How To Improve Cart Abandonment Emails and Win Back Sales

This is the third of a 3-part series analyzing the state of abandoned cart emails in the airline industry.

Part 1: The Lowdown on Abandoned Carts for Airlines
Part 2: Our Research: How Airlines Tackle Abandoned Cart Emails
Part 3: How To Improve Cart Abandonment Emails and Win Back Sales

Welcome to the third and final part of our Abandoned Cart Series. In Part 1 we gave a background on abandoned carts and the potential for airlines, while in Part 2 we showed how airlines currently tackle abandoned cart emails.

Now it’s time to get into how airlines can improve their cart abandonment emails and convert more travelers into paying customers. Some of the advice might already be obvious to seasoned marketers and e-commerce specialists, but hopefully you can apply some tips to your own email strategy.

1. Create Kickass Content
2. Make Sure the Email Works
3. Nail Your Timing
4. Start Sending Cart Abandonment Emails!
5. Review the Results and Keep on Improving
6. Let Machine Learning Work for You with Intelligent Recommendations

1. Create Kickass Content

The essentials need to appear in the abandoned cart email: the name, their flight route and travel dates, and a clear call to action (CTA). But it’s not enough to simply invite a cart abandoner to revisit their flight search results. You need to create an email that is personalized so it speaks directly to them, with a clear layout, convincing copy and inspiring visuals.

A. Email Body

A personal and helpful approach will add more value than a robotic-sounding reminder to revisit your website.

In the example below, the copy in the abandoned cart email positions the airline as helpful by letting the reader know they can continue where they left off, while also sharing a useful hint that the price might go up soon.

It’s also important to consider consistency, customization and the promotion of extras.


Global airlines work in multiple currencies and languages. So any monetary values should be shown in the same currency used in the original search. Likewise, the language of the email needs to be the same. If your website is in multiple languages, they need to be supported in your abandoned cart email templates.

When we did our testing, 3 emails were in the wrong language - a surefire way to turn off the recipient and lose sales.


Get personal – use the recipient’s first name instead of a generic “Dear Guest” or “Dear Customer”. It gives attention to the reader, makes them feel valued and helps build trust in your airline.

We all know the saying – a picture is worth a thousand words. A striking image of the destination will work as a visual reminder of the trip and could inspire the cart abandoner to complete their purchase. Just don’t do what one airline did and use a photo of the departure city – that’s the place they’re trying to fly away from!

The abandoned cart email below uses the passenger's full name, origin and destination airports and an image of the destination.

Promotion of Extras

Cross-selling and upselling is a great way to increase the order value of a trip. Ancillaries or flight upgrades that add value might appeal to the reader, while personalized recommendations for different destinations might also convince people to book a different flight. Just be careful not to overload the email with too many offers, as it may distract the reader to the point they decide not to buy anything at all.

Diggin Travel provides an excellent guide on how to master upselling and cross-selling in the travel industry.

Remember that under GDPR, the way an email address is obtained can determine whether promos are allowed in the cart abandonment email. This is explained in more detail later.

B. Subject Line

Think you’ve nailed the content for your abandoned cart email? You’re not done yet. Your subject line is one of the most important things to consider, as this can affect whether people even open your email. Keep it focused, customize it to the individual and give them a reason to check the email. Test a few subject lines to see what performs best for different types of customers.

C. Design and Call to Action (CTA)

This is subjective, but the email designs that appealed to us most during our research were those that had a clean layout, were scannable and gave a quick overview of the flight details. Larger fonts made the copy easier to read, while clear CTAs that stood out gave a reason to click.

A CTA should appear more than once and be about making the purchase, not continuing the search.

CTAs should link directly back to the shopping cart – not to the homepage, where they’ll have to go through the search process all over again.

In the example below, the email design has a clear color scheme but the CTA buttons don't stand out from the other headings. Be careful not to let key elements become lost within the rest of the email.

Our Tip to Airlines

Read the email out loud to yourself and do a quick visual scan to see whether the message flows. You’ll also have another chance to catch any typos or mistakes.

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2. Make Sure the Email Works

It seems like a given that your cart abandonment email will appear exactly the way you want it to when it's sent. However, the email client or server might break the code, or you might have let a few errors slip through. This could make your email look unfinished and unprofessional, which could affect conversions.

Here are some things to look out for:

A. Overall Appearance

Many people are multi-device shoppers, so airlines need to create a seamless experience across different devices. Mobile phones are basically an extension of our arms these days, so it’s very likely that a lot of abandoned cart emails are viewed on phones. Does the email work across desktop, mobile and tablet? Campaign Monitor has a comprehensive guide to responsive email design.

Next, does the email work across different programs and apps? In the example below, the use of emojis in a newsletter looked very different in the Mail application for Mac when compared to Gmail.

Either avoid emojis or check how they appear on different platforms - Emojipedia is a good resource.

B. Merge Tags

If you’re including personalized or dynamic content in your abandoned cart email (hint: you should), make sure the merge tags are entered correctly. You don’t want to use the wrong merge tag and have “Hello, First Name” appear in the email.

If data is missing, make sure a default value is set up so that punctuation doesn’t seem out of place.

C. Links and Images

Make sure you catch any broken links. You want your click-outs to lead to flight sales, not 404 pages. Remember to check that tracking codes on your links work too.

This also applies to clickable images. Make sure the link sends the cart abandoner to the right place. Just remember that some email clients will block images, so remember to add descriptive alt-text for the recipient.

D. Fonts

That beautiful custom font designed for your company might not be supported by the email client. To avoid a completely off-brand font being used as an automatic fallback, use an email-safe font such as Arial, Verdana, Time or Trebuchet. Omnisend has provided a list of email-safe fonts and alternatives for email campaigns.

Our Tip to Airlines

Send test emails so you can check how they look across different devices and email clients. Once you confirm that all elements of the email work, it's good to go!

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3. Nail Your Timing

A study by Barilliance found that a series of 3 abandoned cart emails works best in e-commerce. Omnisend backs this claim, stating that there are 63% more orders for such a series when compared to a single email. The speed and timing of these emails is important to success.

Abandoned Cart Email 1

As a general rule of thumb, airlines should send the first email within the first 60 minutes. As the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind – so act quickly to show the potential customer of what they’re missing out on.

In our testing, airlines sent their first email at an average of 1 hour and 12 minutes after cart abandonment.

The tone of voice should be helpful, not pushy. Remind them of the flight they looked up and offer assistance just in case there were any issues completing the booking.

Abandoned Cart Email 2

The second abandoned cart email should be sent at the 24-hour mark, as chances are the person will be back online around the same time.

This email subject line and body should have a sense of urgency, reminding the cart abandoner that prices won’t last and seats might sell out.

Abandoned Cart Email 3

Email Monks advises that if you decide to include a third email in your series, it’s best to do so between 3 to 5 days after cart abandonment. Barilliance found that third emails sent after 72 hours have an average conversion rate of 18.2%.

If the recipient has consented to commercial emails, the third email might be the time to offer an incentive – perhaps a coupon for people with a low order value or discounted lounge access for business travelers. Tread carefully though, as savvy customers may be trained to expect these email offers if they wait long enough.

Our Tip to Airlines

Consider the profile of your potential customer and segment the emails based on the data you have. For example, frequent business travelers booking last-minute flights won’t need multiple reminder emails.

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4. Start Sending Cart Abandonment Emails!

In our testing, we saw that abandoned cart emails were remarkably underused by airlines. Only 21 out of 108 sent one – that’s a low 19.8%, with lots of missed revenue opportunities.

That said, some airline websites we wanted to include in our research had geo-blocking, so customers booking from specific regions wouldn’t even be able to search for flights. It’s possible that these airlines do indeed send abandoned cart emails – we just weren’t able to test them.

According to a Skift report, around 85% of cart abandoners stay anonymous. Airlines should ask for an email address as early as possible – this could be done by prompting visitors with an option to send a summary of their flight search.

Collecting Emails the Post-GDPR Way (Europe)

The problem for many airlines now is collecting emails after the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) was enforced on May 25, 2018. This regulation covers data protection and privacy for all people within the European Union and European Economic Area.

The GDPR protects individuals in Europe by making sure companies are transparent about how they collect and use visitor data.

According to Article 6 of the GDPR, the processing of personal data is only lawful in the following situations:

(a) If the individual has given consent;
(b) If it’s necessary for the performance of a contract;
(c) If it’s necessary for compliance with a legal obligation;
(d) If it’s necessary in order to protect vital interests;
(e) If it’s necessary for the performance of a task carried out in the public interest; or
(f) If it’s necessary for the purposes of legitimate interests.
The Yieldr Content Hub subscribe page

When it comes to sending abandoned cart emails to people in Europe, two of these situations could apply.

Consent must be “freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous” and must be made by a statement or clear affirmative action. If someone has a registered account with an airline website, the airline could use their data to send abandoned cart emails, potentially with occasional marketing messages – as long the user has explicitly agreed to receive emails for this purpose.

The problem here is that anyone can add a flight to their cart, but they may not get specific emails if they're not logged in. Airlines could make it a requirement to create a profile as part of the checkout, but then they run the risk of a higher cart abandonment rate due to privacy concerns or yet another step in the booking funnel. So what’s the other option?

Legitimate Interests

Many companies have been hesitant to collect email addresses due to ambivalence about sending emails without explicit consent. However, cart abandonment emails that are purely transactional in nature and not commercial – that is, without any additional marketing or promotions – can be sent under the basis of “legitimate interests”. This is where consent is not required for organizations to send email communications.

The final sentence of Recital 47 of the GDPR states:

“The processing of personal data for direct marketing purposes may be regarded as carried out for a legitimate interest.”

The abandoned cart experts at Jilt provide a good explanation of how the purpose of an abandoned cart email is a legitimate interest.

Remember – abandoned cart messages sent to email addresses collected this way cannot contain promotions or other marketing. Keep “legitimate interests” emails separate from those who have given explicit consent.

Our Tip to Airlines

If you’re still in doubt about sending abandoned cart emails, get advice from your legal team as soon as possible – by putting this off, you’re leaving lots of money on the table.

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5. Review the Results and Keep on Improving

I’ll make this simple: you can’t send awesome abandoned cart emails and expect them to stay perfect forever. Optimize, optimize, optimize!

A/B testing will help you pinpoint exactly what may make a difference to conversion. You can then make improvements that are driven by hard data.

There’s a huge list of things to test, including:

  • Subject lines
  • Personalization
  • Visuals
  • Layout
  • Tone of voice
  • Length
  • Timing
  • CTAs
  • Number of links

Testing these variables may affect open rates, click rates and unsubscribes. And it may lead to more ticket sales!

Just remember to consider external factors. Someone might decide not to fly due to things like weather, upcoming elections, fluctuating currencies or a change in visa conditions.

Rejoiner provides a clear and comprehensive explanation of A/B testing in email marketing.

Our Tip to Airlines

If you're not already doing it, start A/B testing. Consumer habits, preferences and expectations are constantly evolving, so keep your finger on the pulse so you can react quickly. Small adjustments to your abandoned cart emails can yield significant rewards.

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6. Let Machine Learning Work for You with Intelligent Recommendations

Airlines can boost sales from their abandoned cart campaigns by including recommended flights in their emails. We found that recommendations lead to a higher average order value and higher conversions. According to various sources:

Adding product recommendations to emails can lead to a 5% to 50% increase in sales conversion rates.

Some airlines already do this by using the search history of similar customers. However, the purchase history of similar customers has a more direct link to actual sales.

A machine learning algorithm can process the different attributes from the abandoned carts to help airlines nail personalization. It would also link this information to actual bookings and booking patterns to determine the best destinations to recommend for more sales.

But having smart recommendations in your abandoned cart email series is just the first step. Once you’ve mastered this, more channels are available – think SMS, Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger. What’s your next move?

If you'd like to revisit our previous articles about abandoned carts, follow these links:

And that’s it! Although it’s pretty straightforward advice, hopefully you can apply some of these tips to optimize your cart abandonment emails and win back revenue for your airline.

Jodi ten Bohmer

Jodi ten Bohmer

Content Marketer