3 tips for smarter travel upselling

Make your upselling strategies work smarter, not harder.


Today, upselling is a key component of travel brands’ revenue—across travel categories. In the airline industry, sales of ancillary products and services accounted for more than $82 billion in worldwide revenue in 2017 alone. Each brand has its own dedicated pushes and reminders to “add on” to existing trips for extra comfort, delight and convenience or to book with partner brands in other travel categories.

Upselling and cross-selling is a win-win for marketers—the brand provides relevant information about add-ons and upgrades, creating additional selling opportunities with engaged audiences, while travelers get a personalized, relevant experience with the brand related to their trip. Every engagement becomes a selling opportunity, which means that brands need to make every interaction with each traveler count.  

In its recently released 2019 Megatrends list, Skift noted that travel upselling is getting “smarter than ever.” The truth is that personalization is now taking a larger role in upselling—prioritizing people at the center of all the activity for better results. To execute more successful upselling initiatives for your brand, consider these three tips:

1. Know each traveler as an individual

All travel upselling opportunities start with having a comprehensive view of each traveler. This includes understanding their interactions, travel preferences and on-file information with your brand, how they spend with competitors, their historic trip-related spend information, and the ability to connect with them across all their devices without relying on cookies. For travel marketers, this requires not only unifying traveler data across input sources but also ensuring you have the right data sets to accurately and effectively market to travelers across platforms and devices.

With this information in hand, you can identify who your current and potential travelers are online—including those that have already booked a trip with them and are eligible for upgrades and cross-sell opportunities.

This knowledge factors into how brands speak to each individual. For almost every trip, there are purchasers and influencers. These roles are all part of one connected unit—consider a couple where a wife saw a campaign for a great deal on flights to Italy and mentions it to her husband, but the husband ultimately is the person who books the trip. In this situation, the husband is the purchaser, and the wife is the influencer. Our insights show that on average, individuals on group trips spend approximately 8% or more compared to a single booker. Knowing and properly classifying these individuals and their role in the trip-planning process is crucial in how you market to them

2. Take a page from other industries

Although upselling and cross-selling are common practices in the travel industry, it’s really retail that excels at this concept. Take Gap for example: Every product page has a “customers also viewed” and a “customers also liked” section to recommend other similar products. While a consumer is picking out one item, they get a preview of a similar, possibly more premium item (upselling), as well as other pieces in the same style family (cross-selling). And this is standard practice across many retail brands’ websites.

Travel brands—especially airlines—have improved their upselling experiences in recent years by breaking their ticket costs up and integrating upgrades into the booking process, but there is still a lot of opportunity lost after that initial booking. For travel brands to be truly successful with upselling and cross-selling, they need to consider how to connect with customers outside of that booking window.

Some airlines are experimenting with calendar invites as upgrade communication tools for when travelers add their trip details as an event to their digital calendars. They send event updates prompting the traveler to remember to book their car rental at their destination or add on priority boarding before they get to the airport. Chatbots are another unexpected medium to consider for travel upselling. Skift noted that the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas saw hotel guests that use its text chatbot spend as much as 30 percent more than those who don’t.

3. Be able to deliver everywhere online

Although owned channels are effective (and arguably the simplest way to reach known bookers), travel upselling isn’t limited to channels that the brand owns. Consumers have tons of screen time from their work and personal computers to smartphones and laptops—not to mention TV as well. Why limit an upgrade opportunity to an email or text message? Everywhere people are online is another opportunity to connect with them in a way that matters, but you need to be able to send them relevant, personalized communications on those channels as well.

As an example, we worked with an international cruise line on a specific upselling program to engage upcoming guests on all channels and devices. We paired the cruise line’s CRM file of upcoming guests with our 200+ million comprehensive traveler profiles. Then, we were able to help the brand identify and reach known guests with relevant upselling offers and messages, leading to 20,000 purchases of upgrade services and an additional $5 million in revenue for the brand at a $200:1 return on ad spend.

This execution is only possible with comprehensive, historical information on each traveler. Without the ability to know each person as an individual and reach them online across all their devices, travel brands are limited to their own communication channels.

Final thoughts 

Upselling is an important component of your brand’s relationship with each traveler. An effective travel upsell program starts with knowing and understanding the people you’re reaching on an individual level, and then delivering relevant information related to their upcoming travel across all channels. When upselling is done the smarter way, travel marketers can deliver on the promise of offering truly personalized brand experiences.

Want to learn more about the traveler’s omnichannel journey? Download our webinar, in partnership with Skift, “Winning strategies to reach today’s omnichannel traveler,” where we talk to Azamara Club Cruises about building comprehensive traveler profiles to deliver omnichannel results.