I recently booked a flight through eDreams (after searching on Skyscanner) and one small part of the booking UX jumped out at me as an artefact from the past, typical of a time when online customer experiences prioritised short-term revenue at the expense of brand and usability.

However far online travel agents (OTAs) have come, I'd argue there are still too many examples of UX that sails close to the wind.

Things are improving, but definitely aren't perfect

Before I reveal to you the offending bit of UX from eDreams, it’s worth considering the evolution of UX in the travel sector.

If there was one moment when customer experience across all sectors started to be taken seriously, I would argue it was in 2013 when Ryanair vowed to start doing right by the customer.

Chief exec Michael O'Leary said, "We should try to eliminate things that unnecessarily piss people off," and he admitted that the airline was not trying hard enough in its customer service.

From booking through to arrival at your destination, the Ryanair experience used to be less than edifying. As far as digital gripes went, the online checkout got most people miffed. Customers accepted the fact they would be offered a variety of upsells (extra baggage, insurance, speedy boarding, seat selection etc.), but having them selected as default and then needing to unselect them always seemed shady.

Thankfully, Ryanair's website was updated to get rid of these automatic selections, but it's worth remembering there is still a particularly famous dark pattern present in the airline's checkout.

Under the insurance dropdown, Ryanair helpfully tells you: 'Already insured? Select “Don’t insure me” in the dropdown box'. However, "Don't insure me" is very sneakily 'hidden' between Denmark and France, rather than placed at the top of the dropdown options with the other most-common selections.

don't ensure me

Image via Digital Tonic's Ryanair website review.

This sort of UX is retrograde, but Ryanair isn't the only offender.

Offending UX 

Back to the present. The experience I had with eDreams. There it is in the screenshot below. Take a minute to consider it before I point out the obvious ways in which it is anathema to a good customer experience.

edreams ux

So, I have to pay £3.99 to use the ‘boarding pass request’ service. With no explanation here of what the service provides, the UX is intended to inspire anxiety in the ‘basic’ customer. Will I get my boarding pass if I don’t upgrade?

There’s a destination weather report if I pay £3.99, as if eDreams has to pay for its own in-house meteorology team.

A personalised mobile site is also thrown in if I upgrade. Personalised how? Can I check in online otherwise? Again, there’s no information to guide me. Should I pay just for peace of mind?

Lastly, it costs a whopping £5.99 for SMS booking and flight notifications. I have already added my phone number in the booking process and now I have to pay eDreams to serve me in my preferred channel (with the OTA dressing it up as a super-duper modern value-add).

One thing to note here – if you abandon your basket, eDreams seems more than happy to send an abandoned basket email (see below) free of charge. And to retarget me with display advertising. Again, gratis.

edreams email 

Abandoned basket email from eDreams

Of course, the biggest problem in this UX is that the (pointless) service for which I have to pay £3.99 is labelled as ‘standard’. But it doesn’t come as standard. Insert chin-rubbing emoji here.

What’s more, there’s one of those uses of heuristics, with ‘standard’ highlighted in blue and labelled as ‘most popular’. I’m sure it is, after customers have been scared into upgrading.

What this feature boils down to is that last checkbox – the idea that I have to pay for ‘preferential customer service’. Whilst I accept that speedy boarding has become a fact of life in airports, there’s no reason why an airline or a booking agency’s customer service should have a first and second class.

If eDreams has built out all its SMS and mobile functionality, why not just enable it for all passengers, enhancing my experience and making me more likely to book again in future, instead of with a competitor such as GoToGate?

In not considering the customer, eDreams shows it believes that ticket price is the only motivation for the customer (i.e. customers will return for these cheap tickets, whatever service they get). Then eDreams tries to get upsell using crafty techniques and dark patterns. This is nothing more than an elaborate and time-consuming dance between customer and checkout. It’s a stupid arms race in which I have to figure out the OTA's tactics, and everything takes longer. It is just horrid.

Okay, this is only one part of the eDreams checkout, and the rest is pretty much in line with others in the sector. But this artefact and the Ryanair insurance example above should be experiences we point to as marketers and tell our organisations "no more". The customer deserves better.

Ben Davis

Published 10 April, 2017 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Editor at EconsultancyStaff

Though I am on my high horse here, it's worth pointing out there are plenty of other transgressors. Including big airlines. Here's an example from Delta https://twitter.com/uxed/status/846926871887462400

7 months ago

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Adam Myers, Fell Dev Manager at RSA

Good stuff Ben. Sad to say, but the only way this is likely to change is with consumer legislation and/or regulation. Self-serving parasites such eDreams and Ryanair are notorious for this sort of thing and will only adjust their practices if the Government puts a gun to their heads (such as over credit card fees and hidden charges).

7 months ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Editor at EconsultancyStaff

@Adam Though I find your language a little OTT (it is only a small part of the experience provided by these companies that I find objectionable), you're right that action from a third party is needed. Last year the Civil Aviation Authority announced an investigation into hidden charges such as the ones in the article, though I haven't found any results yet http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-36567468

7 months ago

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Ingrid Stevens, Senior Service Delivery Manager at SAP

All sites like eDreams are getting is people using them to id the cheapest airline, then book direct.
Another outrageous feature in airline site: if you pay your BA flight with a BA Amex, you have to pay around £10 of credit card fee! (I thought such cc fees had been made illegal?)
(By the way, just had to type my comment here twice because when I logged in -Chrome on Mac- I got a nice white screen and had to start over... Ironic?)

7 months ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Editor at EconsultancyStaff

A note that the "sneak into basket" dark pattern (the Ryanair example where the you have to deselect insurance) does contravene EU consumer rights laws, but obviously enforcement is difficult.

7 months ago

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Richard Hoolahan, Digital Manager at Banking

Sounds nearly as bad as the experience the United Airlines customer had on Sunday!

7 months ago

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Carlos Roca, Marketing at Wikistorms

Hi Ben,
Thanks for your article, I'm agree with all your rational related with this no sense feature eDreams is offering but I was curious and went to the eDreams site. There is explanation for every service included in a tooltip when you mouse over each item and the explanation is really clear, did you missed it?

7 months ago

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Chris Turner, Owner and Principal at Bright Blue Kite

There is a rumour, somewhat borne out by a recent experience I had using Expedia, that cookies are being used to jack up prices on your second or third visit to a travel booking site. The logic goes that you check several sites for the best deal and then return to book, by which time the site realises you've returned and adds a tenner (or so) to the price. Not enough to make you go through the whole process again but not the original price either. Anyone else have experience/knowledge of this?

Also dislike the '14 people looking at this route' and 'only 2 tickets left at this price' red, flashing graphics. Suspect they are complete BS and only exist to panic users into booking there and then.

7 months ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Editor at EconsultancyStaff

@Carlos Yes, I didn't find the tooltip, they need to add a question mark or something to show that such a hover state exists.

7 months ago

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