UX Design

How Travel Sites Use UI Patterns to Nudge Customers

5 minute read

Few industries have to cater to as diverse needs as the travel industry does.

Nearly everyone likes to travel, but a backpacker on a shoestring wants very different things than a couple looking for a romantic getaway or an entrepreneur who needs to go on a business trip. Some people are ready to book everything in one sitting, others shop around for weeks before making plans.

Travel websites have to appeal to all while personalizing to individual needs before attention weans. At the same time, sites have to be conscientious about not overwhelming customers.

The best travel sites use a few combinations of UI patterns to drive immediate action and set the foundation for customer retention. Due to the flexibility of UI patterns, travel sites often use them to do a few things:

  • Drive urgency. Many customers aren't sure of what they want yet and shop around before making a purchase. Travel sites can use urgency and scarcity to speed up the decision.
  • Make contextual recommendations. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of options. Travel sites can provide relevant recommendations to help users get the most for their budget.
  • Provide options for customization. There’s a lot of logistics that go into a simple getaway. Most travel sites let people easily filter out their preferences from an endless sea of choices.
  • Set the stage for repeat usage. While making an immediate sale is probably the most important goal for sites, it’s also in their best interest to encourage account creation for lifecycle marketing.

Here’s a look at how 6 popular travel sites use UI patterns to accomplish some of these goals and more.


What we like about Kayak’s user experience

Instead of letting users get lost, Kayak uses a simple, yet eye-catching modal window to steer users down the right path. Providing a few clear options to get started is an easy and effective way to personalize onboarding.

  • Instead of letting users get lost, Kayak uses a simple, yet eye-catching modal window to steer users down the right path. Providing a few clear options to get started is an easy and effective way to personalize onboarding.
  • Kayak promotes retention by encouraging account creation via another modal window.
  • Kayak balances out modals with more subtle embeds. Mixing and matching the right UI pattern for the job is often more effective in engaging users.  
  • Kayak often drives urgency with its recommendations and small bits of microcopy ("book easily" in bright orange).
  • Kayak reaffirms the decision to buy on the purchase page.


What we like about Hotwire’s user experience

  • Hotwire leads with retention efforts (through the top banner and embed) but quickly starts to build urgency once a user takes any action. Hotwire drives urgency on nearly every page with tiny slideouts, microcopy, and even on its loading page.
  • Hotwire asks users for feedback on the homepage. Delaying this ask until after users spend a few minutes on the site could yield more accurate responses.
  • Hotwire offers non-stop sequential actions that can be effective in cross-selling and driving a ready user towards purchasing more.


What we like about Priceline's user experience

  • Priceline doesn't drive urgency with UI patterns as strongly some other travel sites. Priceline instead sticks to the power of microcopy.
  • The delightful loading screen with an animated plane is simple and fun.  
  • Priceline highlights its options for customization with a single tooltip for feature discovery.  
  • Breaking up forms across multiple pages (with a progress bar) can help users keep moving through the purchase process.


What we like about Expedia's user experience

  • ‍The homepage appeals to a wide range of needs, though it risks being too busy.
  • Expedia also starts with retention efforts, promoting account creation in a small top banner and automatically adding a message to its in-app widget.
  • Expedia uses slideouts and modal windows to drive urgency and cross-sell, similar to Hotwire. Showing other users' activities ("4550 people booked a flight to LON on Expedia today") is good for social proof and reinforcing scarcity.
  • Expedia consistently provides contextual recommendations to speed up the decision-making process.

Google Flights

What we like about Google Flight’s user experience

  • ‍Instead of trying to give users all options at once, Google just asks users to make one decision at a time.
  • Unlike other travel sites, Google delays the choice between hotel and flight until after users select a destination (in the modal window). This can come in handy for users who want to browse both options without hitting the “back” button.
  • Google Flights has the advantage of being linked to Google accounts, so flight tracking involves less friction.
  • Google uses very subtle tooltips and hotspots to disclose information about its recommendations and ad strategy.


What we like about Airbnb’s user experience

  • ‍Airbnb uses a few prompts to get users to book faster, including a modal window and tooltip.
  • Small touches of in-product personalization help ease annoying but necessary tasks, like account creation / logging in.
  • Delayed login and form prompts are helpful in showcasing Airbnb’s offerings and helping users find the aha! moment sooner.

A balancing act

User engagement and retention are hard for any business, but it's especially tricky in an industry that is rife with competition and caters to a wide range of buyer needs.

Travel sites have to drive immediate conversions while building lasting customer relationships. It's not easy to balance both needs, but the top travel sites are pulling it off thanks to the flexibility of some UI patterns. UI patterns help sites lace urgency, feature announcements, and personalization seamlessly throughout the user experience, which means that customers, no matter how different, can take the actions that are best for them.

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