Services & Software

Study: Consumer loyalty evades travel sites

Jupiter Research examines the mentality of the cost-conscious traveler.

Travelers who shop online don't expect airline and hospitality companies to provide "best deals" on their own, and they check an average of 2.5 sources before settling on a buy, according to a new study from Jupiter Research.

The sources that shoppers check include offline agents as well as Web sites, according to the study, which was released Tuesday. Most customers continue to think that no single site offers the best deal, the study said.

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Still, loyalty programs, such as frequent-flier deals, have helped airlines increase their research-to-purchase conversion ratio. At least one-third of travelers do not switch airlines even if the same price is offered by another.

And if airfare prices are equal, consumers prefer using an airline site to a third-party site to book their travel.

"Online travel consumers continue to be price-sensitive and increasingly demanding," Jupiter Research analyst Diane Clarkson said in a release. "Best-rate guarantees have begun to benefit suppliers in increasing direct online bookings."

The percentage of travelers who prepaid for their hotel bookings at third-party sites went up to 57 percent from one-third in 2003. But the survey found that while hotel companies have brought down prices compared with last year, consumers still think that better deals can be found on third-party sites.

Unlike their European counterparts, U.S. consumers are not as receptive to the idea of buying bundled packages online, largely because they prefer to shop around. The percentage of online consumers who buy two or more travel segments from the same site continues to be in the single digits.

Prices aren't the only things standing in the way of online bookings, the study found. Around a quarter of those surveyed said they would be more likely to book online if Web sites gave clearer wording about penalties and fees. Consumers are also looking for the ability to fix mistakes without penalty and cancel or change reservations on the Web site where travel was booked.

"Most online sites, especially online agencies, do not provide for a pleasant user experience in completing either of those tasks. It is usually easier to do them over the phone with customer service than embark on the do-it-yourself adventure online," the study found.