Airline apps deservedly get much attention, but many travelers prefer or just end up using carriers' mobile websites instead to access their flight-related information.
Digital Traveler looked at four airline mobile websites: American, United, Southwest and Delta.
The quality of the sites varies widely. While all provide the basics, such as the ability to book a flight, check schedules and check in for flights, they generally lack some of the features found in their own mobile apps.
For example, Southwest's mobile site at mobile.southwest.com doesn't offer the Ding Fare Alerts about fare sales that you can access via the Southwest website or its mobile apps.
Delta's mobile website at m.delta.com is a shell of its Fly Delta apps, as it is missing features such as the ability to purchase Economy Comfort Seats, in-flight Wi-Fi and priority boarding, for example.
While United's and Southwest's mobile websites were very respectable, American Airlines' mobile website at mobile.aa.com stood out as the best among the four. Delta's mobile website is rudimentary, and refers travelers to Delta.com for any bells and whistles.
In addition to offering the basics, American's mobile website enables travelers to change flights, purchase one-day passes to its Admirals Clubs, buy AAdvantage miles, view terminal maps and access the latest forecasts from the Weather Channel.
American's site can also take you beyond the airport and serve as a mini-guidebook that features information on local events, restaurants, nightlife, shopping and attractions from the guidebook Frommer's.
Southwest's mobile site also sets itself apart by providing the ability to change and cancel flights without fees, view fares in dollars or points, and book rental cars from Enterprise, Avis, Budget, Hertz, Dollar, Thrifty, National and Alamo.
A closer look at these airlines' mobile websites:
Overview. American's site at mobile.aa.com offers the ability to view reservations, flight check-in, flight status, mobile boarding passes, flight status notifications, flight schedules, travel updates and alerts.
Pros. Very attractive looking and easy to navigate. This mobile site was the most feature-rich of the four, offering the ability to view status of delayed bags, see airport terminal maps, purchase AAdvantage miles and scour destination information for things to do after you land.
Cons. There's no option to book cars or hotels; you can view whether a flight has Wi-Fi, but there is no indication when it doesn't.
Takeaway. This was the best mobile site of the bunch, and its features rival American's mobile apps.
Delta Air Lines
Overview. Delta's mobile site, m.delta.com, lets travelers check flight status, book a flight, check in, view schedules and refers users to www.delta.com for additional features.
Pros. It is easy to navigate.
Cons. Delta's mobile site is bare bones and seems almost an afterthought compared with its Fly Delta smartphone and iPad apps.
Takeaway. The site was the least functional of the four reviewed. Merely providing a link to Delta.com for more features isn't adequate when so many Delta customers want access to their information via the mobile Web.
Overview. Southwest's site at mobile.southwest.com provides travel advisories, flight reservations, flight check-in, flight schedules, Rapid Rewards information, car-rental reservations, and the ability to change or cancel reservations.
Pros. The site is very easy to use and has one built-in advantage: Per the airline's policy, you can change or cancel flights without incurring change or cancellation fees. Its car-rental booking feature also makes it stand out.
Cons. There's not much information about airports or destinations. And, like Delta's mobile site, Southwest refers travelers to Southwest.com for additional features.
Takeaway. Southwest's mobile site is efficient and easy to navigate, but the mobile site of this no-frills airline could use a few more frills.
Overview. United's site at mobile.united.com provides the ability to book flights, check in, view flight status, receive notifications and access United MileagePlus and lounge information.
Pros. A very accomplished mobile site, it has a lot of nice extras such as DirecTV listings, a currency converter, the airline's Twitter feed and the ability to nominate a United employee for outstanding service.
Cons. It could use additional airport and destination information, and perhaps something fun such as Sudoku, which is available in the airline's mobile apps.
Takeaway. Very credible, outdone only by American's mobile site among the four sites reviewed.
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