Our Research – How Airlines Tackle Abandoned Cart Emails

This is the second 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

In our first piece about abandoned carts, we looked at the revenue opportunities for airlines to convert cart abandoners to purchasers. We also looked at the reasons travelers abandon their carts and how companies tackle this problem through email.

Following up on other research we've seen in the travel industry, we wanted to investigate how abandoned cart emails are done by airlines. An analysis performed by Diggin Travel last year showed that less than 50% of airlines send abandoned cart emails.

We thought it would be interesting to see if things have changed after a year. Do more airlines send these promotional emails? Do more now include dynamic content, pricing or recommendations? Let's take a look.

1. Our Methodology for Testing Abandoned Cart Emails
2. How Did the Airlines Do?
3. Which Abandoned Cart Email Designs Stand Out?

1. Our Methodology for Testing Abandoned Cart Emails

We visited 106 airline websites, searched for flights and made it to the payment stage before allowing the site to time out. We tried to book tickets in the most similar way possible by adding the same number of passengers and selecting the same ancillaries available in the booking process when possible.

We assessed the airlines on the following five criteria:

1. Did the airline send an abandoned cart email?
2. How long did it take to send each abandoned cart email?
3. Did the abandoned cart email show consistency?
4. Was the abandoned cart email customized to the original search query?
5. Did the abandoned cart email promote extras?

As a disclaimer, the airlines were tested using a European IP address, which may have impacted the results due to the recent GDPR regulations.

2. How Did the Airlines Do?

Test 1: Did the Airline Send an Abandoned Cart Email?

Of the 106 airlines we tested:

  • 21 airlines (19.8%) sent an abandoned cart email.
  • 10 airlines (9.4%) sent a follow-up email.

Some airlines also invited website visitors to sign up for a price watch feature, which allows the airline to send email notifications when flight prices change. The example below comes from Jetstar. A note of warning, though - it's wise not to go too crazy with such a feature, otherwise the recipient's inbox will be overloaded with annoying messages.

Only 21 out of 106 airlines (19.8%) sent an abandoned cart email.

Why Emails are Important
According to SaleCycle, 87% of consumers would return to an airline's website to search for the booking again.

Abandoned cart emails serve as a good reminder for visitors to complete their booking. They also allow airlines to reconnect with visitors on a personal level. To do this, airlines can focus on the customer service aspect and provide a phone number or link to a customer service chat. This way airlines can provide value without coming across as too sales or marketing focused. This can be varied, with a customer service-oriented email sent first or as a follow-up email.

Although follow-up emails aren't required, they can be a powerful tool in abandoned cart recovery. When you're competing for attention in a traveler's crowded inbox, an additional reminder sent a few days after the original abandoned cart email can help nudge a customer to complete their purchase.

Test 2: How Long Did It Take To Send Each Abandoned Cart Email?

Delay Shortest Longest Average
1st email (hours & minutes) 00:17 07:19 01:12
2nd email (hours & minutes) 23:35 75:30 29:34

The fastest abandoned cart email took 17 minutes to arrive, while the longest took 7 hours and 19 minutes. On average, most abandoned cart emails arrived within 1 hour.

Of the 10 airlines who sent a follow-up email, 9 arrived at the 24-hour mark. There was only 1 major outlier, which took 75.5 hours to arrive.

1 airline's follow-up email took 75.5 hours to arrive in our inbox.

Why Timing is Important

Timing is one of the most important aspects of sending abandoned cart emails. In general, airlines follow a similar pattern for timing. Most emails are sent within an hour of cart abandonment. Research from Rejoiner confirms that the 30-minute to one-hour window is the "Goldilocks" timing for recovering carts – not too short; not too long. SaleCycle found that 46% of consumers would return within the first 24 hours of cart abandonment.

If you send emails too quickly to a customer, it risks bothering them and turning them off from purchasing (as well as potentially creeping out the traveler). But if you wait too long, your customer may have moved on and purchased from another airline or OTA (online travel agent) instead.

Different flights may have different purchase windows – for example, people might need more time to think about booking expensive long-haul flights when compared to budget short-haul trips. For these reasons, it's important to conduct A/B tests to see what gives better conversion rates for specific routes.

Test 3: Did the Abandoned Cart Email Show Consistency?

We checked whether the following details were consistent between the original booking attempt and the subsequent abandoned cart email:

  1. Currency
  2. Language

Global airlines work with many different currencies and languages, so there's always a risk that details don't line up.

  1. Currency: 11/11 (100%) of the abandoned cart emails that included the ticket price used the same currency as the original cart.
  2. Language: 3/21 emails (14.3%) were sent in a different language to that used for the search query. In 2 instances, the Dutch-language version of the website was used but the abandoned cart email was sent in English. In the third, the flight search was done in English but the email was sent in Spanish.

3 airlines sent their abandoned cart emails in the wrong language.

Why Consistency is Important

Flights can be a major purchase. Receiving an abandoned cart email in the wrong language or currency could immediately turn the potential customer away from finalizing their booking. Airlines need to pay attention to detail and keep things consistent so people don't get surprised and lose interest.

Test 4: Was the Abandoned Cart Email Customized to the Original Search Query?

Here we looked for the following order details:

  1. Passenger name and surname
  2. Origin and destination airports
  3. Departure and return date
  4. Number of passengers
  5. Price of ticket

Good news - we didn't receive any generic "Buy your ticket now" emails that lacked personal and flight details. Of the airlines that sent an abandoned cart email, most included some basic customization.

  1. Passenger name: 15/21 emails (71.4%) included the name of the main passenger.
  2. Origin and destination airports: All emails (100%) included the names of the origin and destination airports.
  3. Departure and return date: 19/21 emails (90.5%) included the dates of departure and return.
  4. Number of passengers: 8/21 emails (38.1%) included the number of passengers in the reservation.
  5. Price of ticket: 9/21 emails (42.9%) displayed the ticket price.
  6. Destination imagery: 7/21 emails (33.3%) showed an image of the destination.

1 abandoned cart email referred to its recipient as "Guest", even though a name had been submitted.

Why Customization is Important

Customization is another critical aspect of abandoned cart emails. This, of course, depends on the technology stack you use and the information you collect from your customers. People are wise to marketing games, and it's simply not enough to send out generic "Recover your purchase" emails. Emails must be tailored for the customer, their purchase price and their destination.

It's important to refer to people by their name (so they don't feel like they're communicating with a robot) and to remind them of their flight itinerary. A picture is worth a thousand words, so including destination imagery could be just the inspiration someone needs to book the flight. The best abandoned cart emails follow this formula.

Test 5: Did the Abandoned Cart Email Promote Extras?

Here we looked for the following cross-sells and upsells:

  1. Ancillaries
  2. Extras
  3. Destination recommendations

Only a few airlines were on the ball when it came to potentially increasing the cart value.

  1. Ancillaries: 1/21 emails (4.8%) mentioned the ancillaries that were selected during check-out.
  2. Extras: 3/21 emails (14.3%) provided options to upgrade their flight package or earn frequent flyer miles.
  3. Destination recommendations: 3/21 emails (14.3%) recommended alternative destinations.

Why Promoting Extras is Important

We say this a lot at Yieldr - the line between profit and loss for airlines is razor-thin. That's why the opportunity to promote extras shouldn't be ignored. It's understandable if abandoned cart emails hide details of selected ancillaries - reviewing the costs might make potential customers want to cut back spending if they proceed with the purchase. However, positioning extras as a valuable benefit could lead to more ancillary revenue.

This is an area where airlines can use one of their greatest data sources – their frequent flyer programs. By offering incentives to frequent flyers who have large basket orders, or reminding customers with status of the benefits they receive when booking, airlines can easily drive loyalty and increase conversions.

Airlines can also supercharge their abandoned cart campaigns by adding flight recommendations. Yieldr Air has a machine learning algorithm that recognizes travelers who are likely to buy a specific ticket. This algorithm analyzes customer behavior and processes indicators of interest, meaning specific flights or products can be recommended to travelers.

Some airlines who have a recommendations feature achieve this by using the search history of similar customers. In contrast, Yieldr Air uses the purchase history of similar customers, which has a more direct link to actual sales.

3. Which Abandoned Cart Email Designs Stand Out?

We found that the emails looked pretty consistent across most of the airlines. Seven airlines (38.9%) provided destination imagery in their emails, but the majority had static designs.

Scoot Airways

Scoot Airways sent a fun email that shows off their branding. It's also easy to read and presents the most relevant information to the customer. While it doesn't provide destination imagery, the structured yet fun email design is still effective. There's a CTA right after the initial message, and another CTA after the passenger information.

Qatar Airways

The email is sleek and easy to read. It also ticks all the boxes in terms of necessary passenger information. The dynamic destination imagery is subtle and reminds passengers of their destination. The most important change that could be done to the email is adding multiple CTAs.

Why Design is Important

Good abandoned cart email design is essential to leading the traveler back to converting. What we deemed to be the best emails were ones that provided a clean layout, were scannable and easy to read, and provided a clear call to action. If the design is too bland, it's easy to get lost in the haystack of other marketing emails that fill inboxes daily.

Abandoned cart emails across all eCommerce sectors often overload the customer with information, ultimately straying away from the whole point of abandoned cart emails: leading visitors back to make their purchase. While upselling and cross-selling can be enticing, too much of this can distract the customer and turn them away. Test your email content to find your customer's sweet spot.

While there are a few good examples of abandoned cart emails, there's always room for improvement. Look out for Part 3 of this series – we'll dive deeper into how airlines can improve their existing abandoned cart emails and win back sales.

Ryan D'Souza

Ryan D'Souza

Product Research Analyst