Online Travel Sites Score Big During Holidays

How strong is the marriage between the Internet and airline travel sites? Very strong, according to a study by PC Data, and it will get stronger as the young Internet users of today grow up.

With 3.2 million unique home visitors in November, priceline.com emerged as the top site for US Internet users shopping for information on Thanksgiving holiday air travel, according to a study by PC Data Online. This translated into a 71 percent increase over the previous month’s figures. Travelocity.com and expedia.com followed with 2.8 million unique visitors (8 percent increase) and 2.1 million (6 percent increase) respectively.

Of the airline-sponsored sites, iflyswa.com (Southwest Airlines) emerged on top with 1.5 million users, which represented a 26 percent increase over the previous month. Aa.com (American Airlines) came in second with 1.1 million unique users and delta-airlines.com third with 979,000 unique users.

The study also revealed that most home Internet users reserved their holiday flights through direct channels as opposed to travel agents. Thirty-two percent booked flights online, while 31 percent booked flights by telephone directly through an airline. Twenty percent booked through a travel agent.

“Thanksgiving air ticket sales reinforced that direct booking — whether online or by telephone direct to an airline — is eliminating the middleman in air transportation,” said Jeff Moulton, Internet analyst for PC Data Online. “Air travelers want information, but more importantly, want to know the shortest, easiest and least expensive path to book their flights.”

The success of the Southwest site has to do with a design that transfers the company’s reputation to the Internet, Moulton said.

“Southwest Airlines has traditionally been a low cost airline,” he said. “It fared well in the study because its direct channel philosophy transfers easily to the Internet, enabling it to expand its consumer base and continue to keep its costs down.”

Age likewise emerged as a factor in whether Internet users book a flight online. Sixty-eight percent of Internet users between the ages of 18 and 34 booked their flights online or by telephone directly to an airline compared with 56 percent between the ages of 35 and 65.

Internet users also seemed genuinely pleased with their travel plans, with 92 percent saying they had no problems with their reservation.

PC Data Online, surveyed 4,101 home-based Internet users in November about their preferences and satisfaction with shopping for flights during the Thanksgiving weekend. The sample was weighted by age and gender to represent the US Internet population. It has a margin of error of +/- 1.56 percent.

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