Expedia Passenger Preferences Index 2016

Understanding how Americans fly differently than travelers worldwide

Everybody is super-excited to max out on amenities when they fly, right? Apparently not we Americans—at least according to a study Expedia released today.

The study, dubbed the Expedia Passenger Preference Index, interviewed more than 11,000 travelers across 22 different countries to gauge the preferences and behaviors of fliers around the world. The biggest takeaway: Americans are somewhat resistant to paying for amenities.

What we won’t pay for

I was surprised by the specifics. On short-haul flights (that is, flights of fewer than three hours), a pretty overwhelming number of Americans said they were less likely than almost every other represented nation to pay extra for amenities. Only 21 percent of American respondents said they were most willing to pay for seats with extra leg room, versus 24 percent of fliers worldwide. Only 15 percent of American respondents said they would pay for “a full meal,” versus 26 percent worldwide.

Interestingly, 13 percent of American respondents said they would pay for alcohol on short flights—higher than the 10 percent global average.

(This one didn’t surprise me at all; I’m the first one to spring for a wine when I fly.)

What’s more, a whopping 67 percent of American respondents said they “avoid baggage fees at all costs,” just under the global average of 70 percent. More than half of American respondents—52 percent, to be exact—said they specifically pack lighter to avoid bag fees, and 57 percent of American respondents said they avoid checking a bag so they will not have to wait at the baggage carousel.

Almost one out of every two American respondents said they do not check a bag for fear it will be lost. I see that more as a comment about airline baggage handlers than anything else.

What we will pay for

The Expedia Passenger Preference Index was conducted on behalf of Expedia by Northstar, a globally integrated strategic insights consulting firm.

Data from the study indicated that as flights get longer, American fliers loosen their wallets. On long-haul flights (that is, flights between seven and 12 hours), 49 percent of American respondents said they would pay for a full meal, 41 percent said they would pay for extra leg room, and 20 percent said they would pay for alcohol.

Americans also appear to be among the likeliest fliers worldwide to pay for an aisle seat on flights of this length, with 16 percent of American respondents preferring the perk (second only to Singaporeans, who came in at 17 percent).

About one-fourth (24 percent) of American respondents said they would upgrade to first- or business class on a long-haul flight—on par with the global average. The likeliest fliers worldwide to pay for this particular perk were from Mexico; the least likely were from Canada. (In case you’re keeping score there at home, I almost always pay to upgrade, especially when I am traveling alone and need to get work done.)

Another perk it seems American travelers would pay for: Quiet Zones. According to study data, 18 percent of American respondents said they would pay for child-free sections on flights exceeding 12 hours. Worldwide, the likeliest fliers to pay for quiet zones on long-haul flights hailed from Mexico (41 percent), Thailand (38 percent), and Taiwan (37 percent).

Must-haves in mid-air

Personally, I can’t live without my mobile device when I fly. It enables me to respond to emails. It has my music. And if I’m really missing my kids, I can look at pictures of them there. By and large, respondents to the Expedia Passenger Preferences Index agreed, tabbing phone/mobile device as the second-most important in-flight asset at 33 percent. Water occupied the top slot, cited by 43 percent of respondents. Rounding out the Top Five were headphones (26 percent), meals (24 percent), and magazines/newspapers (22 percent).

Curiously, 13 percent of American respondents said they could “not live without” prescription medication on board a flight, and 9 percent selected alcohol.

Finally, data from the Expedia Passenger Preferences Index indicated that the vast majority of Americans would sleep on long-haul flights. Data indicates that 73 percent of American respondents would doze off if they could. Other popular in-flight activities included reading (63 percent), eating (62 percent), utilizing entertainment systems (51 percent), and listening to music or podcasts (45 percent).

As for me, I spend most of my flight time catching up on work; when I’m not doing that, I’m either sleeping or vegging out and catching up on some of my favorite TV shows. To be honest, I can’t think of a better way to pass the time in mid-air.

What amenities are you willing to pay for when you fly?

Expedia compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site, such compensation may include travel and other costs.

Sarah Waffle Gavin

As head of PR and communications at Expedia, Sarah Gavin holds responsibility for influential programs for the Expedia brand and is the force behind the creation of the Expedia Viewfinder blog. Sarah has a strong background in technology communications and came to Expedia after six years of working on the Microsoft business for Waggener Edstrom Worldwide. Part foodie, part tech geek, part mom, part traveler, when she's not strolling through the shops of Manhattan or sitting poolside in Mexico, she hangs her hat in the burbs of Seattle, Washington at the intersection of travel, technology, and motherhood.

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