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, according to J.D. Power's inaugural "U.S. Travel App Satisfaction Study." According to the study, travel industry apps lag substantially behind credit card and banking apps.
The study evaluates satisfaction with travel apps across four segments: airline, hotel, online travel agency and rental car. It explores the key variables that influence customer choice, satisfaction and loyalty based on five factors: clarity of information provided; ease of navigation; overall appearance; speed of screens loading; and range of services/activities.
“Travel apps have come a long way,” said 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.”
Travel apps lag far behind customer financial apps in overall satisfaction: The average overall satisfaction score for hotel, OTA and rental car apps is 849 (on a 1,000-point scale). Airline apps score lower (840). By contrast, overall user satisfaction scores for credit card apps (874) and retail banking apps (867) are substantially higher. Both credit card and banking apps also have considerably higher levels of utilization.
“Hotel apps have an opportunity to engage and satisfy their app users by delivering helpful and useful notifications about the guest’s stay,” Taylor said. “A little over half of hotel app users report that the updates they receive from the hotel app are useful. Many hotel sites have events, features and information that could be delivered via notifications. If hotel updates are considered useful, app satisfaction increases and creates more loyal users."
Day-of-travel performance is critical to travel app satisfaction: Across all segments of travel apps, the key performance indicator with the most influence on overall satisfaction is ease of use during travel. 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 are rated as easy to use.
U.S. travelers rely on their smartphones for every part of their journey, from using social media posts from friends and family to research leisure trips to sharing post-trip feedback, as Travelport’s "2018 Digital Traveler Survey" revealed last year. Results from the survey also indicate an increasing desire among U.S. travelers for new technologies, such as voice search, e-payment and digital room keys, to simplify and enhance their leisure trips.
That survey also revealed that nine out of 10 travelers now have apps to make their life easier when at their destination with maps, airlines, weather and social media topping the list of favorites. On average, travelers use 10 to 12 apps throughout the searching, booking and traveling parts of their trip.
Rental car apps have lowest rate of adoption in the travel industry. Among app users that indicated they have a travel app already downloaded on their smartphone, airline apps lead the industry in customer adoption rate at 90 percent. That is followed by hotel apps at 84 percent; OTA apps are at 78 percent; and rental car apps are at 59.
Airline apps have the highest levels of customer utilization of critical features during the day of travel, but the lowest performance in the industry when it comes to speed of screens loading during travel. OTAs perform best on this metric, with an average page load speed satisfaction score of 856. The average score for airline apps is 824.
“Integration with loyalty programs could also improve,” Taylor said. “Just over half of app users felt their hotel apps made it easy to check their reward balances.”
World of Hyatt ranks highest in overall customer satisfaction among hotel apps with a score of 867, followed by IHG (855) and Hilton Honors (853). Orbitz ranks highest in overall customer satisfaction among OTA apps with a score of 866, followed by Priceline (859) and Expedia (847).
JetBlue ranks highest in overall customer satisfaction among airline apps with a score of 864, followed by Southwest (861) and Alaska Airlines (849). National ranks highest in overall customer satisfaction among rental car apps with a score of 860, followed by Enterprise Car Rental (854) and Hertz (844).
The J.D. Power study is based on more than 12,000 evaluations from users of airline, hotel, OTA and rental car apps, and was fielded from December 2018 through January 2019. Following this preview study, the annual study will commence publication in November 2019.