The 10 worst travel apps in the world

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By Christopher Elliott

If you travel, you probably already know that smartphone apps aren’t that smart. In fact, they’re sometimes buggy, sluggish and hard to use.

“Often, apps are designed according to how internal software systems operate,” says Yossi Langer, principal of app usability consulting firm Iteration Group, “but not how users think.”

For example, a search function on a travel app might ask the user to enter a start date and an end date. But you’d prefer plain language such as “next two weeks.”

Chances are, you have a few of these troublesome apps installed on your phone. Feel free to check (see below). I’ll wait right here.

The latest crop of iPhones and Nexus devices is coming out just in time for the holidays, so this is the perfect time to remember there’s a galaxy of flawed smartphone apps out there, each with its own scathing one-star reviews.

How do you avoid these bad apps?

Even if you can — what should you do about them? It turns out there are a few telltale signs that you are about to install a deeply flawed app, and there are things you can do to prevent that mistake.

One sign that an app could be trouble is the price. If it’s “free,” then experts warn that the developer is looking for other ways to monetize it.

“Beware of free apps,” says Jack Vonder Heide, president of the Technology Briefing Centers, an Oak Brook, Ill., technology consultancy. “Nothing is free. You are probably trading at least some personal data in exchange for the app.”

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Actually, most app disasters can be stopped before they ever start. If you just read the app’s privacy policy before downloading it, you can avoid a lot of the most problematic programs. “Most privacy policies will disclose which personal data elements are accessed and how they are used,” Vonder Heide says. If you’re not comfortable, don’t download it.

Here’s another giveaway

The reviews are awful. Obvious, right? Not necessarily. Think about it. How many times have you overlooked a one-star review if it was something you really wanted? Yeah, me, too.

“I recommend avoiding applications with many one-star reviews that reference application crashes, poor battery life or poor user experience,” says Hamilton Turner, director of malware research at OptioLabs. “Malware authors often do not invest the time to develop beautiful applications or react to user complaints, so a poorly written application is, broadly speaking, not something you want in your personal device.”

Ethan Davidoff, a vice president at RiskIQ, a Web and mobile security firm in San Francisco, says once you download an app, pay attention to the permissions it requests. “They should make sense,” he says.

Android permission

For example, if you install a Wi-Fi hotspot finder on your Android smartphone, it shouldn’t request permission to access your personal information. Watch out for messages such as “android.permission.READ_CONTACTS” or “android.permission.RECEIVE_SMS”

By the way, you’ll want to upgrade your version of Android, experts say. The previous editions had an all-or-nothing approach to permissions. Android M gives you more control, allowing you to grant certain permissions to an app. (Related: How to fix a travel problem half a world away.)

Let’s be honest. You probably already have the worst app for your next trip installed. Why? Because some of the most flawed travel apps are offered by major airlines, hotels and online travel agencies, at least according to the reviews.

The red flags are flapping in the wind. “Apple and Google make it simple for consumers to avoid low-quality apps by prominently displaying star ratings and showcasing the user reviews that are rated as most helpful in every app’s profile,” says Ben Gray, a digital experience analyst for Applause, which rates apps. (Here’s what you need to know about travel and money.)

Maybe it’s as simple as that. The warning signs are there. All you have to do is heed them.

10 travel apps with negative reviews

Ratings and reviews from Apple’s App Store and Google Play, compiled by Applause’s user sentiment analysis tool, show dissatisfaction with many popular travel brands.

1. American Airlines: Customers have been frustrated with “integration issues” between American Airlines and US Airways during their merger.

2. Travelocity: Android app has limited functionality, driving users to vent about their disappointing experiences through app store ratings and reviews.

3. Hertz: Customers are frustrated by their inability to save log-in information on their iPhones and iPads.

4. Delta: iOS app can crash and display incorrect flight information, according to customers.

5. Southwest Airlines: Crashes, hangs and freezes plague the Southwest Airlines app for Android.

6. Jetblue: Limited flight selection and timeouts in iOS app happen before you’re able to purchase tickets, passengers say.

7. United: App is a battery hog and has limited functionality on the iPad. Some times are formatted incorrectly.

8. IHG: Android app drains phone and tablet batteries, even when the app isn’t in use.

9. Uber: Android users are unsatisfied with Uber’s accuracy when it comes to estimating fare costs and locating specific addresses on the map.

10. HomeAway: Customers using iOS are easily frustrated with blank screens, slow booking confirmations and pending credit card transactions.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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