Facebook begins retargeting potential travelers with ads featuring flight info

Facebook’s Dynamic Ads for Travel for Flights can run across Facebook, Instagram and its Audience Network ad network.

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Here’s why, after the next time you check flights online, an ad flagging a seat on a specific flight might land in your Facebook or Instagram feed.

Facebook has begun retargeting people looking to travel with airfare-promoting ads, the company announced on Thursday. Called Dynamic Ads for Travel for Flights, the program extends to airlines the same industry-specific retargeted ads that Facebook introduced for hotel marketers last year.

After testing the flight-specific ads with Cathay Pacific and Delta, now all airline advertisers and online travel booking firms, like Kayak and Orbitz, can run Dynamic Ads for Travel for Flights globally across Facebook, Instagram and Facebook’s Audience Network ad network.

The ads can be bought through Facebook’s advertising API or its Ads Manager and Power Editor self-serve ad-buying tools. Advertisers can pay based on the number of clicks or impressions their ads receive, with the option of using Facebook’s optimized CPM (oCPM) that charges brands by impressions and tries to aim those impressions at people most likely to click on them, according to an explainer of the new ad format posted on Facebook’s site.

Despite the long-winded name, Dynamic Ads for Travel for Flights are pretty simple. Facebook figures out that a person is looking to travel, including an idea of where and when; Facebook shows that person an ad from an airline promoting an available seat to fly to that place around that date. In addition to flight details like dates and airport names and a link to the advertiser’s site or app, the image-only ads can feature a single photo or a carousel of up to 10 photos, and advertisers have the options of including destination-specific photos, as well as the seat’s price. If an advertiser just wants to use a single image for all of its ads regardless of destination, it can, but it has to go through an ad-buying firm that’s in the Facebook Marketing Partners program.

A bit more complicated is how Facebook is able to figure out that a person is looking to travel. For that, the brand selling flight tickets needs to have added Facebook’s tracking pixel to its website, with the option of also adding a tracker to its mobile app.

Through these trackers, a brand will let Facebook pick out when someone has searched for flights, viewed a specific flight, initiated the process of booking a specific flight or has completed booking a flight. In addition to relaying basic information like departure dates and the airports a person would be flying from and to, the brand can opt to send Facebook information like how many adults, children and/or infants are traveling; the seat class; the preferred number of stops; and the user score that the airline assesses the potential traveler, according to Facebook’s implementation guide.

While Facebook is able to monitor potential travelers across a wide array of brands’ properties, brands will only be able to retarget people who visited their own sites or apps, said Facebook’s US head of industry for travel, Christine Warner. That means, for instance, Delta’s dynamic ads will not be shown to people who browse flights on Priceline and vice versa.

Beyond retargeting people who have browsed specific flight routes, advertisers can target their ads based on booking windows, travel dates and trip durations. Additionally, they can narrow their aim to target the specific actions someone took on their site or app, such as whether they were simply searching for flights or were actually in the process of booking one, as well as by using Facebook’s standard ad-targeting options, like the location and demographic information attached to people’s Facebook profiles. Advertisers can also filter out people based on these parameters, such as excluding those who have already booked travel or whose travel dates have passed.

Advertisers can also factor in how many people are likely traveling and whether that includes children or infants. That could come in handy for airlines looking to fill up empty, isolated seats by targeting those tickets to single travelers or to promote a packaged deal to families or large groups.

To land customers who are circling a flight or to squeeze more money from those who have already booked, brands can use the dynamic ads to wave around complementary offers, like free internet access or seat upgrades. The complementary offers could also used to reward a brand’s loyalty members. For people who were logged in to the advertiser’s site or app while browsing flights and are enrolled in the brand’s loyalty program, the advertiser can create a sub-segment of the overall retargeted audience that consists only of these loyalty members.

Unlike the hotel version of Facebook’s Dynamic Ads for Travel — which can promote hotel rooms to people who have browsed or booked a flight — the flight-specific ads cannot be cross-targeted to people who have browsed or booked a hotel, according to Warner. However, there is a loophole for the online travel booking firms that sell both hotel rooms and airfare, she said.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Tim Peterson
Tim Peterson, Third Door Media's Social Media Reporter, has been covering the digital marketing industry since 2011. He has reported for Advertising Age, Adweek and Direct Marketing News. A born-and-raised Angeleno who graduated from New York University, he currently lives in Los Angeles. He has broken stories on Snapchat's ad plans, Hulu founding CEO Jason Kilar's attempt to take on YouTube and the assemblage of Amazon's ad-tech stack; analyzed YouTube's programming strategy, Facebook's ad-tech ambitions and ad blocking's rise; and documented digital video's biggest annual event VidCon, BuzzFeed's branded video production process and Snapchat Discover's ad load six months after launch. He has also developed tools to monitor brands' early adoption of live-streaming apps, compare Yahoo's and Google's search designs and examine the NFL's YouTube and Facebook video strategies.

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