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Seniors on the Go: 2014 ACSI report scores travel industries

Ed Perkins

Ed Perkins on Travel

1:29 PM EDT, April 22, 2014

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JetBlue is tops in customer service among the six largest U.S. airlines. Marriott earns top marks among the eight largest multi-brand hotel chains. Among the online travel agencies (OTA), the little guys -- lumped into the "all others" group -- slightly outpoint top scorer big agency Orbitz. So says the new American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) report for 2014. ACSI scores, developed by some folks at the University of Michigan, the American Society of Quality, and the CFI Group, are based on more than 7,000 consumer interviews.

The overall average industry score for airlines did not change from the previous year and, at 69 out of 100, is third from lowest among the 43 separate industries studied. Average industry scores are 75 for hotels and 77 for Internet travel, both well above airlines but still in the lower half of the all-industry spread. To put those scores in perspective, "television and video players" and "credit unions" tie at 85 for top score; the three below airlines are "subscription TV," "Internet social media," and "Internet service providers" at 65-68.

Airline top scores are 79 for JetBlue and 78 for Southwest, followed by Delta (71), American, US Airways (66), and United (60); the composite "all others" score for the many smaller lines is right in the middle of the range at 70. Scores for individual "experience benchmarks" vary sharply:

-- Ease of check-in, ease of making reservations, website satisfaction, handling of baggage, courtesy of flight crew, timeliness of arrival, and boarding experience all score well, at 78-82.

-- Loyalty program, range of flight schedules, and call center satisfaction score above industry average, at 70-74.

-- People aren't so happy with the quality of in-flight services, at 67, and they really don't like those tight economy seats, with seat comfort scoring 63.

Despite the fact that they measure very different factors, in very different ways, these results track reasonably well with the performance-based Airline Quality Index, which I covered earlier. JetBlue emerges as a winner and United as a loser in both.

In a previous year, the ACSI authors pointed out that in any other industry, low-end airline scores around 60 would indicate a company circling the drain. Airlines, however, manage to survive over decades even with poor grades both for performance and satisfaction. The good news for the present -- that newer airlines and innovators continue to survive and earn top scores -- is worrisome for the future, where industry mavens predict, and industry financial types facilitate, further acquisitions and more consolidation.

Among hotel chains, the overall industry score of 75 is down two points from the previous year. Following Marriott at 81 among the multi-brand chains are Hilton, Hyatt, and InterContinental (78), Starwood (76), Best Western and Choice (74), and Wyndham (72). Among individual brands, scores pretty much follow price range, with Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott in the Luxury group at the top (83-86) and Super 8 and EconoLodge (67-68) at the bottom. Among other takes from the data:

-- Upscale (middle of a five-category range) brands scoring well include Hilton Garden Inn, Residence Inn, and Courtyard, at 79-81.

-- Upper-Midscale Sheraton scores a surprisingly low 72.

-- Days Inn is top Economy scorer, at 73.

Among the individual benchmarks, ease of making a reservation, ease of check-in and courtesy and helpfulness of staff earn top marks of 86-88; in-room Internet speed/quality, quality of amenities, in-room entertainment, and food service are at the bottom at 77.

Scores for online travel agencies (OTA) show only a small spread among Orbitz (77), Expedia (76), Priceline (75), and Travelocity (74). The niche players outscore them all, with an average score of 78. Customers like the OTA's ease of booking and payment process, score 79, but they're cool toward customer support, site-generated recommendations, and travel promotions and packages, tied at 72. Still, that's also a pretty narrow range compared with airline measures.

These scores may help you select airlines and hotels for upcoming trips, but they certainly don't lead you to expect substantial improvements any time soon. For more ACSI information, check theacsi.org/.

(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins(at)mind.net. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money," is now available through http://www.mybusinesstravel.com or http://www.amazon.com)

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