Booking and researching holidays and flights online has become more and more popular over the last few years. In 2007, the online travel market in the UK was worth

£11.2 bn.

Booking a holiday online can be a complicated process, so it’s important to make it as easy to use and understand for customers. Many travel websites are frustrating to use, so how does Thomas Cook fare? It’s pretty good, but we have nevertheless suggested a few improvements after the jump…

Avoid returning no results for holiday searches

Searching for holidays on Thomas Cook, I saw this message far too many times:

Thomas Cook no search results

This should be avoided whenever possible, by preventing customers from being able to search for holidays / flights when they are not available. This happened to me on several occasions, and quickly becomes pretty annoying.

Provide some user reviews and feedback

Choosing a hotel or resort can be a leap of faith at times: they all sound appealing in the description, but customers could really use some first hand information to help them make a decision.

Many users will end up going to TripAdvisor or a similar site, which contains plenty of user reviews and ratings alongside information on destinations.

Providing user reviews and feedback from other customers would be very useful to help customers decide on the holiday they want, as well as keeping them on the website.

Load my search results faster

The Thomas Cook website can be a bit slow at times, especially when retrieving search results and selected holidays. After choosing the holiday I wanted to look at, the page took more than ten seconds to load (and I use a fast broadband connection).

This is too slow, and the site’s users must get tired of seeing this message, which is more frustrating than ‘relaxing’:

Thomas Cook loading screen

Don’t surprise me with hidden charges

This is something that really annoys online shoppers, and Thomas Cook was found guilty during a random holiday search.

For instance, this holiday on the results page was quoted at £494:

However, when I select this holiday this price has changed to £607, without any apparent explanation.

Thomas Cook holiday details

Thomas Cook does provide a summary of charges, fuel supplement etc, but this doesn’t answer the question:

Thomas Cook holiday summary  

Allow users to save their previous searches

A lot of visitors to travel websites are engaging in research and comparison shopping. People make take days or weeks to decide on the holiday package that is right for them, and may visit a few websites in the process.

Allowing users to save their searches and results would be useful for this, so that when visitors return to the site, they can easily find the flights / holidays they have looked at before.

Provide a contact number during the booking process

Providing clear, easy to access contact details is vital for any company selling online. It is a sign of trust for customers who may have doubts about buying on the internet, and also very useful for people who have any last minute queries before they book a holiday.

A contact number is not displayed anywhere during the purchase process, and is difficult to find at all on the site, despite it being plastered all over the company’s offline brochures.

To find a customer services number, you need to click on ‘customer support’, which opens a new window with a list of FAQs. The contact number is contained within the answer to one of these questions. Way too hard to find.

Don’t display unavailable flights

Displaying out of stock items can be frustrating for users of other e-commerce sites. This is no less annoying when trying to book a flight or holiday:

Thomas Cook unavailable flights message

If a flight is unavailable, don’t allow me to search for it if this means I have to start the search all over again. On top of this, the website could have displayed alternative flights to choose from rather than asking me search again from the start.

Provide more useful information on airports/destinations

Many airports are actually miles from the city which bears the name, so customers need to be provided with this sort of information, plus details on how to get from the airport to their destination.

For example, Milan Malpensa airport is around 30 miles from the centre of Milan, but Thomas Cook, while it offers customers a range of hotels in the city, does not help with any information on how to get there.

Providing maps would be useful for customers to be able to see the locations of hotels etc in relation to the beach and other facilities. Opodo provides a good example of this:

Opodo map

Improve the calendar

The calendar is pretty essential when booking travel online, and most travel websites have one for users to select their preferred travel dates.

Thomas Cook’s calendar is pretty cumbersome. It takes too long to load, and then opens in a separate window when it does load:

Thomas Cook pop up calendar

This means that, if you leave the site to look at another window and come back to it, then the calendar disappears from view. This means you have to minimise the windows you have open just to find the calendar. A little bit of AJAX action may work better.

More flexible search options

When searching for a flight or holiday, you may not always have a particular date in mind, so travel websites should ideally allow you to be more flexible with dates. 

Many sites now offer this function, allowing you to search for holidays two or three days either side of the date entered.

Easyjet, for instance, offers results for flights for a few days either side, making it easier to choose a suitable price, time and date:

EasyJet flight search

Thomas Cook’s site doesn’t allow this flexibility though, so users can only search for holidays on the one date. This makes for more searches without any results, and more frustrated customers.

Related research:

Travel Website Benchmarks 2007

Related stories:
Five ways to make online travel sites better
Travel websites need to improve usability – study
Reasons why customers don’t book travel online