The Highs and Lows of Travel Marketing Insights: Email Subject Lines

By Kat Dessenon, Persado VP of Campaign Management, North America

Travel marketing can be an adventure. At its best, it encourages consumers to explore other pastures and, in the process, a brand’s list of products or experiential offerings. To get the customer through to conversion, brands need to guide them through the funnel, but at their own paces. This often starts with email marketing. Whether you want your customers to fly the friendly skies or sail the seven seas, there is a best and worst way to get them to act. In the first of a three-part series, we’ll give you some insights on the best content to use in your travel marketing campaigns.



Best to worst emotions for opens in Subject Lines (travel & hospitality US, all time

Best to worst emotions for opens in Subject Lines (travel & hospitality US, all time)

The emotional rankings we see for the travel industry shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who follows our blog. Anxiety, Gratitude, and Achievement reign supreme here, as they do in many other industries around the world. However, we’ll take a deeper dive into what works for this industry and why.


⚠ WARNING: Contents are hot! ⚠ 

If that made you look twice, that is exactly the point of Anxiety, which aims to alert the reader about the importance of a message or give a wake-up call. Given that fear is one of our primal responses, it’s not a surprise that Anxiety is a top-performing emotion. However, you don’t need to be quite so alarming with the language you use. Language like “announcement,” “noteworthy,” and “sitting down?” are great for opens. Let’s look at a real-life example of Anxiety in action and see how small changes can lead to huge uplifts.

A leading hospitality company wanted to send an email about their end-of-summer sale. 

Control message: Here's 15% off to celebrate the end of summer.

After testing a range of emotions, descriptions, and formatting elements, Persado determined the best message was:

[P]: ☺ Attention, {firstname}! Here’s an instant discount—but you need to book soon!

By including “attention” in addition to the personalization, they were able to drive not only a 55.33% uplift in open rate but an impact that went all the way down the funnel, leading to a whopping 92.26% uplift in clicks and an equally impressive 43.04% uplift in conversions. While the emotional elements are just one component of our impact to response rate, it’s critical to use exactly the right one to engage your audience. In this case, we were capturing the attention of recipients while following through with a great offer—who could say no to an instant discount? 


“Great job!” 
“You’ve got skills!” 
“What a catch!”

Feeling good yet? Highlighting Achievement intends to praise or reward an implied accomplishment (such as being a frequent shopper of a brand). It’s nearly the polar opposite of Anxiety, by instead stimulating positive feelings in a consumer. 

It's no secret that humans strive for feelings of accomplishment and validation (think of how satisfying it is to get a promotion, win an argument, or get a retweet). We've found that using language that evokes these feelings is what drives maximum impact for brands.

A leading travel booking site needed Persado’s help to improve the response to an email welcoming their subscribers to a new rewards program. This client was already pretty savvy and included Achievement language in their control message:

Control message: Congrats! Earn rewards for your travel

Through our testing, we actually saw that leading with “Congrats” wasn’t very effective but including a different aspect of Achievement was:

[P]: You've earned this points opportunity

Both subject lines are short and to the point, but the Persado-optimized message delivered 27.95% uplift in opens, 36.88% uplift in clicks, and finally generated a 28.87% uplift in conversions. This is an excellent illustration of the importance of carefully-selected words. While we know Achievement is a top-notch emotion, making a small change in how it’s expressed can lead to exceptional results. Even though the control message also uses the word “earn,” it’s used in the imperative form, which we have consistently found is less effective than the more personal form of “you’ve earned.” 


“You deserve the royal treatment”
“From us, to our loyal customers”
“We care about your business”

The holidays, in particular, are a time to give thanks, especially to your customers. Expressing Gratitude is a way to communicate acknowledgment, appreciation, or affection in a personal way. While it is a top-performing emotion, we caution you to use it in the right context, such as an order confirmation or in a loyalty campaign.

In this instance, a major international airline sought to entice their existing customers with new flight destinations. 

Control: Take advantage of our best fares for new destinations!

Through our testing, we learned that their audience responded to Gratitude the best, resulting in this top-performing subject line:

[P]: As a token of our appreciation, enjoy low fares on new non-stop routes!

The control message used Encouragement (“Take advantage…”), which we know is at the very bottom of our emotional ranking for this industry. It wasn’t too difficult to generate a 17.92% uplift in opens, which led to a massive 57.43% uplift in click-through rate to see what the new routes were. Gratitude here works because the sentiment goes both ways: their customers are loyal to the brand, and the brand is delivering on its promise of providing excellent service and expanded destination coverage. It’s interesting here to also note that even though the control highlighted a superlative (“our best fares”), the optimized message still performed better when using less exclamatory language (simply “low fares”).


Now that we have covered emotions, the next item to tackle is how to describe your offer best. 


Make it intriguing. We’ve consistently seen language like “this personalized offer” or “a special promotion” outperform other ways of describing your sale.


Mention “save” or “savings.” It may sound counterintuitive, but consumers across industries react negatively when they are told they can save on something. Even using a specific discount drives down response rates when it comes to opens. In this industry, big price reductions of 50% and above don’t compel people to open, either—they would rather not know what they are getting.

You’re getting a 3-in-1 offer > You’re getting three ways to save

Be enthusiastic. In general, consumers respond well to describing a trip as “an incredible vacation” or “an amazing destination.” Use vivid adjectives to appeal to someone’s imagination.

Appeal to logic. Despite what you may have read elsewhere, subscribers don’t react well to “9 Reasons to visit Exotic City” or “Get 5x the reasons to love our brand.”

Enjoy this incredible discount on your New York trip! > Here are 10 reasons to love New York (for 20% off)!

Make it personal.
Our results show that language like “custom recommendations” and “handpicked experiences” are good ways to get someone to open. Leverage your customer data to make suggestions that are actually relevant to the recipient: If a customer has expressed an interest in a flight to San Francisco, your email should show them tours of Haight-Ashbury, not the Alamo.

. While you may think calling out that your services are “the best” or your customers can experience “top destinations,” think again! As mentioned in the above example from a major airline, these superlatives are surprisingly ineffective for getting someone to open. It could be that users are skeptical these days about really getting the best prices, so you are better off using some of our other recommended phrases to get them to engage.

You’ve scored 50% off > You’ve scored our best prices


What do you think is the best emoji to use for your campaign?

Is it the ✈ airplane? Does a car 🚗 or a boat ⛵ inspire people to open?  No, no, and no again. Neither does enticing audiences with a sweet cocktail 🍹 or a sophisticated 🍷 glass of wine. Even breaking out the sun ☀︎ and the surf 🌊 isn’t enough. 

We also don’t recommend pointing out deals with any type of arrow → ➫ ▶ as this is the lowest-performing symbol category.

And as much as you may 💙 heart NY, we suggest avoiding the heart symbol, which is at the bottom of the pack as well.

So what’s left? If it is an exceptional sale, the exclamation mark ❗ is a safe bet.

At the very top of our recommendations is the humble smiley face. Whether you use an emoji ☺ or type it out like this :-), consumers love this iconic grinning face and some of the variations (winking 😉, with sunglasses 😎, or a toothy smile 😃).

A word about all-caps: YES! They are definitely more effective than using lower case, but it’s best not to shout at your audience all the time. Use them for emphasizing one keyword on occasion; don’t send out your entire subject line in all caps or else you risk a high unsubscribe rate!