undisclosed until the end. While a good budget option in theory for the more adventurous travelers, these Express Deals didn’t offer the complete and detailed information our testers needed in order to choose their flight.
If getting clear information about the total flight cost proved to be time consuming, understanding baggage fees definitely brought frustration to a majority of the participants.
None of the sites visited currently offer the option of filtering by baggage allowance or additional charges. Across the board, the information about baggage cost was difficult to locate even when going into the specific details of each flight. Orbitz is the only site to offer an easy way to locate this information under the Details and Baggage Fees expandable section listed in each one of the flight results regardless of the airline carrier.
Orbtiz’s preview of baggage fees when booking. Following a similar format and language, Expedia and Google Flights also offer baggage information but it takes testers at least two or more steps to successfully locate this.
One of the biggest pain points for most of our users came from the sites that by default selected flight+hotels bundles, instead of flight only options. This automatic setting was a source of confusion specially on Travelocity where the current layout makes it difficult for users to pick their preferred flight option without choosing a hotel. Another overly complex experience came from CheapOair. Participants complained about the fact that as an aggregator site, there is “too much going on”.
Flight results seem to be jumbled and, in some cases, inconsistent with search parameters. The language used was also a source of confusion and, provided limited useful information to travelers.
Tester sharing his thoughts about the experience on CheapOair. Unfortunately for CheapOair, the high-pressure selling technique which shows the amount of people looking at the same flight option was not well received.
Positioning the site as one of the least favorite options for travelers.
Based on the input received from the users, the leading flight booking option at the moment is Orbitz closely followed by Google Flights. Expedia felt behind due to loading time for some participants.
Overall, these three sites provide a consistent experience and offer the necessary information in order to successfully look for a flight, compare prices and understand potential additional baggage fees. There has been a standardization for the filtering options present across sites, allowing participants to sort by price, flight duration, number of stops. However, none of the booking platforms feature a bag allowance filter - forcing users to go into each flight result to locate and carefully read over estimated extra fees. Not surprisingly, the poorest ranked booking platforms (CheapOair, JustFly, AsapTickets, Travelocity) were the ones presenting participants with immense amount of information in a poorly structured form.
Additionally, flight prices found on these sites appeared to be significantly cheaper from the ones across the industry - making users wary of the authenticity of the results. These platforms also received low ratings on the usability aspect, based on the feedback from testers. To determine this, participants were asked to share their experience through The System Usability Scale (SUS). The SUS allows to quickly understand the usability of a site in comparison to industry standards; it consists of 10 statements (positive and negative) presented to users to which they need to agree or disagree. This helps calculate the score for a site’s usability. If a site scores above 68 it’s considered “above average” and it means that it suffers little to none usability issues. On the contrary, a site scoring under 68 means it’s “below average” and presents moderate to significant usability issues. For our test, the group of sites scoring “above average” featured Expedia, Orbitz, Google Flight and received a collective average score of 89. In the case of websites like CheapOair, JustFly, Asap Tickets their collective SUS ranking came at 53.25 - indicating important usability matters with these platforms.
SUS average score for the less popular travel sites In combination with the conducted tasks from testers on the different travel sites, the SUS ratings provide key indicators of the overall user experience for these websites. Running this specific test on Userlytics provided the convenience of having access to a diverse set of qualified users, as well as the opportunity to obtain a set of insights (quantitative and qualitative) which can serve to inform better usability decisions. Having the opportunity to understand potential users’ preferences when it comes to searching and booking for travel online is key to improving their future on-site experience. While most sites today offer similar functionalities (flexible dates, price comparison, results sorting), the easiness by which they make these options available to users is crucial to building a loyal customer base.