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Why booking travel on the phone is a bad idea

Since the release of the first iPhone 15 years ago, consumer shopping habits have slowly but inexorably shifted towards mobile devices. According to a survey of 3,250 US consumers conducted by Pymnts.com, a website dedicated to analyzing the role of payments in new technologies, the majority of travel purchases (51.4%) in February 2022 were made on a mobile device.

Among young buyers, this trend is even more striking. Some 48% of millennials aged 25-40 prefer to use mobile phones to shop online, compared to just 34% of all shoppers worldwide, according to a 2021 survey of 13,000 shoppers by online payment company Klarna.

So it looks like shopping for travel on an old computer will eventually go the way of the horse and buggy. Indeed, some travel shopping services, such as travel search engine Hopper, only offer in-app purchases for certain bookings, leaving desktop users unhappy.

However, while it’s more convenient to buy a flight over the phone, it can be more expensive.

Watch for “drip pricing”

The rise of mobile shopping over the past decade has coincided with a sea change in how travel brands generate revenue. Additional feesincluding baggage fees and seat selection on flights and cleaning and resort fees with accommodation have become more common and expensive. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, US airlines collected $5.3 billion in baggage fees alone in 2021.

However, a 2021 study in the Journal of Marketing Science found that buyers tend to make suboptimal decisions based on these “drop prices” situations, that is, when hidden payments are accrued during the entire process of placing an order. Buyers tend to compare initial prices between competitors that are low, rather than a higher final price.

“When firms use a drip pricing strategy, the initial price is almost always lower than the competitor’s price across the board,” Shel Santana, assistant professor of marketing at Bentley University and one of the study’s authors, said in an email interview. “But once they start adding amenities like checked bags, seat options, etc., the price difference between the firms narrows and sometimes even reverses.”

Anyone who has bought airline tickets from budget airlines like Spirit or Frontier knows exactly how this “drip pricing” works. What surprised Santana and her colleagues, however, was how reluctant customers were to compare alternatives, even after the final price went up.

“Consumers experience the high search costs of starting the decision process all over again, and they think they’re saving less money than they actually are,” Santana said.

Basically, buyers tend to end up on the final checkout screen and reluctantly accept any added fees. They assume that it will be too difficult to start over and find another option, even if it saves money.

Wrong tool for the job

Mobile shopping is quick and easy for simple purchases like ordering cat food or paying a bill. However, shopping for travel is far from easy and usually requires switching between multiple tabs and apps to find the best deal.

Consider a general solution should you buy the flight with cash or with bonus miles. This involves several steps. First, you’ll need to search the app or airline website for award availability, probably by switching to your personal calendar to check the dates. You’ll then look up approximate cash fares in a third-party flight tool like Google Flights before determining the redemption value in miles versus dollars. Once you’ve decided on the best option, you’ll need to go through the entire checkout process, from cash and award flight options, to determine the true final price.

Perhaps some of the Gen Zers can handle this task on a mobile device. But for many it is too scary.

Indeed, a 2018 study in the Journal of Marketing tracked nearly a million shopping website sessions and found that shoppers who switched from phone to desktop completed their transactions with higher conversion rates. Interestingly, this higher conversion rate effect was even more pronounced for more expensive or risky products.

So, even if you love scrolling through flights on your phone, or if you’re feeling overwhelmed by mobile options, follow the advice of experts who prefer to book travel — which can be both expensive and risky — on a computer.

“I almost always shop for travel on my desktop,” Santana said. “I like to have multiple tabs open at once and switch between them to make sure I understand the price differences and drivers between firms.”

This article was written by NerdWallet and originally published by The Associated Press.

More from NerdWallet

Sam Kemmis writes for NerdWallet. Email: skemmis@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @samsambutdif.

The article Why Booking Travel on Your Phone Is a Bad Idea originally appeared on NerdWallet.


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