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As TripAdvisor enhances its flight-search capabilities with user reviews of airlines and flight-amenity information, Expedia has a counter-move that’s flown under the radar: Expedia has been collecting — but not publishing — user reviews of flights for well over a year.
Greg Schulze, Expedia Inc.’s senior vice president lfor commercial strategy and services, explains that customers receive an email after their Expedia-booked flights asking them to pick a smiley face or a frown for services including the ease of check-in or the comfort of the airline seat.
“Flight reviews are definitely coming from Expedia,” says Schulze, the first Expedia Inc. executive with global responsibilities based in Asia. From his base in Singapore, Schulze sits on the board of the Expedia-controlled joint venture with AirAsia, which is helping Expedia expand its footprint in countries ranging from South Korea to Taiwan.
Expedia characterizes these verified-customer rants and raves as real-time reviews because they are often collected soon after a flight while the passenger is still on a business trip or a vacation.
Expedia already rates flights and provides amenity information from partner Routehappy although the flight scores are not based on Expedia’s customer reviews but come from Routehappy.
But Expedia, which is testing how it’s going to publicize those customer reviews of airlines and flights, will add them to the mix in the future as it puts a new focus on a long-neglected arena: flights.
To get a glimpse of the beginnings of what Expedia Inc. is up to on the user-review front, you can look at the car-rental section of subsidiary Orbitz.com, where users have selected smiley faces or frowns to rate their experience checking-in for their car rentals.
So you can see that while Enterprise gets 90 percent approval from 572 Expedia customers for the “Pick-up Experience,” Advantage, with 532 reviews, gets a lowly 54 percent rating.
“Certain vendors are taking share,” Schulze says, based on the Expedia customer car-rental reviews.
Expedia, Schulze said, is testing a variety of ways to eventually roll out user reviews of flights and airlines.
For now, Expedia isn’t collecting longer-form and text-based airline reviews, as TripAdvisor is doing, albeit in an unverified manner, but those more-detailed reviews may eventually be part of the Expedia review-collection process, Schulze says.
Schulze expects a diverse response from airlines about Expedia’s new assortment of user reviews. Ultra-low-cost carriers such as Spirit and Frontier want Expedia to be as “descriptive as we can be” about the airlines and their flights so customers won’t have inflated expectations, he says.
Other airlines, Schulze concedes, may have different reactions.
Commenting about marketshare gains based on Orbitz’s car rental reviews, Schulze says “I would expect similar trends with airlines but maybe a little less share shift” because of scheduling limitations or frequent flyer prerogatives.
While Expedia, which has the scale to rival or even surpass TripAdvisor, hasn’t published its user-written flight reviews yet, when it does it will likely give airlines the ability to respond to these critiques online.
At any rate, the Expedia reviews should be a great vehicle for airlines to gather feedback from customers about their flight experiences.
One challenge for both Expedia and TripAdvisor will be to ensure that their user reviews are relevant for a broad set of passengers based on factors such as aircraft type and route.
Expedia’s eventual rollout of user reviews of flights on a large-scale basis has the potential to make its sites a lot stickier and useful for its customers.