Newspaper article International New York Times

How Much for the Most Comfortable Seat? A Travel Site Breaks It Down

Newspaper article International New York Times

How Much for the Most Comfortable Seat? A Travel Site Breaks It Down

Article excerpt

TripAdvisor is redoing its Flights feature to include details on price and in-flight amenities, as well as photos taken by customers.

The online travel company TripAdvisor introduced on Tuesday an ambitious redesign of its Flights search feature that will provide detailed information globally on any given flight's price -- including added charges for options like extra legroom -- as well as on in-flight amenities like the availability of Wi-Fi and in-seat power ports.

Underscoring the rapid growth in international travel and the demand for easily accessible comparison-shopping information, the feature will be localized for 31 countries and in 17 languages.

"Not all flights are the same; not all airlines are the same," Bryan Saltzburg, the general manager for new initiatives at TripAdvisor, told me in a phone conversation Sunday morning.

Mr. Saltzburg's understatement underlines the complexity in choices and options that travelers now encounter, as airlines in the United States and around the world refine a successful business model based on charging customers what they choose to pay for service, comfort and convenience.

TripAdvisor describes its redesign as a move to simplify what can be an enormously complicated shopping experience for those who book their own flights, as a growing number of business travelers do. A given search result will show all available flights, with fare comparisons and a breakdown, by flight segment, of amenities and services on a particular airplane.

Mr. Saltzburg said: "Customers will have transparency while they're making a booking decision between Flight A and Flight B, which might be the same cost. Are extra-legroom seats available for sale? That's clearly indicated on the initial results page."

Other information is presented, like seat pitch, flight on-time records, and availability of Wi-Fi and in-seat power ports, as well as seatback video and TV. Search results will also display what Mr. Saltzburg calls "candid photos" taken by customers on thousands of flights.

For many business travelers, the old days of faithfully booking the airline on which the traveler has loyalty status are waning, as airlines around the world put a price tag on many perks -- better (or less-awful) coach seats, upgrades and the like -- that used to be given as awards for mileage-program status. Meanwhile, as airlines have merged and started sharing more flights through global alliances, the experience of booking an international trip, even on a favored airline, has become more complicated.

"With airline consolidation, customers have more choice of who they can fly, even within their loyalty network, while the value of loyalty programs has been diminishing year over year," Mr. Saltzburg said. Comparing and evaluating costs and services airline by airline, even airplane by airplane on specific flight segments, can be a real challenge. …

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