Most popular travel apps: Tripadvisor, Expedia, and Airbnb lead the pack

By Robbie Allan

Air travel and accommodation is big business, generating over $500 billion dollars in 2014 according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. With smartphones being so, well, mobile, it’s unsurprising that they’ve quickly become an integral part of the travel and tourism industry.

On desktop, this market is mature and consolidated. But how’s the battle for user loyalty shaping up on mobile? Who’s winning, and who’s losing in the battle for the small screen?

To find out, we turned to SurveyMonkey Intelligence, which provides detailed usage statistic for thousands of mobile apps.

Booking sites continue to rule the roost, but the landscape is changing, with Priceline gaining ground on Expedia, and Airbnb muscling its way into the top five apps.

On mobile, users still prefer booking aggregators to purchasing direct

One of the characteristics of the travel industry is that a large proportion of booking happens through travel agents, who aggregate many travel options, rather than through hotels and airlines themselves. With the advent of the desktop internet, online travel agents (OTAs) arose to claim a large chunk of travel booking business from in-store travel agents.

What’s true on the web has translated across to smartphones. Mobile app users prefer travel booking apps to airline and hotel apps by a 2:1 margin. And with more visitors using airline mobile apps for mobile ticketing, in-app booking rates are likely to be significantly lower for hotels and airlines than they are for travel booking apps.

Airbnb is a major player

From nothing more than a way to get a cheap place to stay during a tech conference in 2008, Airbnb has become a major player in travel booking. It is only slightly smaller than all of the major hotel apps combined. In fact, Airbnb is the third-largest booking app on mobile. It’s bested only by Tripadvisor and Priceline.

Expedia is still beating Priceline, but it’s close

When you use a travel booking website online, odds are that it belongs to one of the two industry leaders, Expedia or Priceline. Of these companies, Expedia is much bigger in the United States, commanding more than three-quarters of the OTA market.

On mobile, Priceline has gained significant ground and its apps attract a combined 3.8 million monthly-active users, compared to Expedia’s 4.9 million monthly-actives.

Travelers prefer Apple

Smartphone usage in the USA is roughly evenly split between iOS and Android. However the iOS App Store makes more revenue, because the average user spends a bit more. Travel booking displays a similar skew, with 70% of travel app users choosing Apple devices.

When Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone in 2007, few people realized they were witnessing the start of one of the largest shifts in consumer behavior in our lifetimes.

In some industries, startups have used new business models to unseat large and established incumbents. So far this hasn’t been the case in travel booking; the businesses winning on the desktop web are also winning on mobile.

Does this mean the travel industry is immune from disruption? Don’t count on it.

This post originally appeared on May 10, 2016 on the blog of SurveyMonkey Intelligence, a competitive intelligence product for mobile apps.