Seven years ago, TripAdvisor first launched its metasearch flight tool, and it wasn't long after until it enabled users to post reviews.
In 2014, it updated the look of TripAdvisor Flights by adding detailed amenity information, filled at first by SeatGuru, a socially-powered flight amenities site that it acquired in 2007.
Today TripAdvisor launches what it calls a new reviews platform, live in more than 40 countries and in 29 languages.
You might think of it as a funnel: Travelers can review any airline they’ve flown.
A subset of these airlines have already registered as owners in TripAdvisor’s free management center, allowing them to respond to consumer reviews and opinions. (Once an airline brands signs up, it is able to share photo content and respond to reviews, similar to what hotel brands can do.)
A subset of these highly engaged brands – ANA, Aer Lingus, AeroMexico, Air Canada, Air New Zealand, China Airlines, Swiss, Virgin Australia, and nine others – are taking this reviews process a step further and forming marketing collaborations to proactively encourage travelers to post reviews on TripAdvisor.
Flight reviews collected by carriers or online travel agencies are identified as such on TripAdvisor.
Airlines reluctant to participate because they assume that TripAdvisor will be a complaint channel may want to think again. Perhaps surprisingly, airlines receive an average rating of 3.7 out of 5, a hair shy of the average rating that hotels receive.
Bryan Saltzburg, senior vice president and general manager, global flights business, told Tnooz:
“There's an identifiable profile for TripAdvisor reviewers. Our people are highly engaged and community-focused. They want to pay it forward. It's not a discussion back and forth to allow other people to comment, like you see on Facebook and Twitter. Our proposition is just different, and our conversations about flights are, on balance, more positive.”
Built for the long haul
To simplify comparisons, TripAdvisor is testing Flyscore, a ranking of 1 out of 10 for individual flights, based on reviews, the quality of the aircraft, in-flight amenities, and trip duration. (The concept is adopted from the Guru Factor score on SeatGuru.)
Flyscore isn’t the first such ranking. US startup RouteHappy, for example, has scored flights by amenities and quality factors for a while.
But TripAdvisor said its score is more than just a way to leverage a database for aircraft. Said Saltzburg:
“What TripAdvisor brings is well beyond, ‘hey, this aircraft might have Wi-Fi plugs.’ What it brings is the classic TripAdvisor review perspective of, 'Hey, how was my onboard experience?' ‘How was punctuality?' 'What was the friendliness of the crew?' 'Was the cabin clean?' 'Overall, did I feel like I got a good value?’
Those insights are far more powerful to help customers get a good recommendation on the flight that's right for them.”
De-commoditizing air travel
Saltzburg said the company has a long-term view for its flights search.
“TripAdvisor is going to be at the forefront in helping customers and airlines better understand an industry that needs to be de-commoditized, because there's so much beyond price now that airlines are bringing into the market….
We have this unique position on a global scale to really provide the answers that help air travelers holistically bring a lot more clarity and transparency to fare shopping.”
In the coming year, it will gradually update its flight metasearch display to support the work that carriers, such as Air Canada, American, and United, have done to market multiple fare families that have different amenity inclusions.
Those fields for apples-to-apples fare bundle comparisons are not visible at launch today, but will emerge starting over the next several months, Saltzburg said.
TripAdvisor declined to say where it sources its fares and inventory. Years ago, TripAdvisor said it used a combination of Expedia BFS, ITA, and Amadeus.
He expected TripAdvisor to continue to invest in SeatGuru and maintaining its separate identity, which he describes as being focused on technical amenities, such as wifi and seat pitch, and not overall reviews.
TripAdvisor will be upgrading its Flights product to offer more detailed listings of flight amenities, such as the availability of power ports and the type of in-flight wifi on-board, over the coming months.
It said this information fills a consumer need. In April, an online survey sent by email via a third-party survey tool to 3,071 of TripAdvisor’s US users found that 39% said airlines’ in-flight amenities information was not very accessible.
TripAdvisor claims to also help with consumer awareness about new airline entrants into markets. For example, Norwegian Airlines recently began flying to the US with very low prices, and they've got brand new 787s, but consumers who aren’t familiar with it may ask themselves if they can trust it.
"TripAdvisor Flights can help customers understand the value, showing that this is one of the largest carriers in Europe, that it's very well established, and they've got a great quality product as witness by the average review score."
Saltzburg anticipated a time when airlines push customers to post reviews on TripAdvisor by posting stickers on their aircraft doors, messages on their websites and in their emails to customers, and even spoken by flight crew during in-flight cabin announcements.