Every travel brand has an app these days, but that doesn’t mean travelers are embracing them with equal enthusiasm, according to the inaugural The J.D. Power U.S. Travel App Satisfaction Study, which measures user satisfaction with apps made by airlines, hotels, booking sites and rental car companies.
The study explores the key variables that influence customer choice, satisfaction and loyalty based on four factors: clarity of information provided; ease of navigation; overall appearance and speed of screens loading; and range of services and activities.
Even as travel apps rapidly replace everything from boarding passes to rental car and hotel room keys, many such apps are falling short of user expectations.
One key takeaway is that apps created by travel brands are viewed less favorably than apps created by financial institutions. On a 1,000-point scale, apps for hotels, online travel agencies and rental cars scored an average of 849. Airline apps fared worse, with an average score of 840. These scores are lower than the average customer satisfaction scores of 874 and 867 for credit card and retail banking apps, respectively.
“Travel apps have come a long way,” says Michael Taylor, Travel Intelligence Lead at J.D. Power. “While some travel apps are delivering on their promise, others are missing the mark at critical moments of truth that can significantly influence traveler perception of brands and services. We see big swings in scores among travel apps when users evaluate searching and booking functions.”
Among the key findings: Airline apps have highest rate of adoption in travel industry at 90 percent, followed by hotel apps (84%); OTA apps (78%); and rental car apps (59%).
Not surprisingly, the J.D. Power survey found a high correlation between app satisfaction and brand loyalty. “If I’m using an app more than three times in a month for whatever reason, I’m much more satisfied than someone that uses the app once in a while,” says Taylor.
5 Ingredients of a Great Travel App
So what separates a great app from a mediocre one? Personalization, for starters. “In general, people think, ‘I want to feel like the information I’m getting from an app is specifically related to me. My baggage. My car. How much time I’m going need to get back to the airport to return the rental car on time. What is going on at the hotel that I might be interested in,’” says Taylor.
Second, a great travel app keeps it simple. Hotel apps that users cite as “easy to use” score 130 points higher in overall satisfaction compared with apps that are perceived as more difficult to use. Among airline apps, that gap is 125 points. However, just 58 percent of hotel apps and 62 percent of airline apps currently achieve these levels.
Third, app users want to feel like there’s a relationship between them, the app and the loyalty program, says Taylor. “Everything should be working together to maximize my experience and my satisfaction.”
Fourth, the best apps know how to push relevant information to users at critical times. Think about the airline category, says Taylor. “It’s about that day of travel, where you check in and you’ve got your QR code for your boarding pass. Now you’re hunting for the correct terminal and gate. The gate might change, or the departure time might change. You might have some baggage that you want to check. That’s a lot to handle in a couple-hour period,” he says.
“You’re relying on that app to keep you supported and confirm that you’re on your way and doing everything right. And if something changes, what do you need to do?” Taylor says. “Some apps don’t handle it as well as others.”
Lastly, a great app is always one step ahead in order to anticipate your needs. “If I check a bag, certain airline apps will confirm that my bag has been loaded on the plane,” says Taylor. “Again – it’s about my bag, not everybody else’s bag. It’s great if I don’t have to worry if my bag is going to make it.”
Travel apps can let users down by missing the obvious, says Taylor. “Something that did surprise me: About half of users couldn’t find their reward balance on their app.”
J.D. Power Inaugural U.S. Travel App Satisfaction StudyRankings
Which travel apps are getting it right, and which are not? On a 1,000-point scale, here are the rankings:
- JetBlue (864)
- Southwest (861)
- Alaska Airlines (849)
- FlyDelta (844)
- American Airlines (823)
- United (815)
- World of Hyatt (867)
- IHG (855)
- Hilton Honors (853)
- Marriott Rewards [now Marriott Bonvoy] (852)
- Wyndham Rewards (848)
- Choice Hotels (841)
- Best Western to Go (839)
- SPG: Starwood Hotels & Resorts [now Marriott Bonvoy] (827)
Online Travel Agencies
- Orbitz (866)
- Priceline (859)
- Expedia (847)
- Travelocity (844)
- CheapOair (827)
- National (860)
- Enterprise (854)
- Hertz (844)
- Avis (841)
- Budget (826)