May 7, 2013, 5:18 PM

Travelers search for flights via smartphones more often than they book them

Travelers on tablets convert at a much higher rate, a study says.

Lead Photo

Mobile airline ticket sales have potential to take flight if airlines make the mobile shopping experience better, suggests a new survey of 3,186 travelers.

90% of travelers in the March survey used smartphones to search for flights in the last 12 months, but only 36.5% actually purchased a ticket via their mobile phones, according to the survey from FlightView, which provides consumers such flight information as airport weather conditions and flight delays. The survey was sent to users of FlightView’s Android and iPhone flight-tracking app.

When asked what keeps them from buying, more than half of respondents (52%) say it is too hard to enter all of the required information on small devices, and 55% say they would rather use a laptop or desktop.

Tablets convert better than smartphones, with 62% of travelers having searched for flights on their tablets over the past 12 months, and 49.3% buying a ticket via tablet.

More than 80% of respondents say concerns about mobile security and transaction interruptions no longer stop them from making travel purchases. Instead, 45.8% of travelers say they are underwhelmed with airlines’ mobile apps.


  • 48.1% are most dissatisfied with usability.
  • 28.9% are frustrated with inaccurate or slow flight information.
  • 22.9% want more functionality.

“Mobile has many inherent benefits—but also many basic limitations like screen size and the lack of a keyboard,” says Mike Benjamin, CEO of FlightView. “It’s these elements that are driving consumers back to their laptops and desktops, and forcing them to make costly calls to customer service—not mobile security concerns. The key to driving mobile sales is improving information architecture and navigation across multiple pages and determining what information can be stored in user profiles to avoid re-entering it with each purchase.”

Airlines also have room to improve in helping travelers make last-minute travel changes via a mobile device. When a traveler needs to rebook a flight at the last minute, the majority (45.8%) prefer to call customer service. However, mobile does beat out desktop and laptop use for last-minute itinerary changes. 28.8% prefer using a mobile device and the rest (about 25%) prefer a desktop or laptop.

Beyond doing a better job at making it easier to buy tickets, the survey suggests an opportunity for airlines to sell more add-on services via mobile as well. 28.8% of travelers have purchased an upgrade or add-on via an airline’s mobile app or mobile web site in the past 12 months. More than 80% of respondents, however, say they would consider purchasing an extra service if the airline pushed the offer to their mobile device before they boarded the plane:

  • 58.7% would consider purchasing in-flight Wi-Fi.
  • 54.3% would consider upgrading to a seat with extra leg room.
  • 41.8% would consider upgrading to a business or first-class ticket.
  • 40.1% would consider purchasing early boarding privileges.

Airlines might want to consider pushing such offers to travelers via mobile devices as early as 12 to 24 hours before their flight takes off—the timeframe when 51% of travelers say they first check their flight status on a mobile device, FlightView says.

Travelers are also open to more robust information via mobile. According to the survey:

  • 65.6% want real-time alerts on special airport conditions like parking lot closings and emergency announcements.
  • 44.6% desire GPS walking directions for inside the airport.
  • 31.7% would order food from terminal restaurants and have it delivered to them before they board the plane.




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