Make hay while the Google Flights sun doesn’t shine

IdeaWorks‘ latest take on ancillaries analyses the apps of 15 low-cost carriers and finds that assigned seating is the most common feature built into the booking flow.

But perhaps the most interesting part of the paper comes at the end with an intriguing aside around Google, which is “ever present in the travel industry”.

It uses the example of how the Google Trips app “siphons” data from confirmation emails sent to Gmail accounts to recreate past itineraries and predict future ones, creating a useful resource while not being perfect.

Google Flights does not have an app (at the time of writing) but if and when it does launch one, it could be a game-changer.

“Google Flights, however, is now viewed by many as the best way to shop for airline seats. But Google has yet to introduce a Google Flights mobile application. So take heart – for the present time – it’s still possible to be better than Google.”

Airline are warned “not to lose the moment” and are encouraged to work on their own apps, not only as a hedge against the potential impact of a Google Flights app but also because of the continuing growth of mobile web and apps. The study looks at how the 15 airlines apps work on Android phones because it has an 85.1% share of the global smartphone market, according to, dwarfing iOS by some distance.

First things first

Before getting into what the 15 apps can and cannot do, IdeaWorks looks at how the airlines promote their apps in the first place – if passengers haven’t downloaded the app it doesn’t really matter how clear the seat-maps are if no-one is using them.  While hotel chains are explicitly incentivising guests to download and use apps by promoting the benefits on their home page and marketing materials, tying app usage into their loyalty schemes, airlines are less forthcoming. Vueling is the noticeable exception.

“While mobile represents the industry’s next big distribution channel, the effort made to promote mobile apps is weak,” IdeaWorks claims.

Seats, bags, protection

The user-testing of the apps aligns with IdeaWorks’ area of expertise in ancillaries. It finds that “assigned seating” is the most common ancillary product, built into the booking flow of 13 of the 15  apps tested. It namechecks Ryanair as the best example of how this should be done.

Pre-check baggage is another common feature in apps (nine out of fifteen) although IdeaWorks points out that this is an area where improvement is needed, in terms of clarifying the terms and conditions within the limited screen real-estate of an app and in keeping the passenger within the booking flow. Here, Norwegian gets the seal of approval.

Assigned seating and pre-check baggage are important revenue streams for airlines outside of the parameters of this study. But one outlier in the airline app world is trip protection, or what used to be known as insurance. Nine out of the fifteen apps offer this in the booking flow, of note as trip protection hardly blips the revenue radar when looking at the bigger picture.

Click here to read the press release.

Click here to access the full report.

Related reading from tnooz:

A data dive into the power and positioning of Google Flights (March2018)
Travelers now prefer travel apps to web for search and booking (March2018)
Travel apps strengthen in 2017, airlines start to catch up (Jan2018)

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