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British Airways leads the way online despite ongoing problems

British Airways leads the way online despite ongoing problems

EasyJet ranked second most usable website as budget airlines recognise value of easy-to-use websites to close gap on scheduled airlines. Despite ongoing industrial action and recent reports of heavy losses, British Airways has the biggest potential to generate the most from online bookings and increase revenue by having the most usable travel website, according to a recent study (downloadable at the foot of this article) released by user experience consultancy Webcredible.

Webcredible's 2010 Flights Online Report analysed 10 airline and 10 travel agent websites against 20 best practise usability guidelines which were each assigned a score from 0-5. BA was found to offer the best levels of usability in the online travel sector, scoring an overall rating of 78 per cent. Interesting findings from the report include:

Budget airlines up their game

Budget airlines made the biggest improvements with EasyJet achieving a score of 77 per cent, an improvement of 27 per cent on last year. Meanwhile Ryanair jumped 12 places from last to 8th with a score of 66 per cent.

Both improvements have highlighted that these companies that depend solely on engaging with customers online have recognised the value of a useable website to increase bookings.

Industry recognises value of online engagement With an increase from three to five websites scoring 70 per cent or above and an overall increase in the total average usability score of 64.5 per cent from last year's 55.2 per cent, the online travel industry has been putting serious effort into making improvements to increase the usability of their websites, which has in turn allowed for more competition among companies.

Although six out of the 20 websites tested made improvements in usability scores including Expedia, Opodo and, fierce competition has led to a drop in rank for each compared to 2009.

Still scope for improvement Despite these overall improvements, 11 websites scored percentages in the 60's and four websites scored between 40-50 per cent, demonstrating that many companies are still not doing enough to maximise their share of the potential revenue in this highly contested marketplace.

The report highlighted that key guidelines that still need improving include supporting comparison shoppers, making pages 'share friendly', providing airport information, displaying clear progress bars and providing contact numbers during the booking process.

Demand for transparency The report also highlighted key disparities between travel agent and carrier websites, the most significant being transparency. Travel agent websites are typically more transparent with call centre contact details during the searching and booking process which could be due to differences in the types of commercial businesses and their approach to customer service.

Furthermore despite customer backlash, carrier sites are generally less transparent than travel agents when it comes to total pricing, choosing to add additional costs later during users' booking journey. More companies recognising upsell opportunity.

The report also noted an increase in the number of websites that have become more commercially focused to help increase revenue and make life easier for their customer. BA for example highlights to customers the number of seats available to avoid disappointment should seats be scarce.

Furthermore, websites are increasingly up-selling or cross-selling services to generate additional revenue which bodes well for those solely online companies that may miss out on these opportunities if absent of face to face contact with customers.

Capabilities that were tested throughout this report included searching for flights, search results and flight summary booking pages and errors and error handling.

"Usability is essential so that site visitors can find the flights they're looking for quickly and intuitively," says Trenton Moss, Director at Webcredible.

"A poor user experience could lead to customers going elsewhere and could make customers reluctant to complete other transactions online, such as checking in online.

"The online travel market is highly competitive with many companies offering the same flights and packages at similar prices, continues Moss. "If customers find one site difficult to use just once, they will often seek out a competitor."

Click below to see the report in full.

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