What’s The Best U.S.-Based Airline?

When booking an airline ticket, you usually have a choice between several airlines and the question of which airline is best will go through your head. You might always fly on one airline, maybe you have status with them, or you have their co-brand credit card and get a free bag and preferred boarding. Whatever the reason, you have a reason. For me, it’s a little more difficult. I have co-brand credit cards from almost every airline. I have no status with any of the airlines and I’m not looking to achieve any status level either. For me, I’m looking about the flight experience with the airline and price. So that means I’m looking for the lowest price but I’m willing to pay more for an airline that I’d prefer to fly with. Please understand that these ratings are mine alone (with some serious input from Sharon since I’m not a stupid husband) (Note from Sharon: Yup. Happy wife = happy life, my love!). Your situation and rankings might be totally opposite from mine (ours). That’s OK because like many things, Your Mileage May Vary. 

1. JetBlue

JetBlue Plane

If we had our choice of any airline, we’d pick JetBlue. They have a decent route network (for us in Orlando) and I find flying with them to be enjoyable. They do everything they can to make the onboard experience pleasant. They are upgrading all their older planes to have up to date media screens with DIRECTV and SiriusXM radio. You get free WiFi at every seat on all of their planes. They don’t offer a “basic” economy ticket so there’s no need to worry that you can’t bring a carry on bag. If they fly where we’re going and the price is reasonable, we’re flying with them.

2. Delta

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For us, the big advantage to flying on Delta is their major hub, located  in Atlanta, is very close to our home airport of Orlando. While we can find some non-stop flights on Delta (like to New York, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City), most of our other flights with them will be with a connection. The good thing is that because they have so many flights in and out of Atlanta, even if there’s a problem (like weather delay, mechanical problem or a missed connection) there’s usually a different way we can eventually get to our destination. Delta also runs a good airline. Most of their planes have WiFi and even have powered seats in economy class. For the most part, Delta employees are pleasant and helpful and their Twitter desk is (usually) able to help out in a pinch.

Many people ding Delta because of the inconsistency with their SkyMiles loyalty program. This isn’t a big factor for me in deciding which airline to book. Miles and points are great but they don’t drive my decision on which airline to fly.

3. Southwest

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Southwest takes the third place on the list. It’s a combination of their flight availabliity,  price and their FAREparency (getting two checked bags per person, no charge for seat assignments, no seat assignments at all) that has found us flying with Southwest more and more.

Now, Southwest does have their quirks. If you want a good seat you’ll need to pay for early bird which costs from $15-$25 per person. Southwest isn’t the best to deal with during irregular operations (storms, mechanical) and you need to be careful not to be burned by their cancellation rules or mileage expiration.

4. Alaska

Alaska Airlines Plane

I want to like Alaska more. Maybe I would if we had more chances to fly with them. Since Alaska is based in the Northwestern US, they only fly to Portland, Seattle, San Fransisco and San Diego from Orlando. People who fly with them a lot tend to love their customer service, lounges and their loyalty program. One good thing about Alaska is they have many flights to Hawaii so they are an airline to remember when flying to the islands from the west coast.

5. American

American Planes Parked at Terminal

I just don’t have anything about American that makes me want to fly them. The only reason I’ll choose them is if I find a really good fare (or if I find some rarely available award apace on a non-stop flight) or if their flights are the perfect time for our needs. We’ve have bad experiences with American delaying flights, rude employees (remember the “Your bag is too big for the overhead” incident Sharon experienced) and an inconsistent in flight experience. On American, sometimes you’ll get a nice plane with seat back entertainment, WiFi and power ports and the next flight you are on a former US Airways plane with no entertainment and no power, even in first class. Even their newer planes, like the 737 MAX, have less legroom than Ryanair and restrooms so small they are (almost) unusable.

6. Frontier

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We’ve flown on Frontier twice in the past year and the experience is fine. You know going in the it’s going to be a no-frills experience and you get exactly that. Their seats don’t recline and you don’t even get a functional tray table to work on.

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I’ve heard some stories about how horrible Frontier can be when they cancel a flight but I know this isn’t a problem isolated to Frontier. Maybe it just happens more to people flying with them. It’s for this reason that I’ll only choose to fly on Frontier when we have flexible travel plans. For instance, if things go wrong I’d be able to drive instead of fly or if we have a day buffer when flying home before having to get back to work. While Frontier often advertises low rates, by the time you add in the things we would want to have when traveling, like a carry on bag and possibly a checked bag, it adds $50 to the ticket price each way.

7. United

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We’ve made a conscious decision not to fly with United. This is just our choice because we don’t want to reward them for bad behaviors. Until their management starts making better decisions, we’re staying away. I will say that in a time of stress where the choice was being stranded with no way to get to my destination or fly with United, I did consider them as an option. I was relieved when I found they had no flights available so I didn’t have to make that choice.

8. Spirit

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I would say that Spirit is another airline that we just wouldn’t fly but just recently Sharon let me price out a ticket because Spirit was so much cheaper than the other flight options we had. As it turned out, Spirit’s flight times were just terrible and we paid more money to get better flights. It’s part of our being cheap but still being smart about our decisions. There’s many things about Spirit that don’t match our flying preferences but if you are thinking about flying with them, here’s some things you should know in advance before buying that ticket.

9. Allegiant

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Allegiant is last on the list for us. It’s just an airline we won’t fly on for many reasons which I’ve spelled out in this blog post.

Final Thoughts

So there’s my list and the reason behind the rankings. I left out some airlines because they have a limited route network like Hawaiian, Sun Country and Silver Airways. This list is totally based on Sharon’s and my preferences. We value our vacation time and like to have uneventful travel as much as possible. A reliable airline with flight times that fit our needs is more important than finding the cheapest fare or earning credits for frequent flyer status. Your needs may be much different. If you live somewhere where JetBlue doesn’t fly, they might not even make your list at all. I just hope reading over my choices and seeing how I came up with the ranking will help the next time you need to make a decision between two (or more) airlines.

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This article was originally posted on Your Mileage May Vary.

 

 

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