American Airlines Cleans Up AA.com’s Home Page, But Buries A Big Point Of Differentiation

Having not updated its AA.com Web site since 2002, on November 14, 2010, American Airlines launched a new home page. Compared to the previous version of the home page, the new design is cleaner; all essential content appears above the fold. The site uses a brighter color palette as well. Site navigation has been greatly improved. Key tasks, like flight booking, account log-in, and flight check-in, now appear in the same navigation menu. The “Book Travel” tab consolidates non-air product sales, including third-party ancillary services like hotels and cruises, with flight booking. The result is a home page that looks more like a travel retailer than “just” an airline Web site.

Even so, given the long time since American last updated AA.com, it’s disappointing that American didn’t push its new home page concept further. For example, American could have used this opportunity to launch a truly pacesetting home page, allowing users to personalize both content and placement of modules. As Forrester noted in a 2009 report, more than 7 in 10 US online consumers use a personalized portal site like iGoogle or My Yahoo! A flexible, “modular” home page would have helped American further increase AA.com’s utility to its customers and allow the airline to use analytics to better understand what is important to its travelers. That insight could, in theory, be used for everything from targeting offers to product or route network development.

One thing American did well, though, is easily overlooked. American now offers interest-based shopping, a very smart move since Forrester’s research shows that almost 1 in 5 US online leisure travelers doesn’t have a destination in mind when they start to plan a trip. American actually launched this on this “old” AA.com home page, burying it there, as well. On the new home page, under “Arrive In.” A link – almost invisible due the poor contrast between the link’s light blue font and the background’s medium blue – asks “Looking For Destination Ideas?” Clicking on that is like having one of the winning gold tickets to Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory.

American’s interest-based search allows users to shop for ideas based on seven different topics, such as “Adventure,” “Beach,” and “Golf.” For now, users must pick just one. We hope AA’s roadmap – or flight plan – for AA.com includes allowing users to pick multiple interests (imagine a couple traveling, where one likes to golf and the other wants to relax on a beach. Who wins?).

For this to fulfill American’s expectations – as well as those of its customers – the application must help AA.com users discover the entire breadth of American’s own and extended network of destinations. As a member of the one world alliance, American can leverage cities served by partner airlines like British Airways, Japan Air Lines, LAN, and Qantas. So “beach” should eventually produce results that range from the expected – Florida, Hawaii, Mexico – to the exotic, such as Dubai and Australia’s Gold Coast.

It would also be helpful for American to combine this with a budget-based planning tool. Lufthansa, which uses Amadeus’ Affinity Shopper to power its Trip Finder function, does this. Sites like TravelMuse.com also support shopping that blend interests and budget.

American’s advertising slogan is “We know why you fly.” It will be interesting to see whether the airline knows why we use the Web to plan and book our trips as well.