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Travel Satisfaction Scores Offer Plenty of Room for Improvement

Following a down year, customer satisfaction with airlines and travel websites rebounded while hotels took a dip, says new travel report

According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI®) Travel Report 2018-2019, passenger satisfaction with airlines has ascended 1.4% to an ACSI score of 74 on a scale of 0 to 100, travel websites are up 1.3% to 79, but hotels dropped 1.3% to 75.

Domestic travel is on the rise and it appears that most travelers are satisfied with their experiences.

Alaska Airlines on Top

This year, there is considerable improvement for several airlines: Alaska, Delta, United, Frontier, and Spirit.

“Airlines sat at a near-record low of 62 just a dozen years ago,” says David VanAmburg, Managing Director at the ACSI. “Now they’re among some of the most improved industries over that time.”

Alaska is the new leader with a 1% gain to an ACSI score of 80. The airline’s merger with Virgin America has paid off, according to passengers who now enjoy an expanded network and lower fares.

Delta also rose 1% to an ACSI score of 75, making it number one among legacy airlines. Passengers enjoy the airline’s in-flight amenities, including seatback screens, USB ports, and Wi-Fi. “Delta also has plans to improve its mobile app by offering miles as currency,” says VanAmburg. “This will enable its members to upgrade through the app.”

However, not all airlines fared well. After leading a year ago, Southwest dipped 1% to 79, tying with JetBlue, which remained unchanged.

Southwest has more Boeing 737 Max models than any other airline, leaving it susceptible to safety concerns after Ethiopian Airlines and Air Lion each experienced a deadly crash of that aircraft. Around 9,400 Southwest flights were canceled the first quarter of this year because of safety concerns and/or bad weather.

American Airlines dropped below the industry average to 73 after a 1% drop. Allegiant suffered the biggest decline, dropping 4% to 71. Despite a 4% leap, United still sits in the bottom three with a score of 70, besting Frontier (64) and Spirit (63), which saw 3% and 2% climbs, respectively.

Mobile Apps Soar for Airlines

Three areas of air travel show improvement this year: boarding experience (79), call center satisfaction (78), and the range of flight schedules (77). But the highest score went to mobile apps at 82, which the ACSI measured for the first time this year, matching ease of check in.

The ACSI included other new metrics as well – cleanliness, overhead storage, complimentary and ‘premium’ food, and in-flight entertainment – to track some of the most problematic aspects of air travel.

While passengers showed reasonable satisfiaction with cabin cleanliness (78), they are unhappy with the availability and size of overhead storage, as well as complimentary and ‘premium’ purchased food (73 each). The study showed room for improvement with in-flight entertainment (71), but the worst part of flying remains seat comfort (69), as limited leg room irks passengers.

Hilton and Marriott are Home to Top Brands

Guest satisfaction with hotels dropped 1.3% to an ACSI score of 75. Thanks to a rise in online brokers like Airbnb, travelers have more choices and traditional hotels are struggling to keep up.

“This is a transforming industry,” says VanAmburg. “If corporate hotels aren’t able to step up, they’re going to continue to slide.”

Hilton topped the list with an ACSI score of 80 despite falling 2% to a first-place tie with Marriott (down 1%). The two hoteliers still offer more upscale and luxury properties, better guest service, and higher-quality amenities than other hotel brands.

Luxury hotel JW Marriott took the top spot among brands with an ACSI score of 84. Hilton’s Embassy Suites and Marriott’s Fairfield Inn & Suites tied at 83, followed by Hilton Garden Inn with a score of 82. Marriott Hotels, InterContinental’s Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts, Courtyard by Marriott, and Best Western Premier all scored 81.

The brands with the lowest marks are all economy hotels: Days Inn (Wyndham) at 68, Econo Lodge (Choice) at 67, Super 8 (Wyndham) at 65, and Motel 6 (G6 Hospitality) at 63.

Hotels have deteriorated in almost every aspect according to guests. It’s still easy to make a reservation and check in (each at 84), yet both scores are down from the previous year. Staff is less courteous and helpful (82), room quality worsens (81), and call center satisfaction, which experienced the biggest drop, plummeted 6% to 78 – the same mark as quality of in-room amenities, a new ACSI benchmark.

Resolving complaints is increasingly important. Social media allows guests to relay glitches to the hotel and to the online community, so hotels need to adapt accordingly, the study noted.