Report: Airline Satisfaction Soars to New Heights, Digital Travel Agencies Lag

The COVID-19 pandemic hit the travel industry especially hard, and only airlines have kept customer satisfaction moving in a positive direction, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index Travel Report 2020-2021. The index is based in Ann Arbor.
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Delta Air Lines first class
Customer satisfaction in the travel industry has dropped significantly over the course of the pandemic, but satisfaction with airlines has increased. Pictured is Delta Air Lines’ first class. // Photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines

The COVID-19 pandemic hit the travel industry especially hard, and only airlines have kept customer satisfaction moving in a positive direction, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index Travel Report 2020-2021. The index is based in Ann Arbor.

The car rental industry held steady, and guest satisfaction for hotels decreased. Satisfaction with online travel agencies sank to an all-time low.

“Prior to the pandemic, the state of customer satisfaction among airlines and hotels was on the up and up,” says David VanAmburg, managing director at the ACSI. “Airlines were soaring, following back-to-back yearly gains in passenger satisfaction, and hotels displayed slight improvement year over year. But COVID-19 has caused these industries to veer in opposite directions. While satisfaction with airlines surprisingly continues to soar, hotels have been hit harder than ever before.”

Passenger satisfaction for airlines has never been higher. The industry climbed 1.3 percent to its best-ever ACSI score of 76 out of 100.

Southwest remains at the top of the industry with an unchanged score of 79. However, for the first time, Delta shares the No. 1 position, climbing 3 percent year-over-year.

Alaska Airlines and JetBlue both slipped 1 percent to tie for second place at 77. The remainder of the field is below the industry average, with American up 1 percent to 75, a tie with United’s score, which is unchanged from last year.

Smaller carriers made bigger strides, up 6 percent to a combined score of 74. Allegiant fell 3 percent to 72, and the bottom includes ultra-low-cost carriers Frontier, which rose 3 percent to 68, and Sprit, which saw a 2 percent increase to 66.

For hotels, guest satisfaction fell 3.9 percent to a score of 73. The downward trend spans much of the industry, with five of eight major hoteliers posting declines of 3 percent or higher.

Hilton remains at the front of the pack, but its score of 79 reflects a 4 percent fall. IHG had a stable score of 78. Marriott saw the largest decline, falling 5 percent to 76; Hyatt had the same score after a drop of 4 percent. Best Western fell 1 percent to 75.

The remaining hotel operators scored below average. Choice fell 3 percent to 71. Wyndham fell 4 percent to 69. G6 Hospitality (Motel 6) was the only hotel operator to improve guest satisfaction — a 2 percent increase to a high of 66.

The car rental industry posted a steady score of 76. For the second time, Enterprise Rent-a-Car led the industry despite slipping 1 percent to 78. Dollar rose 4 percent to 77. Alamo fell 1 percent to 76, ahead of Avis, up 1 percent, Hertz, up 1 percent, and National, down 3 percent, each to 75.

The low end of the industry includes Budget, which remained at 73, and Thrifty, which jumped 4 percent to 72.

For the internet travel service industry overall, user satisfaction dropped 3.9 percent to an all-time low score of 74. Declines in user satisfaction for Travelocity — down 4 percent — and TripAdvisor — down 3 percent — place the two in a tie for 76. Orbitz fell 4 percent to 75, followed by Expedia’s site, which sank 4 percent to a record low of 74.

Smaller online travel agencies also posted a record low, falling 5 percent to 73 and tying Priceline, which fell 4 percent.

The ACSI Travel Report 2020-2021 on airlines, hotels, car rentals, and internet travel services is based on interviews with 7,898 customers. Respondents were chosen at random and contacted via email between April 1, 2020 and March 28, 2021.

The full report is available for download here.

ACSI has measured and analyzed customer satisfaction for 25 years with more than 400 companies in 47 industries and 10 economic sectors. It interviews about 500,000 customers each year. ACSI and its logo are registered marks of the University of Michigan.

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