Behavioral marketing company SaleCycle works with more than 90 of the world’s biggest and best-known travel companies.
Over the past year, we have tracked more than 280 million online bookings and abandonments from their airline and travel clients.
The company has now published the trends and tips to increase online conversion in its latest data report, Understanding Airline & Travel Booking Trends.
Booking abandonment occurs when visitors select flights or hotels but leave the site before completing checkout.
It has long been an issue for travel websites, with this sector having some of the highest abandonment rates.
The average cart abandonment rate across all the sectors tracked by SaleCycle is 76.9%, but travel is higher than this, at 81.31%, while airline abandonment rates even higher (87.87%).
People abandon travel bookings for a variety of reasons, which we’ll explore later, but one big factor behind these higher abandonment rates in travel is simply that travel bookings are more complicated than the average online purchase.
This is because travel bookings often require more effort and information from customers than if they were buying a pair of jeans on a fashion retailer's site.
Airline bookings in particular can be more complicated, which explains the higher abandonment rates for these sites. Flight bookings require people to add details like passport numbers, the names and ages of travelers, and to choose options like extra baggage and in-flight meals, all of which add to the time and effort required.
At SaleCycle, we tracked more than 280 million online travel bookings from our clients in 2018, and in this article we’ll share what we’ve learned about why people abandon, and also how travel sites can minimize the problem of abandonment.
Why people abandon travel bookings
Our own consumer survey data found some of the most common reasons for abandoning travel bookings.
The top three responses to the survey reflect the amount of research that goes into making a travel booking.
There is no such thing as a typical travel research process, and it will vary according to the type of travel product, as well as factors like price and the amount of time before people travel.
So, a family summer holiday may require more consideration and research than a weekend break.
Travel purchases can be the most significant and expensive of the year for some bookers, so they will take more consideration than the average online purchase for many. Indeed, Tripadvisor found that 80% of travel research takes longer than four weeks to complete.
As the survey data shows, travelers want to take time to check out the various options available, check they’re getting the best deal by trying out a few sites, as well as discussing options with other travelers.
To do this often means visiting a number of sites during the path from research to purchase. This may include OTAs like Booking.com, airline and hotel sites and review sites like Tripadvisor. Along the way, people will begin bookings and abandon a few as they check out prices and options.
People will take time to research travel, but for the other reasons quoted (payment options, length and complexity of booking, and technical issues), travel sites can do better in some cases.
How can travel websites minimize booking abandonment?
Due to the research process, there’ll always be a certain level of abandonment, but sites can do a lot to address it.
We see travel sites with abandonment rates lower than the average, and this is normally because they’ve addressed these issues.
Booking abandonment rates can be kept to a minimum by trying to prevent abandonments before they happen, but even when people abandon bookings, this doesn’t have to be the end - there are ways to tempt them back to complete bookings when they are ready.
A combination of great user experience, useful content and timely and effective messaging can help to both reduce abandonment and recover bookings which may have been lost.
Here are some ways to address these issues:
Effective travel search
Travel sites need to make it easy for customers to find the travel products that suit them, and to view the various options available to them.
If they can provide the best user experience here, travelers find the product that suits them, reducing the need to abandon the booking.
This starts with the search option. Search needs to be able to adapt to the various needs of users.
Some users may arrive at a site with a single destination in mind, and a specific time period to travel within, while others may have a destination in mind, but are flexible about times.
Meanwhile some may have a week’s vacation to take and just fancy somewhere sunny.
A site such as Kayak deals with this by offering flexible search options. People can be as specific or as vague as they want to be when beginning their search.
They can choose a departure airport but leave the destination blank, they can search across a whole month for a specified number of nights, and so on.
This is great for inspiration, and the results page really helps by providing ideas, as well as options for narrowing the selection.
Users can use the slides to choose according to budget, how long they want to fly for, and more. It’s a great way to help customers research flexibly, while also providing the tools to make the search more specific as they need to.
Results pages can also be used to help users make sense of search results. In this example, easyJet presents its flight options over several days.
This makes it easy to scan the information, helping users to view the best combination of flight times, date and price for them. As a further visual cue, easyJet also highlights the cheapest flights, a useful feature for travelers on a budget.
Content to aid the research process
Users are often moving between sites when researching travel purchases as they’re unable to find all the information they need on one site.
One reason to check a range sites is of course to view different prices and options, but people are also looking for information on the destinations they’re considering, and reviews from other travelers.
Useful content and user reviews provide key information and reassurance when people are making travel bookings. If they’re armed with the information they need, and have seen that other people have left positive reviews, then they’re less likely to abandon bookings.
For this reason, it makes sense to provide content which helps customers in their research.
This content can answer key questions at the point where users need it, such as information on temperatures and local attractions.
Two of the most common travel related questions searched for on Google are "what to do in [destination]" and "where is [destination]." If you don’t provide this information, people will head elsewhere to look for it.
The other key content type people look for is reviews. In the travel market, TripAdvisor is the primary destination, averaging 490 million unique visitors per month.
Some sites, such as Booking.com, have plenty of reviews from their own customers, but for many sites it makes sense to show reviews from TripAdvisor. This provides travelers with the information they need without having to head for TripAdvisor.
Form and checkout optimization
According to our data, 17.6% of visitors to travel sites begin the booking process, but just 3.1% actually complete the booking.
While some users may begin the booking process as part of their travel research, checking out baggage options or extra charges for example, most people who begin a booking are signaling a clear intent, and travel sites need to work to ensure that this process is as clear and smooth as possible.
This means ensuring that customers can select options, complete forms and add their payment details without any unnecessary friction, and with the information and support they may need.
A well-designed form can make a big difference, especially during a relatively long checkout process. Little details like shortcuts for address entry, validation of information entered, and correction of errors can help to make the process more easy.
Here’s an example from easyJet’s app. It reduces the effort required of users to enter passport numbers by scanning the passport using their smartphone’s camera.
Copy in and around forms can be used to offer key information and reassurances as customers are booking.
In this example, booking.com reassures customers that the booking can be cancelled or changed, highlights key features, and shows the average review score as a last-minute piece of reassurance.
Payment options are another important factor in the booking process. Travelers worldwide have a range of different payment preferences, so it’s important to cater for as many of these as possible.
So, as well as offering card payment options it makes sense to offer PayPal and other alternatives like bank transfer, as KLM does.
Newer digital wallet options like Google and Apple Pay can also help to speed up the booking process for people booking via mobile.
Messages can be served to customers to show key information, offer assistance or to encourage people to complete a booking.
The messages can be timed to display at key stages in the booking process, or perhaps when customers are about to abandon a booking.
One example is urgency messaging, which can reduce abandonment by 8% when used well, It’s a great way to provide useful information for customers, and push them towards a decision.
Key information can be shown as people are making their booking, or as they are about to leave the site. For example, visitors can be shown messages telling them how many people are viewing the same flight.
This tells them that they may need to decide quickly or risk missing out.
When people are about to abandon, messages can be displayed to encourage them to continue with their booking, or to save their booking details for later.
As people often want to compare prices on other sites, or check with other travelers, saving booking details can be very useful, and it allows travel sites to send email reminders, allowing customers to head straight back to the booking at the point where they left it.
Booking abandonment emails
Booking abandonment emails can be sent after customers have abandoned a booking, tempting them back to complete their purchase.
According to our stats, 87% of people would consider returning to purchase a previously abandoned booking. The key is to make it easy for customers, sending them back to the point where they left the booking, to save time.
The best booking abandonment emails are personalized, well-timed, with great creatives, and key features and information (reviews, urgency messaging) that help to tempt travelers back to the booking.
Many people like to take their time and weigh up their options before finally booking, so some level of booking abandonment is a fact of life for travel websites.
As we’ve shown, travel websites can minimize booking abandonment by addressing the common reasons for abandonment.
So paying attention to the user experience, by making the customer journey and booking process as easy and frictionless as possible can prevent people abandoning bookings because they found the booking process difficult.
Likewise, a choice of payment options can prevent people leaving simply because they couldn’t pay they way they want to.
More broadly, sites can appreciate how people research travel purchases, and attempt to help them in this process. Providing useful content to help them research, and reviews to inform and reassure, as well as saving booking details, mean travellers are more likely to research on your site, and return when they’re ready to book.
Finally, when people do abandon, it doesn’t have to be the end of the story. Timely and relevant booking abandonment emails can tempt them back, and make it easy to complete the booking.
Understanding Airline & Travel Booking Trends Data Report
The report looks in detail at the data behind the travel research and booking process, why people abandon bookings, and the practical steps that websites can take to minimize this problem.