In this post, we’ll look at the online booking processes of two major airlines, Etihad and Emirates.
Booking travel online can be complex, so it’s important that customers find the booking process as easy as possible to complete.
Our most recent Remarketing Report from Q2 2018 found that abandonment rates on travel sites were the highest of the five sectors we monitor, at 81.8% (the average is 75.4%).
As customers tend to take time and weigh up options on different sites when researching travel purchases, there will always be some visitors leaving without booking.
The key is to avoid unnecessary abandonment by removing areas of friction which may frustrate users.
Here, we’ll look at the journey from the homepage to the end of the booking process on Emirates and Etihad, highlighting what the sites do well, and any areas for improvement.
Not every visit plays out in this way – some just want to check flight information or look at prices – but this is the part of the journey that needs to work well when it matters.
Both sites naturally give prominence to the search box, as this is the starting point for many visits to travel sites.
The key here is to make flight selection easy for visitors, and one feature which helps here is predictive search which suggests results as people type. Here it is on Etihad:
These suggestions speed up the process for users, and help to ensure more accurate results.
Date selection is also important, and I’ve included mobile screenshots here, as calendar tools can be harder to use on a smaller screen.
On both sites, the calendar tools work well on mobile, and touch targets are large enough to enable users to select dates easily.
Presentation of Search Results
Search results pages should present results clearly and make them easy for users to understand.
Here, Etihad presents flight options, showing times, flight durations and stops, alongside prices and different economy fare options.
There are some useful touches in the results pages, such as these videos which show in a dialog box and explain what each fare option entails.
The results on Emirates convey the same information, using white space effectively to make the results easy to scan and read, and making for a less cluttered page.
I also like the more prominent sort options, which are easier to spot, and easier to select than the drop-down on Etihad.
Once customers select a flight time, the various price points and services are laid out clearly.
On both sites, several searches returned no results at all. This is bound to happen sometimes, but could have been handled better by both sites.
The red error ‘warning’ messages are jarring, though they do at least convey the information, and it does make sense to suggest that people search again.
A better approach may have been to avoid customers searching for unavailable flights in the first place, as easyJet does here.
Alternatively, if flights are offered to the selected destinations, it would be a good idea to show the nearest date when a flight is available so users have some options.
Flexible search is an important feature for travel sites. If people are travelling for leisure, then they’re often happy to move travel dates a few days to get the best price, or perhaps the most suitable departure and arrival times.
Good presentation of results can help travellers to make a decision on this. On Etihad, the seven-day view provides a useful visual summary of available dates and prices.
Users can also move to the previous or next week to view other flights.
This is not as easy on Emirates. There’s no view over several days and, though users can select previous / next day, the option isn’t very clear. It’s also more work to search on a day by day basis.
For comparison, this is how easyJet presents results. It shows available flights, times and prices over three days, but users can expand this to view availability over a three week period.
After flight selection, Emirates adds a review stage with a summary of the flights selected.
It’s a useful step which ensures that customers can check they have selected the correct flights and review costs before they move on.
Etihad moves straight to passenger details, though there is an option to view a summary.
The two airlines handle seat selection differently. While Etihad allows passengers to select seats before the payment stage, Emirates takes the opposite approach.
Some passengers may prefer a window seat, others may need extra leg room. For some, availability of preferred seating may be a deal breaker.
Adding seat selection after payment could deter some users from booking, as travellers would be unable to find the total cost of their flight and make a final decision to buy after picking all options.
Both sites use progress bars to show users where they are in the booking process and how many stages are left to complete.
In both cases, each stage is a link, so customers can easily head back to a previous step if they want to check details, or perhaps make a correction.
Ecommerce payment preferences are now more varied than before.
While debit and credit card payments are still the most popular for many, several alternatives have emerged in the last few years, while preferences can vary a lot between different markets.
Websites, especially those (like Etihad and Emirates) which operate across international markets, need to be able to appeal to customers by offering choice around payment.
Both sites offer credit and debit card payments, PayPal, and bank transfer which deals with three of the main preferences, while Emirates also offers Visa Checkout, a fast option for some users.
Both airlines also sent cart abandonment emails after I bailed out of bookings I’d started.
This is Etihad’s email:
And from Emirates:
Both emails do the basic work of reminding customers of the flights selected, and offering a route back to the booking page.
However, Emirates goes a little further, using my name in the subject line to attract my attention, selling some of the benefits of booking with Emirate, and offering assistance.
Summary and Recommendations
Both sites are relatively easy to use and book though, and there were no major usability flaws on either site.
This doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no room for improvement though. Here are some suggestions:
- Allow customers to be more flexible selecting and viewing dates. Not everyone wants to travel on a precise date. By making it easy for users to see available flights over several days, or even weeks, it can help them to research and decide on flights.
- Make mobile touch targets easy to select. Both sites work reasonably well on mobile, but some areas could be improved. For example, the size of the seats on Etihad’s selector tool makes it a tricky target for touch screen users.
- Add extra features to make abandonment emails more compelling. Greater use of personalisation, dynamic content and urgency techniques (showing how many people are viewing a flight) can all help to increase conversions.
- Handle zero search results more effectively. If flights are unavailable on certain dates, presenting other options (such as next available flights) is better than leaving customers at a dead end.
- Allow seat selection before booking. With most airline sites allowing seat selection first, some users will be deterred if they can’t select the seats they need before buying.
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Graham Charlton is Editor in Chief at SaleCycle. He's been covering ecommerce and digital marketing for more than a decade, having previously written reports and articles for Econsultancy. ClickZ, Search Engine Watch and more.