Consumers Happy With Hotels, Disappointed With Airlines


Customer satisfaction with hotels is on the rise as satisfaction with airlines declines.

Customer satisfaction levels for hotels are up but satisfaction with air travel is down, according to a new report by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). The report monitors monthly satisfaction with the quality of products and services provided by airlines, hotels, full-service restaurants, fast food, and express delivery and mail services.

Passenger satisfaction with airlines drops by 1.5 percent to an ACSI score of 65—a very low score that keeps getting worse, ACSI reported.

“Poor service, higher fuel prices, and fees for baggage and other services are contributing to discontent among travelers. Passengers who pay for checked bags are much less satisfied than those who don’t (an ACSI score of 58 compared to 68). They also are more dissatisfied now than a year ago (-3 percent). Since nearly half of all fliers pay bag fees, the negative impact on their satisfaction is significant, ASCI says. Airlines have another concern as well. Their most profitable market segment, business passengers, is the least satisfied (ACSI score of 61).

Southwest Airlines rises 2 percent to 81, leading the category as it has for the past eighteen years. Continental is next in line, but far behind after plunging 10 percent to 64 as it becomes absorbed by United, which itself improves 2 percent to 61 to tie US Airways. Between these companies is American Airlines, unchanged at 63. Delta Air Lines hits the industry’s bottom with a 10 percent dive to 56—one year after completing its acquisition of Northwest, ACSI reports.

“Airline mergers typically have a destructive effect on passenger satisfaction,” said Claes Fornell, founder of the ACSI and author of The Satisfied Customer: Winners and Losers in the Battle for Buyer Preference. “In 2005, US Airways fell 8 percent to an industry low following its merger with America West, and now Delta falters in the same way. Past experience points to more customer satisfaction challenges ahead for United and raises the question of whether Southwest can escape customer satisfaction problems from its acquisition of Air Tran in May.”

Hotels Gain

Guest satisfaction with hotels rises 2.7 percent to a score of 77, ACSI reported. “Lower rates and more perks have enhanced customers’ views of value for money. The aggregate of smaller brands—including small hotel and motel chains, individual luxury hotels, and bed and breakfasts—makes the most progress, up 4 percent to an ACSI score of 77. The industry is having more success with leisure travelers, as their satisfaction improves 1 percent to 77 compared to a 1 percent drop to 75 for business travelers.

“Although guest satisfaction has benefited from lower rates and various perks, there has been no effect on customer loyalty and repeat business,” said Fornell. “Price-induced satisfaction tends to make people shop around for the best deal rather than promote loyalty.”

Hilton leads, unchanged at 80, with both Marriott (-1 percent) and Starwood (+3 percent) close behind at 79. Hyatt comes next at 77 (-3 percent). Budget brands occupy the next tier below the industry average, with InterContinental (Holiday Inns) down 3 percent to tie Best Western at 76. Choice Hotels follows, unchanged at 74, while Wyndham Worldwide (Ramada, Super 8, Days Inn) makes the biggest gain, up 4 percent to 73, but this is still not enough to pull Wyndham out of the industry basement.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index is a national economic indicator of customer evaluations of the quality of products and services available to household consumers in the United States. ACSI releases results for various sectors of the economy on a monthly basis to provide up-to-the-moment coverage over the entire calendar year. The Index was founded at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and is produced by ACSI LLC.


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