Airline profitability overall has recovered notably in the past few years. Some of that recovery has come from charging fees for formerly free services. Airlines have also attempted to drive more revenue by capturing a bigger share of consumers’ travel wallets. That can come through selling or facilitating the sale of hotels, rental cars, and complete travel packages. The airlines’ digital science is to use their websites to encourage cross-sells without distracting or inhibiting their main business—booking flights.
Millward Brown Digital chose one airline site, jetBlue.com, to highlight airline site tactics and the relative success in driving traffic toward ancillary revenue. Because travel sites are extremely complex, for this exercise we focused on one single subset of paths; all paths would need to be analyzed in aggregate for a complete assessment.
What’s on the Radar?
Across the top of the jetBlue site are six primary choices. Hovering over “Plan a trip” reveals a new set of choices (shown below). We compared the extent to which consumers that hovered then clicked on the paths for flights, getaways, hotels or cars as a way to show how one would measure the relative success of JetBlue in capturing the potential for cross-sells.
It’s possible that more novice JetBlue researchers (either booking travel infrequently or new to the jetBlue site) would be the most likely to use the hover “Plan a trip” route because experienced users would click on “Plan a trip” or something else more direct. These might also be the consumers JetBlue most needs to persuade to book. For this simple analysis we used unique visitors (UVs) that visited the JetBlue.com home page, and then went to pages with URLs containing “flights,” “cars,” “vacations,” or “hotels” as accessed through “Plan a trip” hover mode. UV counts are based on our proprietary and patented data collection and normalization process. This process ensures our data are representative and eliminates the risk of false positives from double-counting consumers (as can happen with cookie-based approaches). Our UV technology also allows an apples-to-apples comparison of data across sites (such as suppliers and OTAs).
Note that from the home page you can book flights without clicking on “Plan a trip” (i.e., you can start the booking process without clicking any other navigation buttons). And if a user clicks on the “Plan a trip” button (as opposed to hovering over it) the same choices appear (see image) but clicking on those choices in some cases takes you to a different page than the same choices exposed in hover mode.
In click-on mode, selecting “Getaways” (after one extra step) takes you to the same “vacations” landing page as does clicking on “Getaways” from the hover-revealed mode, though as on the home page the user can immediately book a flight thereafter (however, the path’s URLs contains “Book”). In contrast, from the hover mode, clicking on flight shows you a travel offer then lets you book, with “flight” in the URL. Clearly, site structures are not always as clean we we’d like them to be, highlighting the complexity of complete site analyses.
First Leg of the Flight
Not surprisingly, the greatest share of JetBlue.com unique visitors visits included flights path—nearly one in four in the most recent data shown. The “Getaways” path captured just over one in ten visitors. Each of these paths gained ground in the period shown. Much lower are the car path and the hotel path (recognizing that the “Getaways” path includes hotel options). Few if any of the included visitors used these paths, and penetration did not change across the included period.
When indexed to the “Flights” path (see table), the differences become more apparent. For every 100 average monthly visitors that chose the “Flights” path, only three chose “Hotels” and only two chose “Cars”, meaning millions of dollars of potential incremental revenue missed. JetBlue has much greater success with the “Getaways” path, though the chart shows that “Flights” is growing faster than is “Getaways”.
Imagine if JetBlue today had 20,000 UVs on average per month reaching the included flight path (call it 1% of total site traffic) and 5% of those book an average two-night hotel stay at $150 per night. That’s about $300,000 per month in hotel bookings. If JetBlue could drive path traffic to just 10%, bookings would increase to $3.0M per month, or $36M a year.
Landing More Revenue
All airlines want to maximize revenue. Ideally, they’d be able to sell hotel room nights commensurate with the length of every booked flight. That would drive extra revenue but also cement the relationship with the customers (from slight partner to travel partner). How to actualize that?
» Identify the most cost-effective way to drive incremental revenue.
- Richen the analysis to include all possible paths and which are most easily converted to incremental JetBlue revenue
- Identify what drove recent gains in the “Getaways” path; can that be increased more?
- Analyze when along the travel and research process consumers engage JetBlue.com
» Evaluate the extent to which visitors along any path ultimately book with a rival for flight as well as book a rival for hotel or rental car.
- These “lost bookers” are the most valuable losses because they ultimately booked after leaving JetBlue.com.
» Assess the effectiveness of other airlines in driving cross-sells and emulate their tactics (such as landing pages, marketing, and site design) that drive that potential.
Download a .pdf version of this study here!
 For example, think of a consumer that visits the same site five times. A cookie-based approach might count that as five different people (depending on the user’s cookie control settings). The MBD process is immune to that and would count that same user as one person, though we can also see each of the five visits.
 The share accessing any flight path on the site is much higher (not shown) that results for the one included path.
 Even with 90% passed on to hotel partners, that’s still an incremental $3.6M to JetBlue.
Lincoln Merrihew is the Senior Vice President of Transportation at Millward Brown Digital. At Millward Brown Digital, Lincoln is responsible for steering the Transportation Team, which encompasses the automotive and travel practices. Before Lincoln joined the Millward Brown Digital team, he worked at TNS Custom leading the Automotive team, and then continued on there to lead business development for 10 different industry verticals. Lincoln's career aspiration is to create game-changing solutions and insights. Connect with Lincoln on LinkedIn.