The Online Battle for Summer Flights: easyJet, Ryanair and British Airways

Summer is finally here and as temperatures rise, people get ready to plan their trips: flights, hotels, car rentals, sun cream… Many of the brands behind these products and services experience a seasonal rise in internet traffic. Using SimilarWeb PRO, we wanted to explore one of the most competitive and controversial industries – flights. Internet travel sites have essentially erased the need for travel agents, an occupation which declined by 14% in the last five years.

There are many airlines competing for the eyes and pockets of millions of holiday-makers keen to explore the world and expand their horizons – from Andorra to Zanzibar, international flights have been democratized and there’s something to suit every taste.

In this study, we’ll focus on three airlines: easyJet, the British pioneer in low-cost European flights; Ryanair, the Irish company which carried almost 80 million international passengers last year; and finally, British Airways, the largest airline in the UK based on fleet size.

Website Traffic Comparison:

Firstly, we looked at the volume of traffic for the three sites received to compare their overall popularity.

Ryanair leads the pack – in June 2013 its website received more traffic than British Airways and easyJet combined. What’s more, their spike website traffic for June is much more prominent than that of their competitors. However, we can see in the graph below that the peak in traffic Ryanair had a year ago, in June 2012 was significantly bigger (20%). British Airways and easyJet show a more stable line throughout the year, with a more consistent flow of web visitors. However, Ryanair’s lowest traffic point (December) is still bigger than the highest peak of easyJet in July.

SimilarWeb_eConsultancy_Airlines_Traffic

SimilarWeb Report, July 2013

Website Engagement:

Traffic volume shows one part of the equation, but how do these airlines compare when it comes to user engagement? We looked at the average time on site, the average number of page views and the bounce rate for the three airlines.

Visitors to easyjet.com spend on average nearly 10 minutes on their site. That is nearly twice as much as Ryanair.com visitors. However, when it comes to page views, British Airways takes the lead with more than 7 pages visited by the average user.

Whilst both British Airways and easyJet have relatively low bounce rate (which shows the percentage of visitors who leave the site immediately after landing), Ryanair shows a worryingly high bounce rate of 40.47%.

SimilarWeb, July 2013

SimilarWeb Report, July 2013

Geographic Breakdown:

Not surprisingly, the three airlines we analyzed rely heavily on traffic from the UK. Nearly half of easyJet visitors come from the UK and 60% of British Airways visitors come from the UK. A big part of Ryanair’s success comes from the traffic it receives from other countries – UK visits account for just a third of their total visits and they’ve managed to significant traffic from Italy, Spain, France, Germany and Ireland. Whilst easyJet is also doing a good job luring visitors from other European countries, seems like BA could ramp up their efforts with their European neighbors if they don’t want to be left behind.

airlines_geo

SimilarWeb Study, July 2013

Much More Than Flights

Another interesting trend in the industry is to see how these airlines are broadening their offer by providing services beyond flights such as holidays, hotels and car rentals. When analyzing easyJet traffic by subdomain, we can see that over 5% of their visitors go to holidays and hotels subdomains and nearly 0.5% of their visitors look for car rental options.

Ryanair also offers car rentals, but users are linked to a different website they’ve created in partnership with Hertz called Hertz4ryanair.com. The  the traffic trend on this site is inextricably linked to the activity on Ryanair.com, with the same summer activity peaks.

Third Party Referral Traffic

Partnerships with price comparison sites are common in virtually every industry and product category – and the air travel industry is no different. From the sites analyzed, British Airways is the company most dependent in referral traffic from 3rd party sites. Surprisingly, 50% of BA’s total referral traffic (around 10% of its total traffic) comes from four sites: cheapflights, dealchecker, travelzoo, and skyscanner).

SimilarWeb_eConsultancy_BA_Referrals

SimilarWeb Report, July 2013

 

As for easyJet and Ryanair, Skyscanner is the number one source of referral traffic, sending them 11% and 12% of the incoming referrals respectively.

Paid vs Organic Traffic

Whilst all companies have significant off-air marketing budgets to push specific offers and increase their brand awareness with outdoor and print campaigns, it is surprising to see that when it comes to banner advertising and paid search, the story is quite different. British Airways and easyJet heavily invest in display advertising and paid search traffic – 9.26% of easyJet’s traffic and 11.81% of BA’s traffic comes from these sources of paid advertising.

Ryanair Paid

On the other hand, Ryanair doesn’t invest in online advertising. Instead, they’ve focused on SEO activity that brings them a higher share of organic search traffic (41% of their overall site traffic). And how do they spend their marketing budgets, you might ask? We’ll, there’s no shortage of tongue-in-cheek outdoor and print campaigns running across their main European markets. Below one of their finest examples.

Ryanair_Ad1Ryanair_Ad1Ryanair_Ad_2

 

So, what does this all mean?

While there will always be demand for the ‘silver-spoon’ service that a company like BA provides, when it comes to flights low-cost airlines are winning the battle. Ryanair isn’t only the most successful site in terms of visits but also the smartest – focusing their online investments in SEO so they can depend less on display advertising, pay per click ads, and third-party sites such as Skyrunner or Travelzoo who’ll take a cut of the fee.

A recent report by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) confirmed that in 2012, Ryanair flew 80 million passengers, easyJet 44.6 million, and British Airways 31.3 million. It’s interesting to see how their volume of business is directly proportional to their respective websites’ traffic.

The future success of these companies will also depend of their ability to leverage opportunities to grow outside the UK – EasyJet and Ryanair might be based in the UK, but they’re truly international brands. As for British Airways, it’d be interesting to see what they do next. They might have plans to broaden their international appeal or lower their fares but unfortunately they didn’t live up to their advertising slogan from the 80s – the World’s Favorite Airline of our time is Ryanair, which thrives on controversy and will charge you 60 euros if you forget to print your boarding pass…

About the Author -

Head of Brand & Strategy for SimilarWeb. Obsessed with web measurement, the internet, pop music and great TV. Wannabe cool-hunter.

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