31 January 2009

Stunning Views of London

So if you have friends in high places it really helps.

Professor Michael (there are actually several) sent me this superb link.

This is one of those nice distractions and definitely some OMG moments:




Think your site is good? Think again...

There is one thing that has bugged me for ages about online travel and it is the booking and purchasing experience. There are others who are far better at describing the customer acquisition process and additional processes that put the consumer into the booking and buying path(s). But the same basic processes still exist that have been there since day one. And I think its time for a change.

Despite the wide adoption of so-called Web 2.0 applications most if not all of them do not improve the basic experience of a travel purchase. The booking process remains perhaps one of the weakest links in the chain of the online experience for travel in my humble opinion. It is somewhat our industry's dirty little secret that after 14 years of online travel we still haven't improved the basic process and no one seems willing to get out there and do something about it.

RightNow who power Travelocity's CRM did a study in the UK I believe and found some interesting but perhaps not so surprising results. It was done online so you have to factor in that these people are online savvy and therefore more likely to be able to get through some of the inadequacies of the booking process.

Here are some highlights:

Many find booking online frustrating, with not being easily able to find information on hidden costs (53%), not finding specific information about holidays (47%), not being able to ask questions about holidays (45%) and finding the actual buying process too complicated (35%) the most common complaints.

A lack of clarity is the main reason customers end up having to call or email the company, with 51% citing unclear pricing and details about costs and 50% unclear descriptions about holidays and flights.

When asked what could be improved, 60% said they would like more transparency on travel costs, 44% wanted better provision of destination and flight details, 43% wanted easier website search capabilities to find information, while the same percentage wanted easier and clearer booking processes.

In addition, the survey found that the impact of a negative experience may not just be contained to just one individual, as 72% of consumers have told others about a past negative online booking experience.

By contrast, just 54% of consumers have told others about a good online booking experience.

I would suspect that a more generic poll amongst all user types would magnify the last good vs bad result. If you were to ask the question such as is this experience better or worse than a human agent - that would be an interesting question.

But this doesn't help improve the process. So I am trying to look at better experiences for the online purchasing process. In previous posts I have discussed the better versions of Airline Websites such as AC vs WN and F9's new site. I think that the merchandising part has become too much of a seller's drug to make it valuable to the consumer. However we all recognize the importance of merchandising to the consumer. The problem is that the inherent conflict of holding out your hand for money at every touchpoint eventually causes the user to become inured to your wiles.

One thing is for certain - simplifying does improve the response rate from the users.

Transparency improves trust. Trust actually appears to be the biggest factor that is missing from all the online sites. I have asked countless users and non-users alike about Travel purchasing experience online. Admittedly this is a bar stool research but I believe it is a good proxy for the rest of the world. Frictionless purchasing experience should be the goal. The all say the same when asked - do you really trust this site... answer not as much as someone I know.

Why not combine those factors? I have always thought that the usual consumer trust propositions work as well online as they do offline. However they have to be adapted to an audience with a much shorter attention span and ease of walking away. And they must be kept fresh.

So from now on - I am going to be the advocate for what I am going to call the Crystal Engine. the Crystal Engine is the one that delivers the 4 basic propositions


Transactions..... oh yes and it has to work too.

What do you think?

29 January 2009

Airtime Airline - Should it fly or not?

Should they or should they not?

Professor Paul reports from the scene in ZA that there seems to be more than a little confusion for the time based airline's competency and legality to fly.

Stay tuned - lets see if either people show up in an hour or two and if a plane shows up also....


Secureflight fails people like... the Professor

So following up on a story from The Beat's David Jonas - I can personally attest that this is not working. As you all know my real name is Professor O'Sabena. The use of the apostrophe causes grief. So I drop it on my itineraries. However my federal and state ID also do not match. My state cannot handle the "'" symbol so it ignores it. Some federal agencies ignore and leave a blank - others ignore and remove the blank.

My passport is correct on the face but it is not how the data is necessarily stored. Ditto credit cards and reservation systems vendors.

SO I applied for CLEAR and asked everyone involved what the impact would be. The end state was that no one would give me a full answer and all answers were inconsistent.

So I am muscling my way to the front of the Q and claiming to be important. So if you see me shouting at a poor rigid TSA agent - have a little sympathy for us both.


Westjet FINALLY chooses its Next Gen PSS

After first choosing not to stay with Navitaire (its current provider) then selecting AiRes but abandoning that choice - Westjet took a hard look at all of their options. The 2 finalists were Sabre with its tarted up Sabre Sonic CSS and Amadeus Altea/Pioneer hybrid.

The envelope please - Sabre wins.

Actually I am surprised Given that Frontier already looked at the issue and decided that SSCSS didn't hack it for them. Maybe Sabre offered them some special secret source.

For Amadeus - it might be a final nail in the coffin for Pioneer which has been a bit of a dud in the market.

For Navitaire who had hoped to hang on - it must be a bit of a blow. Esp since Volaris is retaining NewSkies.

Exciting times for all

28 January 2009

Detla reports worst single loss in history

For non-impairment costs - DL took a lot to beat. Despite both NW and DL writing down items earlier in the year to the tune of more than $2 billion before the merger - post the coupling DL't total for goodwill write off was an astounding $7.3 Billion making the total loss for the combined carrier to just under $9billion. Pass the hat please.

If we look back over the past few years - we can see that DL took more in losses than any other airline. So perhaps you could say that they write downs leave them with almost no goodwill but a relatively strong balance sheet.

Perhaps this is why they denied me EP status despite flying more than 126,000 miles on them last year. Still I too am hopeful and dream of that iPod....

27 January 2009

Customer Service Redux - Virgin Complaint

I like to see the funnier side of things. It drives some of my family nuts - but what the heck.

Anyway - this is an absolute Humdinger.

Read this post from News Blog. It is really funny. However also sad that the promise doesnt live up to the delivery... dont we ALL know that one.



26 January 2009

Fly Airtime to Fly This Week?

I wrote about these guys before. Charging for flights by the minute.

So according to a press release they are supposed to start flying this week (Jan 30th) with some pretty attractive airfares. However you still cannot book on their website:



I hope their super flash website is not an indication of their business model. Reminds me of another airline - Nordic Airways that promised that flight for luxury - CPH/ARN to Baghdad. They had their license pulled over the weekend and stopped flying.


Amex Tries To Scare Me and You

So I get this email and it gets me a little worried. Amex is trying hard to get us all worried. Then I started to look at the headline and I wanted to question the premise.

The disclaimer is deep in the below content:

Terms and Conditions
*Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Tallying This Summer's Travel Woes, 2008"

Hmmm - I checked with the WSJ and found that the article it referred to was from, the year prior 2007.

PLUS it referred to the peak travel times that year which were the heaviest on record ever.

Here is the link (from Google - I could not use the WSJ internal tool but since I roughly remembered the article it was easy to find).

Tsk Tsk Amex - trying to scare us - isnt this a naughty thing that gets people slapped with lawsuits and fines and things?


The Professor is a tad busy

So apologies all for the lack of more frequent posts.

In the mean time - if you are starved of info and stimulus - go and read earlier posts or look to Tim Hughes's Blog The Boot.


BA take another dive - Walsh facing music

BA has finally issued the long awaited profits warning.

This has a ripple out impact that will likely see the Iberia merger killed off. Actually the situation of the collapse of the pound vs the Dollar and Euro has seen Iberia now worth more than BA.

The escalating costs and the reduction of premium traffic is now acknowledged as hurting the UK former national carrier.

Walsh needs to step up and start looking hard at some more action to address some of these issues.

On the positive side - a return to their corners of BA and IB will make it harder to make the really larger BAAABI deal work. My prediction is that IB and BA will walk away from a marriage but will continue to push the BAAABI idea for now. Given the other arrangements in Star and Skyteam - this makes more sense. Not sure that Virgin however will agree.


EC wakes up - LH expansion might be an issue

I like LH - another of my favorite airlines - but I have to say I have been worried at the extent of their expansion. It raises a number of competitive issues in the consolidation of the airline industry.

I think by now you all know my position. Consolidation by itself is bad and no panacea for bad airline behavior that got us here in the first place.

Anyway it seems that the European Community has finally woken up to the same set of issues and is launching (albeit a little late) a review of probably the LEAST competition restrictive deals of LH. A bigger issue should have been the OS+LH post the LH-LX merger. But - that is for the boys and girls in Brussels to go figure out. (Hint Brussels airlines is used by a lot of Eurocrats!)