Travel websites: The best and worst performers
Bookings at travel companies sites are expected to total a record $129 billion this year. (Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
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Frequent business traveler Alex Teh notices how differently each travel website performs and is more likely to make a booking on the sites of the best performers.
“Many of my travel plans are made on the spot or while already on the road,” he says. “I don’t want to wait for a page to load or struggle entering a date via a malfunctioning calendar pop-up.”
Teh, a human resources consultant in Atlanta, is part of a rapidly growing market of travelers transacting business online.
Bookings at travel companies’ sites are expected to total a record $129 billion this year — up from $121 billion last year and $112 billion in 2011, says Douglas Quinby, vice president of research for the market research company PhoCusWright.
The online travel market is growing faster than the total travel market, “which means online channels are outpacing and stealing share from offline travel agencies and call centers,” Quinby says.
At USA TODAY’s request, Compuware Benchmarks, which monitors website performance, analyzed and ranked the performances of travel websites the first 10 months this year.
Compuware measured their performances by conducting hundreds of thousands of tests from tens of thousands of desktop computers in the USA, as well as mobile tests at the company’s test centers.
Websites were ranked based on three criteria: home-page response (or loading) time, availability and consistency.
Consistency measures how consistent response times are in different geographic areas, times of day and on computer networks.
The best performers for desktop use? AirTran among airlines, MGM Mirage among hotels, Advantage among rental-car companies, and Tripmama among travel agents and search engines outperformed the rest.
The best performers “work hard all year to ensure that their website and mobile performances are differentiators that drive business and, ultimately, revenue,” Compuware’s Stephen Dykstra says.
The worst performers? American Airlines, Hilton Hotels, Avis and travel search engine Cheapflights.
Cheapflights spokeswoman Emily Fisher says Compuware’s results “are a bit disappointing.”
Cheapflights’ website had “some down time” while the company upgraded its data center — “a short-term trade-off designed to deliver better overall performance,” Fisher says.
Cheapflights also added a lot of content to its home page, she says, and some new content slowed Web-page loading and has since been removed.
Avis Budget Group spokesman John Barrows says Compuware’s results “do not reflect the current performances of Avis.com and Budget.com.” Budget’s website was next-to-last in performance, Compuware said.
Avis Budget, Barrows says, enhanced its website infrastructure in late November, and response times of both websites have improved “up to 30%.”
American and Hilton did not comment about Compuware’s assessments.
Compuware officials say a website’s response time is crucial in wooing customers.
Company data show that, after five seconds of wait time, about of 18% of users will abandon a Web page.
Of all travel industry websites monitored by Compuware, online travel agent TripRes had the fastest average home-page response time: 4.481 seconds.
Its website, which finished No. 2 in the travel agent/search engine rankings, was slightly faster than Tripmama’s average of 4.551 seconds.
United Kingdom-based Virgin Atlantic had the slowest average response time of all travel websites: 17.005 seconds. That was about 12 seconds slower than AirTran’s 4.739 seconds, the best response time among airlines.
Several changes were made to AirTran’s website as the airline moves closer to a full “integration” into Southwest Airlines, Southwest spokesman Dan Landson says. Southwest acquired AirTran in 2011.
The changes to AirTran’s website “may have helped improved the website’s overall performance, but have also removed some functionality,” Landson says.
Among car-rental companies, Advantage — probably the least-known brand among those monitored by Compuware — had the best average response time at 5.261 seconds.
Advantage spokeswoman Kim Cooper says, “Investment in the digital space has been a priority for the past 10 years.”
The Advantage website was designed “without content overload, providing the user quick and easy navigation through the site while placing their reservation,” Cooper says.
“It is our top priority that the Advantage site is viewer-friendly with clear and concise messaging.”
Alamo had the slowest average response time among auto-rental brands: 10.621 seconds.
Alamo spokeswoman Christy Cavallini says her company is “constantly making changes to improve and optimize” its home page, because it wants “to provide consumers the best experience possible.”
Advantage’s mobile site had the fastest response time — 4.712 seconds — of any other mobile travel website and is ranked No. 1 in performance among auto-rental companies.
Compuware Benchmarks ranked the website performances of 24 airlines and 25 hotels on thousands of desktop computers during the first 10 months this year. Compuware’s top 10 airline and hotel websites: