Just in time for summer vacation season, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) is out with its annual travel report. While satisfaction with U.S. airlines was up, hotels took a dip.
Airline passenger satisfaction rose 1.4 percent for a score of 74 out of 100. Alaska, Delta, United, Frontier and Spirit saw considerable improvement.
While many passengers complain about seat comfort, overhead storage space, luggage fees and food quality, most travelers are satisfied with their overall experience, according to the report.
“Airlines are meeting demands of passengers who require more mobile-friendly options, easy reservation and check-in processes, and courteous staff,” said David VanAmburg, ACSI’s managing director.
Hotels, both large and small, are losing ground with their guests. Satisfaction dropped 1.3 percent from last year to a score of 75.
Traditional hotels are facing some stiff competition from online brokers, such as Airbnb, and as the ACSI survey shows they’re “struggling to keep up.”
Guests say hotel chains have deteriorated in almost every aspect: Staff is less courteous and helpful, room quality has declined, and call center satisfaction plummeted.
The ACSI Travel Report is based on interviews with nearly 13,000 customers, chosen at random and contacted via email between April 2018, and March 2019.
AMERICA’S FAVORITE AIRLINES
Alaska Airlines takes the top spot this year, earning high marks for its inflight service and loyalty program. It’s ACSI score of 80 is up 1 percent from last year. Alaska’s merger with Virgin America “has paid off,” the report says, providing passengers with “an expanded network and lower fares.”
JetBlue and Southwest tied for the second spot at 79. JetBlue’s seat comfort and other amenities helped it secure second place. Southwest’s score dropped 1 percent from last year’s score of 80. Issues stemming from the Boeing 737 MAX crashes may have played a factor in Southwest’s decline. “With approximately 9,400 flights canceled in the first quarter alone due to safety concerns and/or bad weather conditions, that's a significant number of customers impacted,” VanAmburg told NBC News BETTER.
Delta Airlines, with an ACIS score of 75 (up 1 percent from last year) is the top-rated legacy carrier. Passengers appreciate the in-flight amenities: Most of the aircrafts operated by Delta have seatback screens, USB ports and Wi-Fi. Delta is planning to improve its mobile app by rolling out miles as currency, allowing members to upgrade through the app, the report noted.
These airlines all scored below the industry average of 74:
- American Airlines (73), down 1 percent. It was the second major U.S. airline to cancel flights because of the 737 Max crashes.
- Allegiant (71), dropped 4 percent.
- United (70) made an impressive 4 percent gain, but remains below average.
- Frontier (64) and Spirit(63) both showed significant improvement this year, but they remain at the bottom of the ratings. Consistent with their low-cost approach, in-flight amenities — such as entertainment — rated poorly.
AMERICA’S FAVORITE HOTEL CHAINS
Hilton and Marriott tied for the top spot with a score of 80 out of 100. With a variety of luxury and upscale brands, both remain above average for amenities and quality of the rooms. They also have popular loyalty programs.
Among their top brands: Marriott’s JW Marriott and Fairfield Inn & Suites, Hilton’s Embassy Suites and Hilton Garden Inn.
Three other hotel chains scored above the industry average of 75: Hyatt (79), InterContinental (78) and Best Western (77).
These chains scored below average: Choice, La Quinta, Wyndham and G6 Hospitality (most known for its low-cost Motel 6 brand) remain at the bottom.
Ratings for economy hotels: Days Inn (68), followed by Econo Lodge (67) Super 8 (65) and Motel 6 (63).
INTERNET TRAVEL SERVICES
Satisfaction with using travel websites to book flights, hotels and rental cars continues to climb. Customers find them easy to use and like their mobile apps — rating them higher than airline apps.
- TripAdvisor, included in this year’s survey for the first time, debuted in the lead with an 82. TripAdvisor was “lauded as a trusted source of user-generated reviews,” VanAmburg said.
- Orbitz, part of Expedia, slips to second place with an ACSI score of 81.
- Travelocity, also part of Expedia, saw the biggest drop in the industry, plunging 4 percent to 77. It ranked below-average on almost every satisfaction benchmark measured.
- Priceline (76) finished in last place, dropping 3 percent. According to users, Priceline’s booking and payment process is “more cumbersome” than competing websites.
6 TIPS FOR ANYONE PLANNING A TRIP
It takes time and effort to find travel deals. Here are a few tips provided by travel experts:
1. Spread a wide net when planning your trip
Search and comparison websites, such as Trivago and Kayak, are a great way to see what’s available. George Hobica, syndicated travel writer, tells me he often finds deals at lesser known hotels through these meta-search engines.
2. Remember: No site has everything. For example, Farecompare and Hipmunk, as well as the popular app Hopper, don’t list Delta flights. If you want to see what Southwest has to offer, you must go to its website. For lodging, it’s a good idea to check hotel websites, especially if you’re part of their loyalty programs.
3. Watch out for the “resort fee” gotcha
When booking a hotel, look to see if there’s a mandatory resort, facility or destination fee — typically $25 - $30 per room, per day — tacked on to the room rate. It may not be easy to spot.
“Don’t assume that the first price you see is what you’re going to pay,” said Ed Perkins, contributing editor at SmarterTravel. “You have to go part of the way through the booking process before you know if there’s going to be that extra hidden fee tacked on to that daily rate.”
4. Don’t overlook package deals
You can often save money by buying a package that includes your airfare, hotel and rental car.
5. Book airline seats one at a time
“If there’s only one seat at the lowest price, the search engine will return two or more seats at the next high price,” Hobica explained. In addition to roundtrip searches, if might be cheaper to fly out on one airline and fly back on another.
6. Make sure you understand restriction on that airfare
To compete with the discount airlines, the major carriers have all created new “basic economy” fares (Alaska calls them “Saver” fares) that are slightly cheaper than main cabin seats, but have lots of restrictions. These may include: no advance seat assignment, board the plane last, no family or group seating, no carry-on luggage, no upgrades and no refunds. Make sure you know what’s not included in that lower fare.
TIP: If you have plans to travel internationally this year, you might want to sign up for Scott’s Cheap Flights. The newsletter alerts members to sales, mistake fares and seasonal dips in pricing. Unlike other sites, Scott's Cheap Flights doesn't get any commission if you book a flight. Several similar newsletters — including Exitfares.com, Airfarewatchdog.com and TravelPirates.com — often uncover the same deals, but the editors at Checkbook.org say they like Scott’s transparency and quick-to-absorb formatting.
MORE TRAVEL TIPS
- Save $520 (or more) on your next flight with these 4 airfare hacks
- How to pack a carry-on (so you don't need to check a bag)
- How to snag a 'glitch' flight (and other travel hacks that will save you money)
- How to find the best travel rewards credit card for you