Virgin Atlantic overtakes British Airways in travel website usability


As the possibility of industrial strike action looms over its customers this summer, Virgin Atlantic is faring better online, making significant improvements to its website and mobile app to replace its strike-hit competitor, British Airways, at the top of the travel website usability stakes, according to a new study.

The 2011 Flights Online Report from user experience consultancy, Webcredible revealed that with an overall score of 82 per cent, Virgin Atlantic has, for the first time wrestled the top spot from British Airways, which scored 80 per cent on its website usability this year.


The 20 travel websites received the following scores in total, out of 100


Virgin Atlantic has made clear improvements scoring highly across best practice usability guidelines including error handling methods, providing the ability to share pages with friends, and offering clear search functions.

While many travel sites have created mobile versions of their sites and smartphone apps, many failed to take advantage of the platform.

Virgin Atlantic and BA have started to create more useful mobile offerings with both carrier airlines judged favourably in their efforts to engage customers across channels.

With these apps, customers are able to perform often time-consuming tasks while on the move, providing easier ways to book flights, check-in early and use smartphones as boarding passes.

Such developments showed a commitment from both airlines to connect with customers throughout the travel lifecycle rather than just during the booking phase.

Easyjet followed Virgin and BA to take the third spot dropping one place this year. Other significant moves include Netflights which climbed an impressive seven places, by achieving a score of 68 per cent, up six per cent from 2010.

The online travel agent shared seventh place with Expedia, Opodo, and Travelbag while Ryanair dropped a significant nine places to 17th spot with a score of 58 per cent, an eight per cent decrease from 2010.

While there was a slight increase in the total average score in the last year from 64.4 per cent in 2010 to 65.7 per cent in 2011, the report revealed that most carrier airlines and travel agents only made minor improvements to increase the usability of their websites.

With only nine websites scoring between 60-69 points and 5 websites scoring between 50 and 59 points, most UK travel sites are still failing to do enough to maximise their share of the potential revenue in this highly competitive marketplace by addressing key usability issues.

There was little disparity in the overall scores between travel agent sites and carrier sites, but travel agents did lag behind in terms of showing prices early on during the booking journey as well as offering easy refinement of searches, displaying a contact telephone number, and showing a clear progress bar during the flight booking process.

Carrier sites also ensured cancellation and refund rules were clearer compared to agent sites. Webcredible noted that this information was often buried away in site terms and conditions which may frustrate users.

In terms of areas of improvement, key areas of focus for most travel sites going forward will need to be the ability to offer comparison shopping, particularly as this is a behaviour that comes naturally to e-commerce shoppers. Another key area included aiding users in the booking process to bring the real-world shopping experience online.

When booking flights through a high street travel agent, customers are able to make special requests when searching for flights, such as travelling in business class, or avoiding changeovers.

Those booking online will have the same desires, which need be supported through the booking process. Most of the travel websites scored poorly for this guideline, with just 5 out of 20 websites achieving 5 points out of 5.

Trenton Moss, Managing Director and Founder, Webcredible comments: “Aside from the slight improvement in website usability, it’s encouraging to see travel websites making steps to improve their cross channel proposition by developing creative ways to connect with their customers. With such a competitive market as online travel, companies need to continue to create new ways such as intuitive mobile apps to differentiate themselves.”


Webcredible analysed the websites of 20 UK online travel agents and airline carriers in April and May 2011. Each website was evaluated against 20 best practice guidelines and assigned a score of 0 to 5 for each guideline, with 5 being the maximum. With 20 guidelines in total, websites were assigned a total Web Usability Index rating out of 100.


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