After years of relative neglect as big online players focused on hotels, companies such as TripAdvisor, Expedia and Google are investing in and giving new attention to flight products. Kicking and screaming, airlines may end up having to pay more attention to their customers.
Seven years after it debuted comparison shopping, or metasearch, for flights, TripAdvisor revamped the product, adding user reviews of airlines and flights, travelers’ photos of seats and lounges, amenity information and flight scores.
While TripAdvisor transformed the way consumers research hotels and often the way hotels interact with guests, now the largest travel site in the world is trying to do something similar for flights and airlines.
There are more than a dozen airlines — none from the U.S. — ranging from Air Canada to China Airlines and Air New Zealand that are encouraging flyers to post reviews of the airline on TripAdvisor while these and other carriers have joined the TripAdvisor management center so they can respond to passenger reviews on the site.
With the revamped TripAdvisor flight search becoming available starting late yesterday on desktop and mobile in 48 countries and 28 languages, TripAdvisor will also be running marketing programs for carriers trying to differentiate themselves from the pack.
As of late yesterday, if you search for a flight from Chicago to Paris in TripAdvisor’s flights section, you might view information about United flight 485. Before deciding whether you want to click the links to book the flight on United.com, you can see that the flight earns a TripAdvisor FlyScore of 8.2 out of 10 based on the quality of the aircraft (Boeing 757-200), the onboard amenities, flight duration and user reviews.
Site or app visitors will see that United flight 485 from Chicago O’Hare to Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris offers Wi-Fi, has power available and TV, for example. Based on 1,706 reviews, United Airlines rates just a 3 out of 5 from TripAdvisor users.
When users review an airline on TripAdvisor, they specify the origin, destination and the month and year they flew and can optionally insert the flight number before rating the airline and detailing their experiences.
Interestingly, the airline reviews, which TripAdvisor began quietly collecting several months ago, are skewing more negatively than hotel reviews, 3.7 out of 5 versus close to 4 out of 5, respectively, says Bryan Saltzburg, general manager of TripAdvisor’s global flights business.
TripAdvisor, which has 350 million hotel, restaurant and vacation-package reviews and opinions on its sites, is in the initial phase of collecting airline reviews. For example, TripAdvisor has 2,469 reviews of American Airlines, 272 of Austrian Airlines and 534 of Air New Zealand.
TripAdvisor’s revamped flights feature could present challenges to competitors such as Skyscanner, Kayak, Google and Expedia — all of which are Routehappy partners — mostly because of the scale and experience in collecting reviews that TripAdvisor brings to the table.
For now, Expedia flights use Routehappy’s flight scores and on-board amenity information, and Kayak and Google display just the amenity information from Routehappy without the flight ratings. All of these players have the user base to build extensive portfolios of flight reviews if they choose to go that route.
Saltzburg argues that TripAdvisor has an edge in that it is providing passenger feedback beyond what he characterized as a “simple amenities database.”
“That is the richness of what we’re bringing,” Saltzburg says. “We are making this much more comprehensive than anything we’ve seen in the market.”
Asked how TripAdvisor flights could compete with the speed of Google flights, Saltzburg argues that TripAdvisor presents a different value proposition in being able to help airlines merchandise themselves by showing their differentiated cabins or seats, for example.
“I think we are bringing much more value to the customer in the short and long term,” Saltzburg says.
How does Routehappy view the TripAdvisor move?
“The more focus on de-commoditization of flight shopping, the better for airlines, distributors and consumers,” says Routehappy CEO Robert Albert. “Routehappy thinks TripAdvisor’s user generated content for flights is compelling for a segment of shoppers. Routehappy is a platform and channel-agnostic rich content platform for airlines and distributors, and we hope to count TripAdvisor as a partner in our mission to help airlines and distributors differentiate and better monetize flight shopping.”
Saltzburg says new features for TripAdvisor flights will be rolling out over the next few weeks, adding that the redesign comes at an opportune time because the flying experience has become increasingly complex with the unbundling of flight products and the introduction of myriad airline fees. For amenity information, TripAdvisor can take advantage of its in-house Seatguru and Gateguru brands for airline and airport information, respectively.
Says Saltzburg: “I think our mission is to bring transparency to what has become a complex marketplace.”
Over the last couple of years, TripAdvisor started to process hotel bookings on TripAdvisor sites and in its apps. There is no such Instant Booking in TripAdvisor’s latest release of its flights feature.
Photo credit: After a few months of collecting user reviews of airlines and flights, TripAdvisor found that they are skewing lower than hotel reviews, averaging 3.7 out of 5. TripAdvisor