When OTA email targeting goes wrong

The data is a few years old now, but it is hard to argue with the idea of massively improved open rates and revenue generation from slightly creepy emails. Back in 2011 a case study showed a 1640% increase in revenue produced by emails triggered from abandoned shopping carts. The practice has grown since then and nearly every travel site I search on now is likely to send such. Even if it is a complete waste of time.

Compared to standard promotional emails, the triggered emails generate on average:

  • 150% higher open rates
  • 170% higher clickthrough rates
  • 200% higher conversion rates (conversion defined as a sale made from the email)

The emails also generate a 1,640% increase in revenue per email delivered as compared to standard promotional emails.

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Amidst my most recent trip I’ve been slow in booking some of the hotels. As in waiting until on the plane to San Francisco to finally confirm a booking for that night.

And my search pattern there, consistent with most other day-of bookings, includes a few different OTAs plus direct booking options (mostly via Hotel Hustle to quickly compare). Thanks to the reasonably generous Welcome Rewards program Hotels.com is one I always consider. And, of course, the searches include the desired travel dates because that’s the only way to get the right price. Which means that Hotels.com knows I wanted a room at SFO last week. But that didn’t stop the company from emailing me twice this week, trying to get me to book a room for my stay last Thursday night.

I needed a stay on Thursday night. Hotels.com is still trying to sell me rooms on Monday and Tuesday, well after I'm gone.
I needed a stay on Thursday night. Hotels.com is still trying to sell me rooms on Monday and Tuesday, well after I’m gone.

The thing about using “big data” in marketing is that many times companies have more data than they know how to use. The ideas are usually well-intentioned but the execution can be a complete mess. I did actually book this stay using one of the OTAs that prompted me with an abandoned cart email. The system actually worked. But that email also knew that my stay was still upcoming. Apparently Hotels.com didn’t. And now that the stay is passed I’m not really sure how to make it stop asking me to book a stay (that Fort Lauderdale reference is another old search that the dates for have passed; whoopsie!).

Read More: Marketing emails getting a lot more personal

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. I also wish that once I make my booking somewhere that they could somehow know that so I don’t keep getting asked to make the booking I already made.

  2. But they don’t know if you booked elsewhere for that date, or simply postponed the trip and are still planning to reserve something on another date. I do find it annoying to get ads, or even worse, emails, pushing hotel bookings for destinations I stayed at months ago.

  3. Agreed they don’t know if I booked elsewhere. I don’t mind the emails so much in those scenarios.

    Sending me ads for a trip in the past is not good targeting. They have the correct data; they’re not using it properly.

  4. Hotels.com does this all the time… they show a cheaper date in the email to get you to click, then you see the real prices. I stopped paying attention to these emails and actually unsubscribed from all emails. They are all deceptive/low quality.

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