Online Travel Sites Keep Customers Waiting

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More than half of online travel websites are slow to respond to customer inquiries, and nearly 3 in 10 share customer's personal data with other companies without permission, a research firm said Friday.

Based on consumer surveys and an analysis of more than 40 travel sites, 24 percent of airlines, hotels and resellers of their services never answered customer inquiries, and 33 percent did so more than a day later, The Customer Respect Group said. Responses that take longer than a day are considered late.

On customer privacy, 28 percent of the sites shared customer's personal data without permission, and an additional 10 percent weren't explicit about what they do with the information, said the Boston-based CRG, which publishes online customer-respect ratings on a variety of industries throughout the year.

"Industries, in general, still have a problem in the sharing of personal data," Terry Golesworthy, president of the CRG, said. "Airlines, however, are particularly not good at it."

The CRG weighs a number of attributes related to customer service in coming up with an overall rating from 1 to 10 for an industry. Ten is the highest.

The travel industry, overall, rated 6.8, which was higher than the average Customer Respect Index of 5.9 for all the industries analyzed by the CRG. Broken down by categories, airlines and hotels and resorts rated a 6.6, and web-based retailers, such as Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity, rated 7.3.

"The online resellers are much better at this," Golesworthy said. "This is their business, so they obviously try to focus on making their websites as good as they can be, in order to make a profit."

Among the 18 airlines rated by the CRG, the top three, in order, were U.S. Airways, British Airways and Air Canada. Last was Frontier Airlines.

Among the 13 ranked hotels and resorts, Marriott International was No. 1, followed, in order, by Mandalay Resort Group and Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide. At the bottom was Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts.

Among the nine web-based resellers, the top three, in order, were Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia, with EBookers placing last.

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