In November last year I put up a slide at an airline ancillary revenue conference showing a quote from Michael B. Adler, the CFO of Expedia. I was full of praise for their approach, but at the conference I said words to the effect of, every airline in Europe should be paying extra close attention to his last sentence. I have copied the quote below:

“The one area that we are going to be pretty focused on Expedia for 2009 is really on the attach rate…. We think there’s a big, big opportunity there…Targeted emails convert at much, much higher rates; five, 10, some of them 30 times the rates that call it non-targeted emails go out…”We saw you search for this flight. The price has changed. Do you want to buy?” That email converts at multiples of call it an email that’s not personalized 10 to 20 times non-personalized emails. We’re going to expand those programs into the European markets and hopefully we’ll see some good returns there.”

 Following on from this theme of Expedia innovation in marketing, I have been directed to a good interview by marketing publication Behavioral Insider with  Doug Miller, vice-president of global media solutions at Expedia. In the article he talks about the importance of tracking consumer behaviour leading up to a travel purchase and serving up the most relevant content and advertising across multiple sites to maximize sales success. But on top of just talking about it, he give a good insight into what Expedia is doing in this area, and it really does sound quite impressive. Part of the focus of my current work is using IT to improve the effectiveness of cross selling once the passenger has purchased their tickets on the airline website, and a large part of this is segmentingthe customer offer and paying special attention the the timing and presentation of the offer. So it is always interesting to read what others are doing prior to purchase; this must also have great significance to managers of online direct sales at airlines, especially outside of their home markets where brand recognition and frequent flier program enrollment are much lower.   

With all this impressive innovation happening at Expedia, I just wish they’d invest a bit more into their white label hotels offering. As one airline client of mine who is also a client of Expedia white label wrote to me recently

“Expedia is a bit of a “black box” so may be difficult to track an ‘email’ generated enquiry once the user enters the engine”  

I asked Expedia a few questions on behalf of the airline, but was stonewalled when I phrased the question in a way that asked how white label airline clients can audit their commissions. Maybe Expedia didn’t realize my job is to provide Amadeus IT solutions and that I’m not in the distribution side of the business, but it was a frustrating experience. It turns out that clients can embed some tracking code on the Expedia Hotels booking confirmation page, but I haven’t had a chance yet to properly investigate how much information is passed back to the airline and how flexible this code it to modify. Maybe there will end up being a way to track the passenger from post airline ticket purchase, to cross sell email, to email click through, and then to hotel purchase; ideally using record locator appended to white label site URL, and then with complete purchase information passed back from the white label site in real time – if there is, unfortunately Expedia wasn’t in a hurry to tell me or my airline client. 

The internet opens up massive scope for improved marketing efforts, and hopefully Expedia will permit their white label airline customers to benefit in a similar way to themselves. I would hate to think that one day they might use marketing data gained from white label websites branded with an airline logo to aggressively market airline tickets on to those same consumers. That is a thought that just came to me, and wasn’t the original intention when starting to write this post, but now it’s really got me thinking… it might be time for airline lawyers to pull out those white label contracts from all suppliers and re-read the terms and conditions, or at least keep it in mind for the next time the contract is up for renegotiation.