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J.D. Power gives low-fare airlines high marks for service

Southwest, JetBlue and Virgin America make J.D. Power's 2012 list of Customer Service Champions while long-established carriers such as Delta, United and America fall short.

March 19, 2012|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times
  • Virgin America is the only airline based in California and has been operating for the past five years in what many say is the worst economic climate for airlines in history. The economy section features leather seats and individual video screens.
Virgin America is the only airline based in California and has been operating… (Michael Robinson Chavez,…)

Low-cost airlines that cut out many of the extras might not be expected to get high marks for service — just as fast food is unlikely to win culinary awards.

But J.D. Power & Associates' 2012 Customer Service Champions did not include long-established carriers such as Delta Air Lines, United Airlines or American Airlines among the 50 companies from various industries that won the distinction this year based on value, service and other measures.

Instead, the report listed low-cost carriers Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways and San Francisco upstart Virgin America as the only airlines to win the award. The list of champions was chosen based on customer feedback and perceptions gathered from J.D. Power's research from 2000 to 2011.

In an era when Americans stress over getting the most for their money, the three airlines were chosen in part because of the savings they offer passengers, said Stuart Greif, vice president for global travel for J.D. Power.

He noted that Southwest charges no fee to check two bags and that JetBlue lets passengers check the first bag for free. But he said the award was also based on surveys that asked passengers to rate the quality of customer service offered to passengers.

"Regardless of how low a cost or high a cost, the question is how are you executing your business," he said. "Loyalty is won or lost in delighting your customers."

Anne Banas, executive editor of the travel website Smarter Travel, said that she was not surprised by the Westlake Village research company's choices because Southwest and JetBlue regularly receive high praise in her website's reader surveys and that Virgin America gets glowing reviews from website editors for the airline's in-flight entertainment and food service.

But she said larger airlines may be getting poor reviews in surveys because they give better service to first-class and business-class passengers than to customers in coach seating.

"The economy experience is terrible on legacy airlines," Banas said, adding that crews on Southwest and JetBlue planes seem friendlier to coach and economy passengers. "A lot of times they are just nicer."

Hotels strongly divided on flash sales

Flash sales — limited-time-only discount offers for hotel rooms — may be hugely popular among budget-minded travelers, but the hotel industry is strongly divided on the practice.

A recent survey by the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration found that 42% of hotel operators had at least tried flash deals, but 46% of hotel operators said they had no intention of offering them. The remaining 12% were considering using flash sales.

Flash sales — offered to subscribers of such websites as Groupon, LivingSocial and Jetsetter — can offer discounts of about 45% to 55% off regular rates, according to the report, which surveyed nearly 200 hotel operators worldwide, most of them in North America.

But hotel representatives said the drawbacks to flash sales are that the discounts may be too deep, don't necessarily entice guests to return and may create false expectations for lower rates in the future.

"We were surprised at both the high percentage of hotels that have used flash deals and the equally high percentage that want nothing to do with them," said Gabriele Piccoli, a visiting research fellow at Cornell. "It appears that hotels need to be strategic about how they construct these offers."

Hyatt is turning rooms digital

In the near future, the television sets at nearly every Hyatt hotel will do more than show the local news, pay-per-view movies and reruns of "Seinfeld."

Hyatt Hotel Corp., one of the world's largest hospitality companies, announced plans last week to install digital programs in as many as 60,000 rooms that will let guests use the in-room televisions to order food, book local tours, make dinner reservations, order extra towels from room service and surf the Internet.

The technology has already been installed in nearly 1,800 rooms at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans, Andaz 5th Avenue in New York, and most recently at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center.

The Hyatt upgrades represent only the latest move by the hotel industry to use technology to lure more guests, increase the sale of in-room entertainment and reduce staffing needs. What makes the Chicago company's move significant is that it is installing the upgrades throughout the chain.

Said company spokeswoman Lori Alexander: "We are pretty much the first to go brand-wide on this."

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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