Forbes January 31, 2024
It's hard to find a travel company that doesn't claim to offer the best customer service. But for those of us who travel, customer service is often lacking, and finding a company that will treat you with respect can be a challenge.
This year's Elliott Advocacy Readers' Choice Awards, which have just been released, are a roadmap for travelers who want an upgraded travel experience. Now in their 19th year, the awards poll readers of my nonprofit consumer advocacy site on the top airline, car rental company, hotel and travel insurance company.
For 2024, there are a few surprises in most of these categories. Here are the best companies for customer service, according to readers:
Delta surprised the airline industry last year by topping Southwest Airlines, which had been hurt by a string of unexpected holiday cancellations. But no one saw a repeat coming. Delta hung on by the narrowest of margins to capture the gold for a second year.
How did Delta do it? Excellent operation efficiency made it the most on-time major airline in the United States. It also added new in-flight connectivity options for passengers in 2023.
Sure, Delta made a few missteps along the way, including a botched rollout of a revamped SkyMiles loyalty program (the airline quickly backtracked). But even those problems weren't enough to make it fall from first place.
Korean Air unseated British Airways, which had won four years in a row, by doubling down on customer service initiatives in 2023.
Korean Air customers say they've been impressed with the reimagined cabin interiors and improved service, particularly on some of the newer planes. The airline also made some loyalty program adjustments last year that customers actually liked..
Korean Air's commitment to improvement goes beyond rhetoric. I visited the airline's headquarters in Seoul last fall. I spoke with executives who reiterated their deep commitment to improving service. And I found an airline that was in an almost constant state of improvement, right down to a top-to-bottom renovation of its corporate headquarters.
Enterprise raced ahead of Hertz to win in its category. It did so by opening new franchise locations and adding new multi-modal travel options, both of which customers wanted. It has also avoided the missteps of its competitors with a cautious approach to electrification. Enterprise offers EV options, but it does not impose high recharging fees and is taking more of a wait-and-see approach to electric vehicles.
Viking won in this category for a second year in a row. Last year was a surprise — some say a fluke — but this year the critics have been silenced. Viking has become a favorite of cruise passengers, who appreciate its reliably good service. It has also introduced new itineraries and new ships that have won critical acclaim.
Once again, Marriott claimed the top spot in the Readers' Choice survey — although second-place Hilton is steadily gaining on its rival. Customers say they've appreciated the flexibility of Marriott's loyalty program and a wide range of new hotel options where they can redeem their points. But mostly, there haven't been any complaints about Marriott. And sometimes, that's all it takes to be number one: No one is complaining about your service.
Expedia retook the lead from Booking.com for 2024. Expedia's biggest change for 2023 was a reimagining of its loyalty program. In mid-2023, Hotels.com, Expedia, and Vrbo rolled their programs into One Key. Existing stamps and reward nights converted to OneKeyCash, which customers can use on all three brands, according to Expedia. Despite a few complaints from readers, it was not a disaster. (And besides, you can have a loyalty program disaster and still be number one; see Delta for details.)
Allianz won in this category again by relentlessly improving its product — and making sure all its customers are taken care of. For example, in 2023, it added 12 new covered events for trip cancellation and trip interruption. It also added new choices for customers, including a cancel-anytime option. Allianz is also one of the most tech-forward companies, having adopted advanced machine learning as far back as 2019 to speed up its claims process,
Airbnb remains the dominant vacation rental platform and a reader favorite because it's easy to use and offers quick customer support. It also has improved its product while other platforms have lagged. Among the most noteworthy upgrades: a new guest favorite option for people shopping for vacation rentals and new reservation screening technology that keeps out loud parties.
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