By Doug Gaccione, Executive Vice President Global Growth at Switchfly
Today’s travel climate is both complex and fragmented, with many airlines still relying on outdated technology and legacy systems that no longer meet their customers’ needs. Airline booking engines that once pioneered first-party ancillaries like priority boarding and seat upgrades are quickly becoming outdated as travelers expect a one-stop-shop booking experience for flights, hotels, car rentals, local activities, and more. Not all traditional booking engines play nicely with third-party ancillaries, so airlines are often stuck outsourcing their customers to online travel agencies like Booking.com or Expedia, or else take on the daunting task of building a comprehensive booking engine in-house.
Without a booking engine that’s been designed to serve all aspects of an airline’s ecommerce experience; from front-end shopping and ancillary merchandising to the booking and post-booking paths, airlines not only risk losing customer loyalty and access to precious customer data, they’re leaving revenue on the table.
When travelers book on a third-party site, airlines have no opportunity to cross-sell – or even sell – relevant travel products or offer premium upgrades. They also miss out on valuable shopping data that helps them better understand those customers to personalize future offers. When OTAs take a cut, airlines’ margins decrease and customer loyalty is strained.
Airlines’ merchandising strategies and capabilities can make or break their ability to compete in a new world of fully responsive online shopping, yield-managed offers, fare-bundling, and personalization. Compounded with OTAs’ outsize marketing budgets and relentless race for channel distribution dominance, the reality is that many airlines are competing for their own customers.
Could a Better Booking Experience Win Over Customers?
YES in all capitals! A recent traveler survey we conducted found that 40% of consumers said the booking experience is “very important” or “extremely important” in their perception of a travel brand. Delivering a better booking experience across all channels is obviously the best place to start. Instead of giving travelers a fragmented brand and booking experience, having the right booking engine empowers an airline to deliver the most relevant offers and products aligned with their brand, and leave customers feeling satisfied and understood. But airlines must consider the pros and cons of an in-house booking engine vs. one managed by a technology partner.
How to Deliver a Better (and More Profitable) Booking Experience
Partnerships with experienced travel technology companies that can implement a leading-edge booking engine designed with UX best practices enable airlines to focus on their core business: safely transporting customers from point A to point B. These partnerships are an effective way for airlines to augment their branded booking experience while avoiding many challenges of developing an in-house booking solution:
- Costly: Fully responsive world-class online shopping and booking experiences are expensive to develop and manage.
- Time-consuming: Integrating third-party ancillaries into the shopping/booking flow and managing suppliers’ relationship are complex and time- consuming.
- Limiting: Airlines’ legacy technology also limits their opportunity to customize and manage branded fares and valuable first-party ancillary products.
Switchfly works closely with airlines to transform their ecommerce and merchandising capabilities and put product differentiation at the core of the branded booking experience. Switchfly Air, an integrated internet booking engine and merchandising solution, gives airlines total control over their merchandising and pricing strategy, making it easier to quickly create and deploy ancillary products and to sell new products, all without custom coding.
Help Travelers Enjoy the Shopping Experience
During booking and beyond, airlines can test, add, and promote first- and third-party ancillaries such as hotel rooms, car rentals, activities, and insurance, based on information provided by customers. However, even before the booking path, airlines can learn a lot about their customers just from their search criteria. Case in point, a search for two adults and two children is likely a family traveling together, while a single round-trip ticket purchased for a Monday – Thursday trip is likely a business traveler. Another key indicator is the route itself: airlines can tailor packages according to the customer and destination. For example, it would make sense to bundle a ski package to a Vail resort with relevant ancillaries such as an oversized bag and lift pass. Presenting customers with first-party and third-party ancillaries during the booking path increases revenue per customer while delivering a superior booking experience.
When airlines have a technology platform that allows them to easily add, modify, and offer branded fares and ancillary products, they can then test any ancillary product to specific segments including routes, destinations, season or other variable. And with the ability to customize the ecommerce flow, airlines can also create personalized post-booking offers regardless of where the booking was made.
That’s the key to delivering a better booking experience.
Retain Your Brand, Own Your Customer
By investing in their own shopping and booking experience, airlines can more effectively – and profitably – engage customers with seamless booking, prove the unique value of their brand, create compelling offers, increase brand loyalty and conversions, and take back ownership of their customers.
Want to read more on this topic? Check out our article on Skift, “How Travel Brands Can Take Control of the Booking Experience.”