These Are the Best (and Worst) Airlines
If airlines had Oscars, The Points Guy would be the equivalent of the Academy of Motion Pictures, the definitive judge of American talent, handing out awards to the winners (and also offering up some "also rans" for your consideration). Here's the definitive ranking of winners, and losers, for domestic airlines.
The survey: Methodology
Editors at The Points Guy (TPG) have a multi-tiered approach to judging airlines. Here are their criteria:
- Timeliness (15 percent of overall score) represented the biggest chunk of the score. Pouring over data from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), TPG looked at what percentage of flights were delayed, how often flights were canceled (10 percent), and how many cities an airline served (10 percent). They also factored in how likely passengers were of getting bumped off a flight unwillingly (2 percent).
- To reflect customer satisfaction, TPG looked at the number of passenger complaints against each airline filed with the DOT (10 percent of overall score) as well as the number of reports of lost luggage (5 percent) each airline had.
- Another big factor in the final score was pricing. Consulting the airlines’ financials, their own websites, DOT data, and the monthly TPG valuations, they looked at the average value for the customer and how hefty airlines’ extra fees were (ticket value was 10 percent of overall score, and fees were another 10 percent). Experts also factored in the points valuations and the value of the perks that came with elite status (another 10 percent).
- In terms of comfort (15 percent of overall score), TPG looked at average seat pitch and width in economy class; WiFi availability; whether there were seatback screens for in-flight entertainment and outlets at seats; and the average age of the domestic fleet. They also looked at how many regular lounges each airline had (3 percent) in the United States versus how many premium lounges and the cost of memberships and day passes there.
Delta was the big winner this year, with 92.7 percent of planes arriving on time and the largest network of lounges and cities served. Possibly most impressive, the airline only bumped 32 passengers out of more than 136 million Delta fliers last year. We also discovered that Delta is one of the airlines least likely to lose or damage your suitcase.
Although Alaska dropped a spot in the rankings from last year, they were a top dog for their loyalty program because it offered the best value and good perks for all three tiers of membership, says TPG. They’re also the only airline that can boast power outlets at every seat.
The Point Guy’s family travel expert Summer Hull extols the open seating policy and included checked luggage (you can bring two for free!) as some of the reasons the airline is an especially attractive option for families. Another plus: Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program shines when it comes to no blackout dates. We’re also fans of the Southwest Companion Pass.
Last year, a Harris Poll determined that United had the worst airline reputation in America. (Remember the video of a passenger being dragged off a plane?) What a difference a year makes! TPG found over the last few years that United actually consistently scores in the top in categories such as price and convenience; plus it has numerous airport lounges (there’s a lounge in most major cities, sometimes even two or three).
Hawaiian had the largest rebound this year (up four spots from the previous year) and was the undisputed ruler when it came to getting flights out and on time, with an overall 6.4 percent of flights delayed for 30 or fewer minutes for the period examined. That was compared to an average of 15.6 percent for all ten airlines overall and 24.6 percent for the category loser, Frontier.
American has the largest route network of all ten airlines, which means they offer the greatest number of domestic flights. American didn’t score so well, however, on other criteria such as customer satisfaction, lost baggage, and involuntary bumps, which is why it nabbed its middle spot. But if you’re not following strict travel plans and have a more flexible agenda, American may be the way to go, since it services the greatest number of cities and has one of the largest plane fleets. You’re likely to find the most flights leaving at all hours of the day on American—and this is the best time of day to fly to avoid delays.
7. Jet Blue
With its widely lauded free, ubiquitous, and excellent Fly-Fi WiFi, ever-present seatback screens, generous seat pitch, and relatively young fleet, JetBlue had the most comfortable cabins overall in the United States, says TPG, allowing the airline to climb up in the rankings this year. (We’re also going to give a shout out to the free snacks; cookies and Terra chips for the win!) Did you know that JetBlue has a digital seat map that gives flight attendants the skinny on who you area? Here are more surprising things your airline knows about you.
The Worst: Frontier, Spirit, and Allegiant
At the bottom of the ratings, Frontier, Spirit, and Allegiant all share their last place ribbon in bare-bones onboard offerings, according to The Points Guy. Frontier also ranked last (and five down from last year) thanks to its deplorable on-time record (nearly one out every four flights was delayed), lackluster cabin features, a habit of bumping paying passengers, and high rate of customer complaints. Additionally, although Spirit had the best ratio of fare cost per mile flown for paying passengers, their 28-inch average seat pitch was named the stingiest. And, Allegiant wound up at the bottom in another category because it doesn’t even have a loyalty program. Now, check out the things airlines don’t want to tell you but every flyer should know.