3 Reasons There Will Be More Online Innovation In Flights

RyanAir’s recent announcement of top-secret plans with Google on a ”new flight search product" caught my eye. Mainly because I doubt there’s a big top-secret product Google’s launching exclusively with RyanAir. The CEO seems to me to be describing Google Flight Search, which has been live for 2+ years and contains lightning-fast pricing results from many major U.S. and European airlines already. But, the fact is that Google Flight Search hasn’t had the predicted bang in online travel that everyone was talking about when they launched.

RyanAir's PR efforts aside, I do see a significant uptick in online flight innovation coming in the next few years. Innovation in hotel online marketing has dominated the conversation recently. Which makes sense since hotels continue to drive the majority of profit for intermediaries and distribution partners. But flights is making a comeback. Here is why:

Airlines ancillary revenue strategies are paying off

While too many consumers still perceive ancillary revenue as “bag fees,” in fact airlines have diversified revenue streams in much more interesting, complex ways that are driving value for consumers and meaningfully improving airline economics. Programs like JetBlue’s Even More “check-in-to-arrival” premium experience, Delta’s Economy Comfort expansion and many others are driving hundreds of millions of dollars in previously unseen revenue. 

Shifting from a “one size fits all” offering to a diverse set of passenger options (such as seat location and boarding priority) has created more revenue scenarios for different traveler types. And consumers are showing a willingness to pay for it. Ancillaries in combination with a data-driven ability to better manage capacity/passenger load refinements have had a huge impact on airlines’ bottom lines and will continue to do so.

The need for innovative ways to market and sell these products is creating opportunities for new entrants

Airlines have done great jobs with this on their own websites. But their traditional marketing and distribution partners aren’t keeping up. As one senior airline exec told me, “I can fill seats on my planes. I’m not looking for partners who can help us with that. I’m looking for partners who drive higher revenue per passenger for us.”

From a customer acquisition perspective, here are some of the ways to do that:

  • Find and invest in online media partners who drive higher revenue per ticket than what an airline will see through standard distribution channels.
  • Customize the entry-points to your website to optimize for specific audiences. For example, research demonstrates that bringing leisure travelers to a “calendar-based” fare page (rather than single-itinerary page) drives higher conversions. 
  • Mobile is huge and will only get bigger. It’s shocking how many big airline and hotel companies still don’t have the basic mobile tracking in place to test and analyze new mobile marketing and selling opportunities. Fix that fast.

Big data is enabling more customized experiences for travelers.

Seatguru was an early leader in exposing more data and insight to guide the flight shopping process. Now, airlines are creating much more customized shopping and flying experiences by analyzing hundreds of customer data signals. For example, British Airways’ Know Me program analyzes historical data on individual flyers to enable their booking engine and gate agents to better predict the experience & service a flyer wants.

And companies like Hipmunk and Routehappy are collecting and analyzing complex sets of airline data, social graphs and customer reviews to automate the hard work of flight shopping. They’re producing the “best results” for an individual flight shopper rather than just list all the options available.

We’re confident we’ll see continued innovation from the airlines, from Google and from many new entrants that will benefit consumers and airlines alike.

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1 comment about "3 Reasons There Will Be More Online Innovation In Flights ".
  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , March 6, 2014 at 10:58 a.m.
    Customers don't want to "shop" for a decent flight. We all want enough room to sit without another person sitting on our lap and our knees meeting our foreheads. The "shopping" customers want to do is to contribute to local economies and bring their finds back home without being clapped over the head for baggage charges. And of course customers want the seller to meet their needs of routes, clean and safe transportation which is the seller's job, and treated with a bit of respect. It's not like most people have choices of airlines where they need and want to go.