Corporate travel buyers dished the dirt on the top five U.S. airlines in Business Travel News’ Annual Airline Survey last week.
Airlines were judged on ten criteria including flexibility in negotiating pricing, services, and amenities; distribution channel availability; complaint resolution; value for price; quality of customer service; and networks and airline partnerships.
Overall, travel buyers saw stagnant or declining levels of customer service - only 18% thought there was an improvement over last year. Cost was also a point of contention - buyers say airlines are pooling their pricing power and not offering as many business travel program discounts, as well as piling on the ancillary fees.
What does this mean for business travelers? Your preferred airline may be on the outs with your travel department - read on for an insider’s view on possible shifts in corporate airline loyalty.
Delta soars to the top. Delta placed first in the ratings this year, due to corporate pricing flexibility, high responsiveness to customer complaints, and value of their networks. They’re known to cooperate with corporate travel buyers to negotiate the best deals and their extensive carrier network can get travelers where they need to go. Another boost is Delta’s new reporting tool for corporate customers which details ancillary fee spending and saving - a smart move with a view to transparency.
United-Continental in a holding pattern. The cumbersome process of merging two giant airlines takes its toll - buyers especially feel the pinch during corporate program consolidation and contract repricing. The airline’s recently publicized labor disputes and technological minefields are enough to make any travel buyer nervous. United is hoping a unified passenger system launching early next year will present a seamless interface to travel buyers and improve the “highly distracted and confused” opinion of the merged airline.
American and Southwest in free fall. American plummeted to almost last place from its 2nd place finish last year, partly due to this year’s distribution wars with Sabre. Buyers also felt the value of American’s network and quality of communication went downhill. Southwest, never a corporate favorite due to their inflexibility in negotiating preferred pricing and their product distribution strategy which limits availability through 3rd party channels, saw their rank hurt even more this year by a low perceived value for ticket price.
While your travel department may not switch preferred airlines overnight, staying up to date on airline reputations among travel buyers can help avoid an unpleasant surprise if your favorite carrier is put on the “No-Fly” list.