Each month, ExpertFlyer sits down with an executive in the travel industry to provide insight to changes in the industry and how it affects the way you do business. It’s another way ExpertFlyer is providing additional information to empower the business traveler.
This month ExpertFlyer sat down with Meredith Hanrahan, chief travel officer for Cheapflights.com. Cheapflights.com is an online shopping comparison engine that makes it easy for consumers to research, compare and save on domestic and international trips.
“This is a good time to travel. There are still deals out there for the early part of summer that are still at last year’s prices.”
– Meredith Hanrahan, chief travel officer for Cheapflights.com
1) As a leading US travel website for price search and comparison, what are some of the interesting and recent queries that are surfacing from travelers?
We’ve kept our eye on the how trends change search behaviors, such as the economic downturn, natural disasters and political transitions and we watch the rise and shift in popularity in travel destinations. For example, we are seeing a downturn in travel to Greece and upturn in popular destinations, such as Cancun. We just did a survey of emerging new summer travel spots around the world – ones that have seen a major jump in user interest from 2009 to 2010. Highlights from the list include Minneapolis, Seattle, Dallas, San Francisco, Phoenix, Cancun, Manila and Dubai.
2) Is this a good time to travel? Why?
Yes, this is a good time to travel. There are still deals out there for the early part of summer that are still at last year’s prices. However, as the travel industry starts to rebound and the impact of the volcanic ash recedes, we expect prices to move up in the latter part of summer by 20-30%. Book now and you can still find average deal prices in the same range as the summer of 2008.
3) Cory Garner at American Airlines recently said that the airlines want to move to “customized fares” based on the type of traveler and their known demographics. How will Cheapflights and other non-supplier websites handle this new, custom pricing trend?
Cheapflights already does “customize on behalf of advertisers. “Our Hand-picked Deals section offers special promotions from carriers or operators and very often these deals are exclusive to Cheapflights. Our newsletters are highly targeted – subscribers can set their preferences, select the exact type of offers they want to receive, such as traditional sun and sea deals or sports related; city/short breaks and get previews of special deals. The subscribers are geographically listed, as well and have the choice of receiving deals from their closest regional airport. A case in point is where an airline missed the deadline for newspaper ads for a specific weekend sun and sea deal departing from a regional airport. Cheapflights reached out to subscribers within a 100 mile radius of the regional airport on the Thursday before the weekend and actually filled the plane.
4) Cheapflights claims to serve up over a million travel deals each day. How does Cheapflights conduct so many deals and transactions and still provide customized service?
Cheapflights works as a deals aggregator, meaning users can access deals from a diverse set of partners, from airlines, tour operators, travel agents, and other travel sites like Expedia — all from one site. What makes Cheapflights unique is that we’ve built direct relationships with these different types of providers and can provide a variety of deals you won’t find elsewhere – especially if you are open and flexible with your dates. It is because of these direct relationships that we have access to deal inventory that you may not find elsewhere and therefore, have a greater chance of finding a better deal on airfares. Cheapflights has eight websites around the world, publishing over 4 million deals a day from more than 300 airlines.
5) Do you offer any frequent flyer or travel rewards programs?
Not directly. Cheapflights only publishes flight deals with the actual ticket purchase taking place on the chosen flight provider’s site.
6) What trends are you seeing in the online travel booking arena?
Cheapflights recently conducted a summer vacation poll and the results showed more than 70 percent of respondents are planning a summer getaway. However, the poll also revealed that barely more than 25 percent of people thought that summer travel was back “in all its glory,” so finding ways to stretch travel dollars is still critical.
Even for business or long-haul travel, we have noticed that business class has become the new first class. Airlines are shrinking the first class cabins to expand business class and offering a healthy level of perks for a more manageable price.
7) How are these trends affecting the services and programs you provide to your customers?
As mentioned above, our recent poll on summer travel underscored that people are ready to travel again, but that they are feeling pressure to keep costs down. In response, Cheapflights launched a “How To” series that provides tips, tricks and guidelines for getting deals, saving money and traveling like a pro. Cheapflights’ job is to help people find great deals and plan great trips. We publish more than four million deals a day and with our ‘How To’ series, we are going one-step further in helping people become savvy shoppers and knowledgeable travelers.
Likewise, to help our customers tap into the growing business class trend, we are working with more and more partners to offer deals on business class seats.
8) What is the most searched travel destination on your site?
The most searched US destinations are Las Vegas and Orlando. For Europe, folks are searching the most for Amsterdam and England. The most popular destinations in Asia are India and the Philippines.
9) Many of the airlines are offering a number of ancillary services/fees to further “customize” services for travelers. How is Cheapflights, and online ticketing sites in general, showing these added services in relation to the base fare (bags, food, WiFi, etc.)?
Airlines have made a practice of decoupling fees for services from ticket prices at every turn, from check in and baggage check to food and legroom. Unwitting travelers can be caught off guard by these airline fees. Too often, when shopping for a ticket, even taxes can feel like a hidden charge as not all sites include this hefty but predictable line item. At Cheapflights, we always include taxes in the prices we quote so there are no surprises on that front. However, it’s hard to build in the pricing for a la carte airline costs as each traveler can make different choices that can impact their bottom line.
Our mandate is to arm the traveler with the information about these extra fees so they know to what to look for when booking their flights and planning their travel — that way there are no surprises. We do this by being a complete travel resource for users with helpful Airline Guides (http://www.cheapflights.com/airlines/), which include info on fees such as baggage fees, travel with pets, meals etc.; Airport Guides (http://www.cheapflights.com/airports/) with info on facilities and services such as Wifi; and travel tips (http://www.cheapflights.com/travel-tips/) from how to find a deal to the best travel gadgets. Our recent “How to Avoid Hidden Costs When You Travel” (http://news.cheapflights.com/2010/05/how-to-avoid-hidden-costs-while-you-travel/) article shows how to spot and avoid other charges from hotels, rental car companies and currency desks.