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When it comes to airlines, customers care more about price than anything else, it seems.

When it comes to customer satisfaction, it’s clear that American consumers have different sets of expectations for airlines, hotels, and online travel services.

That’s the message delivered by the results of the annual American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) report, which is based on interviews with thousands of U.S. consumers over a 12-month period ending in March 2017.

While rankings for all three categories are fairly consistent with data from years past, certain trends are emerging.

Low-Cost Carriers Are Preferred and Legacy Airlines Are Trying to Compete

Overall, despite some of the troubling stories of passenger experiences as of late, it seems that overall customer satisfaction with airlines has risen. Passenger satisfaction with airlines is up 4.2 percent to 75 out of a scale of 0 to 100, up from a score of 72 in 2016.

The top-ranked airline was JetBlue Airways, with a score of 82, followed by Southwest Airlines (80), and Alaska Airlines (78). All of those airlines, as well as American, Delta, United, and Allegiant saw improvements in their scores compared to the year before. Satisfaction with Frontier (63) and Spirit (61) declined.

The recent incident involving the forced removal of a passenger from a United Airlines flight was not included in the report results, but United was the lowest ranked of the three main legacy carriers, the other two being American and Delta.

As the satisfaction scores show, however, it seems that more passengers are motivated by price than other factors, which seems to support the legacy carriers’ recent decisions to offer “basic economy” fares that allow them to better compete with low-cost carriers.

As far as improvements in customer experience goes, airlines saw the highest customer satisfaction ratings for the ease of the check-in process (82); ease of making a reservation (82); courtesy and helpfulness of flight crew (81); timeliness of arrival (81); and website satisfaction (81). They were least satisfied with loyalty programs (76); quality of in-flight services such as beverages, food, movies, and music (74); and seat comfort (71).

Hotels Are Held to Higher Expectations Than Airlines

Overall guest satisfaction with hotels is up 2.7 percent to a score of 76 out of 100. However, because the hospitality market is so fragmented with so many brands and options to choose from — not to mention the growing popularity of vacation rentals and short-term rental platforms like Airbnb — it can be more challenging for hotels to exceed customers’ expectations, which the ACSI report acknowledged as being higher than those for airlines. Not only that, but the largest 50 hotel chains in the U.S. only account for only 45 percent of the total market share for lodging.

When it comes to guest satisfaction by hotel company, Hilton scored highest with an ACSI rating of 81, which was the same score it received last year. It was followed by Hyatt (80), Marriott (80), Starwood (now Marriott) (79), and InterContinental (78). Hotels in the economy and midscale categories, such as Best Western (76), La Quinta (75), and Choice (74), generally scored at or below industry average for guest satisfaction. Wyndham was the lowest rated major hotel chain at 71, and G6 Hospitality (Motel 6) was the lowest rated with a score of 65.

When specific brands are examined, the top brands in terms of customer satisfaction were JW Marriott (85), Hilton Garden Inn (84), and Hyatt Place (84). The lowest ranked hotel brands were Choice’s Econo Lodge (66), G6 Hospitality’s Motel 6 (64), and Wyndham’s Super 8 (63).

In terms of what guests like most about the customer experience, they cited ease of making a reservation (86), ease of check-in process (85), and courtesy and helpfulness of staff (83). They were least satisfied with the quality of amenities such as the pool, spa, fitness room, and business center (74); quality of food services (74); and loyalty programs (73).

Online Travel Services Need to Innovate More

Customer satisfaction with online travel agencies (OTAs) is unchanged from last year, with an ACSI score of 79. But the data showed respondents prefer booking direct with hotels, given a customer experience benchmark of 86.

Of the major OTAs, Expedia was ranked highest for customer satisfaction (80), up 4 percent from last year. It was followed by Expedia’s Orbitz (78), Priceline (77), and Expedia’s Travelocity (77).

In its report, ACSI pointed out that customer satisfaction with OTAs has remained stagnant from 2016 to 2017 while satisfaction levels with airline websites and hotel websites has increased during the same period. This seems to suggest that OTAs, while rather dominant, may need to look at ways of improving their overall customer experiences.

In terms of customer service benchmarks for OTAs, respondents gave ease of booking and payment process a score of 84, compared to scores of 86 for hotels and 82 for airlines. OTAs also saw declines in customer satisfaction from 2016 to 2017 related to helpfulness of customer-generated reviews (from 79 to 78); helpfulness of customer support (from 79 to 78); usefulness of site-generated recommendations of other travel services (from 77 to 75); and loyalty programs (from 76 to 74).

Download the entire report here.

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Tags: rankings

Photo credit: JetBlue Airways was the top rated airline for U.S. customer satisfaction this year according to the annual ACSI Travel Report. JetBlue Airways / JetBlue Airways

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