In past columns I’ve always started my search for travel nirvana with Google, but this time I’m going straight to website homepages, because I already know what I want.
I want flights. I know the routes and the airlines I want to fly: British Airways from London to Cairo, EasyJet from Gatwick to Marseille, and let’s try one of those new all-business-class carriers (Eos or Maxjet?) flying out of Stansted to JFK.
That’s my October travel plan wrapped up in a sentence, but how long will it take me to wrap up the bookings?
With my ear to the ground, I hear that BA is expected to upgrade BA.com before the year is out, so it will be interesting to see how the current incarnation stacks up against the other two.
Flights were where the Internet travel revolution started, and we know all the airlines want us to book direct so they can cut out commission (just ask any travel agent how much money they make out of flights these days).
So, let’s see whether the airlines are really keeping pace with technology, brand experience and usability.
Buying four return tickets to Cairo shouldn’t be difficult, and it isn’t with BA’s website central to its business model of getting clients to book direct.
Certainly not this site’s strongest suit. It’s okay, but to my eye a crude interpretation of what is, in most people’s minds, a premium brand. The technology that powers it provides plenty of functionality, but ends up dictating the way it looks and feels with the result that it could be more engaging.
If you just want to book flights quickly this site works well, unless, like me, your family is bigger than six – the maximum this site accepts. You can’t link separate bookings but as only four of us are going to Cairo, it’s okay this time. Search default to ‘London (all)’ works for me because BA doesn’t fly from Stansted or Luton. But then it starts to fall apart: pop-ups for extra information are not resizable and require scrolling; you can lose your data and you’re not told it has expired. Effort has been made to address accessibility issues and large type sizes are an indication of this.
There’s masses here and plenty of useful technology delivering powerful functionality, such as flight arrivals and departures and checking in online, which is pretty cool, except you can’t do so with kids. Unlike many airlines, BA’s prices include taxes, fees, charges and surcharges so you don’t get duped. There’s also plenty of advice and guidance on visas, health and wellbeing and travel guides, and Executive Club members are well served.
This site was one of the first to show online yield management, (more expensive prices for the day you want to fly) – great for profits, but annoying if you have checked the day before only to find prices have increased when you book. There’s plenty of upselling going on too, even though sometimes it goes spectacularly wrong – I was urged to upgrade to World Traveller Plus for ‘only’ £747 per person when the return flight cost was just £391.30!
Not perfect, but works well for your average traveller, fulfilling most of your expectations. The technology works well with some impressive innovations.
Overall score 85/100
Gatwick to Marseilles to spend a weekend with my wife at the Villa Gallici in Aix (booked via LuxuryExplorer.com). Marseilles Marignan is 20 minutes away.
Well, it’s very orange – a contrast with the lavish boudoir style of our beautiful destination, but why waste money on flights when you can spend what you save on fine food and wine? Anyway, once you get past the opening pages the design actually looks quite fresh, clean and up to date.
Straightforward booking sequence without too many options to confuse the user. My concern was that the really meaty page, step four of five, had too much information. It could benefit from being broken down. It includes a sign-up/create profile section with e-mail offers. Next up, the contact information and passenger details. Then, a marketing question: reasons for the trip. Finally, there’s the payment and the terms and conditions. Too much. Also, the return calendar didn’t automatically move to the next day and I managed to book insurance when I didn’t want to. But I am stupid.
Content is focused on cross-selling. Good prompt to car hire, with picture thumbnails and prices all worked out for your trip. Travel insurance seems to be very important to EasyJet as it’s offered everywhere. You have to deselect it, otherwise it’s automatically added – as I found out. Hotel bookings are shipped out and powered by Hotelopia.
This site is a revenue machine. Cross-selling car hire, hotels and insurance seems to be a priority to offset low prices. What I did find strange was the change in price according to how you paid. You’re paying online with a card. But depending on which card you use your price varies, by £5 (nearly 3%) in this case. I know Mastercard and Visa charge dearly for their services, but I’m not used to this being so transparently passed on to the customer. Do they really make that much for delivering my money via a wire to EasyJet?
As expected, the site is no-frills. But it works well (apart from the infatuation with insurance) and with a little tweaking it could be very good indeed.
Overall score 75/100
A trip to New York, via Stansted on a new(ish) all-business-class airline. Will this be the smart way to avoid disruption at Heathrow? If so, Maxjet or Eos? I liked the Eos website better, if not the prices.
Professional with a business-like look and feel. Light and airy style, images are good quality and useful even if everyone in the photos looks as if they were paid to enjoy their flight. The proposition here is first-class space, comfort and service for less than the price of business class, and the design does certainly get this message across.
Usability scores highly with little things making all the difference. For example, the regulatory terms and conditions box is clearly marked with an explanation as to why you have to tick it.
Using shiny new technology for the sake of it doesn’t get any points, but the site uses it quite well. Some extra information is provided, such as visa requirements, though it is clearer elsewhere on the web. Otherwise, content is about why you should choose Eos and why Stansted – arguing it’s quicker to get into town than from Heathrow. What? Well, certainly not from my part of town… I found a link that didn’t work – the one selling Stansted as the better place to fly from. Teething troubles or messed up content management? The company started a year ago, so it shouldn’t be the former.
They didn’t show the prices with taxes and only displayed prices for one traveller despite having allowed me to specify that two would be travelling. Annoying, but each company seems to have its own policy in this area. Those that tell you the full price, such as BA, get my vote.
A good effort, if you can find the site in the first place. Compared to BA and EasyJet, though, the job’s much easier to implement with one product and much simpler scheduling. My two questions are: will the experience live up to the website; and when will it fly from Heathrow or Gatwick?
Overall score 83/100