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Travel Survey Reveals Thoughts About Travel Safety, Rewards Programs and How Airlines Can Keep Customers

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With families in the thick of planning their summer vacations, we recently released the results of our second annual travel survey. The data reveals, not surprisingly, that the majority (81%) of travelers believe taking a vacation is very important, citing exposure to beauty, culture and new people as the biggest benefit, followed by increased energy, excitement and stress relief.

The survey also discovered that despite vast technological leaps and the convenience of online search and booking, planning a vacation is still a time-consuming proposition with 51% of those polled saying they spend a minimum of 2-3 hours over multiple days hunting down airfare deals and nearly one-third spending in excess of 4 hours over multiple days.

When it comes to safety and security, the overwhelming majority (79%) said they would relinquish some privacy by way of biometrics technology, like fingerprint ID and retina scanning, to expedite security checkpoints.

The survey polled more than 1,200 consumer-based travelers subscribing to ExpertFlyer's free Seat Alerts app to determine their favorite destinations, airlines and award programs, how they pay for travel, and how they communicate with the world while on vacation and more. The results are illustrated in the infographic below.

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Among the key survey highlights:

-51% said they spend a minimum of 2-3 hours over multiple days to find airfare deals and 27% spend in excess of 4 hours over multiple days.
-80% of respondents said they book their tickets directly from the airlines via the Internet
-37% have taken additional travel precautions in the last 12 months and 79% said they would consider participating in a biotech ID program, such as fingerprint or retina scans if it meant reducing wait times at TSA checkpoints and improve overall security
-87% said they take at least two vacations a year and 81% valued their vacation as very important
-65% said they were able to redeem points for either an upgrade or award ticket in the last 12 months (up from 58% in an ExpertFlyer survey conducted last year)
-TripAdvisor (62%), Airline apps (42%) and Uber (26%) were the top three free travel apps
-Email (88%), Text (63%) and Facebook (52%) were the top 3 communication tools used by travelers
*A total of 1,226 consumers participated in the survey

To help evaluate the survey results, we invited several travel industry experts to provide their analysis of the survey's findings. Sean O'Neill is the Editor at Tnooz, a leading travel technology website; Katie Denis is Senior Director for "Project: Time Off" at the U.S. Travel Association; and Jason Steele, Senior Points and Miles Contributor for The Points Guy and an expert in award travel and credit cards.

Sean O'Neill at Tnooz was surprised at the number of respondents (79%) who said they would consider participating in biometric identification to reduce wait time at airport security check points.

"I found the number somewhat breathtaking when you consider all the talk about protecting data privacy, but this type of technology is being tested in other parts of the world," he said. "For example, the Japanese government is testing a system where travelers voluntarily link their fingerprints to their passport and credit card data to speed up airport and shopping lines when it hosts the Olympics in a couple of years," he added.

Sean was not surprised that Facebook was the preferred social media platform with travelers who want to remain current with the world (traditional email and texting took the top slots, respectively). "Facebook's use by travelers should go higher as the platform invites airlines, hotels, and other companies to use it to help with customer service. Earlier this year, Dutch airline KLM became the first carrier to use Messenger to provide boarding passes and customer service."

Katie Denis at Project: Time Off says that while Americans value their vacations, and a large percentage of survey respondents are taking them, she said that 55% of Americans are not using all of their vacation time. "In fact, one-third of the unused vacation days in 2015 were forfeited," explains Ms. Denis. "That's 222 million days that could not be rolled over, paid out, or banked for future use. Translated into dollars, employees worked as de facto volunteers for those days, totaling more than $61 billion."

Denis concurred with the survey results showing that the greatest benefit of a vacation is spending time with the family, especially with children. "A good relationship with a child doesn't blossom out of thin air. It requires time and family vacations are a great way to build that bond."

Jason Steele has seen a growing trend among travelers and how they accumulate and use award points for airline travel and the overall devaluation they place on award points based on the average "cost" to redeem them. "With less than 30 percent of respondents able to redeem awards at the 'saver level,' the survey underscores how difficult it is to redeem award points at this level," Steele explains. "It's interesting to note that 65 percent said they were able to redeem their miles but 50 percent said the ability to redeem has declined. This tells me that travelers have devalued award points and are simply using more miles to obtain what they want and others are still holding out for those saver-level deals and aren't finding them." Steele also noted that in the U.S., the majority of airline miles are earned through credit card spending rather than actual travel due mostly to airlines using a revenue-based formula over miles traveled, and credit cards offering bonus points for specific purchases.

As airlines continue to create an a la carte menu for services, travelers are making conscious decisions about where to spend their money. The survey found that many respondents (40%) were willing to pay the extra baggage fee but were not willing to pay an additional fee to choose their own seat (42%). "Baggage is a 'must have' when you travel for more than a week, or on certain types of trips like ski vacations and other activities where you need gear. On the other hand, seat selection fees are completely optional and many travelers do fine without paying."

Chris is the President and Co-Founder of ExpertFlyer.com, a service that helps travelers get out of the "Middle Seat" by providing in-depth flight info and alerts when Awards and Upgrades are available.