There is plenty of room for improving the user experience of some of the UK’s top travel websites, according to a new usability study.

Webcredible’s Flights Online study looked at the flight search and booking process on 20 travel agent and airline websites.

The highest scoring website was Opodo with 67%, while Monarch came off worst on 38%. On average, travel agent websites were more usable than the airlines’ sites.

Searching for flights

Most travel websites scored reasonably well on the first step of the booking process, with the majority having a flight search box or link on the homepage.

However, many sites handled misspellings of city or airport names badly. Ideally, users should be prompted or given alternatives when this happens, especially as some web users may not know exactly how to spell more exotic place names.

On Travelocity for instance, the site will spend a minute or so searching for available flights before giving users an error message:

Travelocity error message

Results pages

The study found that comparison shoppers are not well catered for on travel websites. Many web users will visit and search flights on several sites to compare prices before making a decision.

However, most sites scored poorly on this, with two out of five the top score. For instances, searches are not saved across sessions and most websites failed to offer users the option of saving their flights and booking them later.

Booking

Surprisingly, most websites failed to consistently display a contact number throughout the booking process.

Many web shoppers like to research online and pay offline, especially with travel purchases, so they should be provided with a contact number to be able to book over the phone if they wish.

Also, these are often expensive purchases, and some customers may have some questions, or require some reassurance before booking online. Providing visible contact details should be a no-brainer, but the 20 sites scored an average of less then two out of five.

Related research:

Travel Website Benchmarks 2007

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Travel: TV and web go hand in hand
Online travel: recommendations on the purchase process
 
Five ways to make online travel sites better