Monday, November 24, 2008

Zagat Best Airline Survey; Lonely Planet Top 10 Cities

Regular readers of our babblings on this blog know our love/hate relationship with “Best Of” surveys. Well, another one’s out, this time from Zagat. We’ve never been impressed with Zagat – their signature restaurant reviews full of breathless quote snippets from everyday consumers just seem to creep us out.

To us, the 2008 Zagat Airline Survey provides insights not so much into the airlines themselves, but into Zagat readers, subscribers, and survey participants. According to Zagat, “This year’s Survey included 17 domestic airlines and 68 airlines that fly internationally. Each surveyor took an average of 16.3 flights per year, for a total of 162,000 annual trips; 38% were for leisure, 62% for business.”

You can find the full survey results on the Zagat website, but a few highlights and comments. First is how well Southwest did in a variety of categories – in itself not too surprising, but it is surprising to us when nearly two-thirds of survey voters are reported as being business travelers.

On another note, if an airline is in the news a lot (Delta/Northwest, United, American) it’s conspicuously absent from the Zagat results. The domestic airlines most honored in the survey are Southwest, Continental, jetBlue, and Virgin America. On the international side, the airlines appearing at the top of the results most often are Singapore, Virgin Atlantic, and Cathay Pacific.

The reason we question these surveys is exemplified by the votes (in order) for Best Frequent Flier Programs:
Southwest Airlines
Virgin Atlantic Airways
Continental Airlines
Cathay Pacific Airways
Alaska Airlines

Southwest may have a good frequent flyer program within its own system, but it has no airline partners and a very limited number of other partners. Virgin Atlantic seems to have a great program, but what travel patterns do survey respondents have that would put it in second place? After Southwest in first place? We can’t imagine two more different programs. Also, it would seem to us that earning and redeeming miles with Cathay Pacific – a member of the OneWorld alliance – would be on the more challenging side. And Alaska? We love the airline and the partners in its frequent flyer program, but it surprises us that enough survey respondents are familiar with it for it to make the top five.

Anyway, we love these surveys and the insights, opinions, and absurdities they sometimes reveal.

BONUS: Lonely Planet Top 10 Cities

And just in case you were planning to visit some of the world’s great cities this coming year, Lonely Planet has your shopping list. Forget Paris, Prague, Hong Kong, San Francisco, or Rio. In Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2009, the “Top 10 Cities” are, alphabetically:

Antwerp, Belgium
Beirut, Lebanon
Chicago, USA
Glasgow, Scotland
Lisbon, Portugal
Mexico City, Mexico
Sao Paulo, Brazil
Shanghai, China
Warsaw, Poland
Zurich, Switzerland

They must really need to drum up book sales for those destinations.