Pain points are not what most travelers want to think about when booking a trip. But understanding which things can make a journey more difficult, information that can be far more complicated than flight times and seat maps, could help travelers or their agents make better decisions about their best air travel options.
That’s the tune being whistled by Dave Pelter, a former Farecast executive and creator of InsideTrip.com, which launched today. And Pelter has at least one industry guru whistling along. The guru is Forrester’s Henry Harteveldt, who has recently been highly critical of tired travel site designs. InsideTrip, he predicts, just might transform Pelter into the new pied piper of online travel.
“InsideTrip is a great example of innovation, which is something that’s been virtually absent in online travel shopping for a long time,” Harteveldt said. “The new site gives the customer the opportunity to get context around a trip, something that’s also been sorely missing in travel e-business.”
Late last year, Harteveldt blamed the design of travel Web sites for a recent downward trend in the growth of online bookings. The decline, he said, seemed directly linked to two factors: the complexity and difficulty that consumers face in navigating online travel sites and the lack of a consumer-friendly focus by most online travel providers.
InsideTrip, he said, is the first new site he has seen that addresses those issues.
Rating flights on ‘pain points’
Pelter is a longtime airline executive with an in-depth understanding of the vast storehouses of data maintained by airlines and others about air travel. He has used that knowledge to develop a site where visitors can not only book air (through Orbitz) but organize their search results based on a convenience and service score that rates flights on “pain points.”
“There are big differences in travel products out there,” Pelter said. “In this case, we’re talking about air fares but also about whether you are on a comfortable 4-year-old aircraft or flying on a less-comfortable, 30-year-old plane from an airline in Minnesota that I won’t name. It really makes a difference.”
InsideTrip’s score weighs convenience and service in the context of price, based on information that Pelter’s database supplies as it searches for flight options. In addition to price, it essentially enables consumers to see the degree of difficulty on any flight option.
“You’re a traveling father with a stroller in one hand and a toddler in the other,” Pelter said. “Do you want to take the flight that requires a long train ride between terminals in Atlanta, or do you want a flight that gets you closer to the gate and through security more quickly? Those are decisions that can affect which flight you pick, and this brings you the information along with the price and timing of flights.”
To get to that information, Pelter has plumbed the depths of data from airlines, government regulatory agencies and other sources to identify a dozen variables that travelers might encounter when selecting a particular flight. Those could include leg room, the on-time records of the route, the age and type of aircraft and security wait times at an airport.
“What people have said in surveys since 9/11,” Pelter said, “is that they see travel as a hassle, that security lines are unpredictable and that they worry about their body making the same connections that their bags are making. So we have set up a rating system based on 12 consumer ‘pain points and, from that, attached a score on a 100-point system.”
That rating lets a traveler or agent evaluate how comfortable and convenient the trip selections might be, a factor that could easily trump a $10 savings on a flight for a family or business traveler, Pelter said.
“We have created this interesting technology to find those good travel choices in a sea of mediocrity, if you will” he said. “We are really turning on the lights and letting the consumer know the difference in what they are getting for the price they are paying. It’s a trip quality score for each itinerary that is returned by our pricing engine.”
Airlines might also find advantage in the system because it could enable them to market their performance in on-time service, security clearance times or other travel convenience factors, Pelter said.
A trip’s degree of difficulty
Harteveldt said he recently tested the site during a limited beta launch and was excited about what it brings to consumers -- an evaluation of the degree of difficulty of any trip. He said he is eager to see Pelter and his small crew of developers extend the service to hotels, cars and cruise.
“I see this as unique in the industry,” Harteveldt said. “I think it is very distinct. There is nothing like it out there, because it goes far beyond any interface design that we have seen for travel shopping.
“It is important to note,” he said, “that we are talking about a shopping process here. The booking is through Orbitz, and all InsideTrip does right now is air evaluations. Online travel does not live by airline tickets alone, of course, so the InsideTrip team is going to have to continue to build out capabilities. But I think this could even jump-start the process for online cruise bookings, when they get started in that arena.”
Harteveldt said he sees great opportunities in the site for travel agents, as well, because it can help them quickly generate convenience and service information for their customers.