When booking your ticket for your next far-flung holiday escape, it’s really hard to know which is the best US airline to spend your money on.
This is because airlines purposely make it tricky for you compare them - they have different names for their fare classes, websites that range from intuitive to…the opposite of that, different perks and extras…the list goes on.
Unless you spend hours upon hours comparing all the nitty-gritty elements of an airline’s offering, you likely won’t know if you’ve made the right choice until you bite the bullet and buy a ticket. As Jack’s Flight Club’s Flight Finders, we actually do spend hours comparing US airlines, so we wanted to share our knowledge for the good of your body, mind and wallet.
We’ve brought together a list of all the major airlines and highlighted the things you need to know before you book with them - both the best domestic airlines, and the worst.
First up - our coveted JFC awards for airlines that are going above and beyond. If you'd rather skip straight to our breakdown of each airline, click here.
The JFC Awards
Here are our picks for the best US airlines in terms of safety, value for money and a ton of other categories. How did your favorite airline do?
Safest airline in the US
We’re giving this one to Alaska! It’s consistently the safest airline in the US, and in the top 10 for safety in the world according to Airlineratings.com, where it came in number 8 in 2022.
Well done, Hawaiian Airlines! They topped the scoreboard according to Official Airlines Guide and the Department of Transportation, with between 87%-89% of their flights on time.
Best value for money
We’ve crowned Southwest the winner of this one. Even though they’re labelled as a budget airline, the free bags and flexibility you get with every ticket (including Basic Economy) is better than anything offered by the full-service airlines.
Highest customer satisfaction
It’s a tie between jetBlue and Southwest for this one! According to the 2022 North America Airline Satisfaction Study from J.D Power, Southwest ranked highest for customer satisfaction in Economy, and jetBlue took out top spot in all higher fare classes.
Best First Class experience
Delta wins this one for being the best first-class airline! Their Delta One suites on long-haul flights, plus top-notch food and amenities, makes this experience better than United’s or American’s.
Best Business Class experience
We have to give jetBlue kudos here for their Mint service on transatlantic flights. Even though this experience is limited to certain routes, their lie-flat seats, ‘suite-like’ seating and self-serve minibar put it right up there with even the best First Class service from their competitors.
Best Premium Economy experience
Good job, American! This one was tough because the full-service airlines, on the whole, offer similar Premium Economy products, but American is ahead with 38 inches of legroom, priority check-in, security and boarding, juiced up amenities and access to Admirals Club lounges on selected flights.
Most worthwhile Main Cabin upgrade
This one’s a toss up between jetBlue, United and Hawaiian for different reasons. Because jetBlue and United’s Basic Economy tickets don’t include carry-on bags and their Main Cabin ticket does, this is the obvious extra benefit you get from upgrading (apart from the standard seat selection and flexibility to change your trip).
Hawaiian, on the other hand, gives you priority overhead bin space for your Main Cabin tickets, so you don’t need to worry about trying to squish your carry-on halfway down the aisle.
Best budget airline
Southwest and jetBlue take this one out, again. It’s no surprise that Southwest’s extras push them in the lead, and jetBlue is up there in the customer satisfaction department.
Easiest website to use
It’s a 3-way tie between United, American and jetBlue! We like how these websites are intuitive and easy to use, with baggage and flight flexibility information easy to find.
Alright! On to our airline breakdown.
To settle the age-old question ‘is Delta or United better?’, let’s go through a breakdown of all full-service US airlines, and where they stand out for all the right (or wrong) reasons. Click here if you're just looking to compare budget airlines.
|Airline||Bag fees||Seat fees||Seat pitch and width|
|Alaska||Carry on: free
Checked bag: $30
|Limited seat selection free||Seat pitch: 31"
Seat width: 17"
|Delta||Carry on: free
Checked bag: $30
|Must upgrade to Main Cabin to choose your seats (usually between $50-$150)||Seat pitch: 31"-32"
Seat width: 18"
|Hawaiian||Carry on: free
Checked bag: $30
|Standard seats free||Seat pitch: 29"-31"
Seat width: 16.5"-18"
|United||Carry on: must upgrade ($20-$25) for short-haul, otherwise free for long-haul
Checked bag: $35 for short-haul, $75 for long-haul
|Seat fees: $10-$21||Seat pitch: 30"-31"
Seat width: 16"-18"
|American||Carry on: free
Checked bag: $30 for short-haul, $75 for long-haul
|Seat fees: $7-$25||Seat pitch: 30"-32"
Seat width: 16.2"-18.1"
These fees are guidelines, as airlines change their fees frequently
Alaska is often listed at the top of customer satisfaction surveys and tends to win people’s hearts with its undefeated mileage rewards program.
With hubs in Seattle and Portland, Alaska flies across the country from the West Coast, including to Hawaii, Mexico and, well, Alaska.
- Economy: carry-on bag
- Premium Economy: 2 checked bags, more legroom, priority boarding, complimentary snacks and power outlets
- First: priority check in, even more legroom, complimentary beverages
Note: As with all fare class breakdowns on this list, everything listed in the lower fare classes here is also included in the higher fare class.
For example, with Alaska, a carry on bag is also included with Premium Economy and First Class, even though it’s not specifically mentioned. We’ll point it out anytime this isn’t the case :-)
Putting their in-flight service firmly in the ‘pros’ category (just look at this extensive help center page), let’s dig a little deeper into their frequent flyer program. The ‘Mileage Program’ is one of the few out there still based on actual miles flown, rather than the price of the tickets. So, you’re easily able to accrue more points (especially if you’re flying to a far-flung destination in Alaska), even if you’ve got a Basic Economy ticket.
This is a big one - they don’t have screens on their planes. While you can bring your own device and hook it up to their in-flight system (or rent a tablet if you’ve left yours at home), the inconvenience is a bit of a let-down. Plus, there have been reports of the Wi-Fi failing at times.
If you spring for a first-class seat, you’ll get a lot more legroom than you’ll find on other domestic airlines (41 inches of pitch). No lie-flat seats, though, so don’t get your hopes up there.
Alaska is a winner in our books - not only are they smoking the competition with deals to Alaskan cities like Juneau or Anchorage (we’re looking at you, Delta, United and American!), they are often competing with Mexican budget airlines on routes down to Baja California Sur. Nice work!
What you get for your money is better than most other full-service airlines, with some seat selection included with their Basic Economy fares, award-winning service and their mileage program.
Their website is also super easy to navigate, with clear baggage fees and other fare information easy to find.
Delta Air Lines
Delta is a ‘love it or hate it’ airline - some people experience attentive customer service and a comfortable in-flight experience, while others have been burned by them in the past (and their recent cancellation rate doesn’t look that great…).
One of the oldest carriers in the US, Delta is based in Atlanta and flies domestically as well as to destinations in the Caribbean, Central America, South America and beyond.
- Basic Economy: carry-on bag
- Main Cabin: choose your seats, free changes
- Comfort+: 1 checked bag, priority boarding, more legroom and amenities kits on long-haul flights
- Delta Premium Select (on some international flights): 2 checked bags, extra reclining seats
- Domestic First Class: priority check-in, security and baggage handling, the most legroom on the plane, USB ports, complimentary snacks/fine-dining meals and a large seat-back screen
- Delta One: access to the Sky Club lounge, lie-flat seat, luxury bedding, fine-dining meal and wine service
Their Economy product on long-haul flights is high quality, even in comparison to Premium Economy. In fact, you have better headrests for sleeping, very similar perks in terms of your menu, welcome drink and a warm towel.
The only extras you get from shelling out a lot more cash in Premium Economy are an amenities bag, slightly more legroom (6 inches) and 2 USB ports to plug in your electronics. So, the value for money is second-to-none.
On the surface, Delta’s policy for refunds on Basic Economy tickets seems more generous than its competitors. Instead of a flat out ‘non-refundable’ ticket, they offer you an ecredit (which you can put towards a future flight with Delta).
Sounds great, right? Well, to select this option, you have to forfeit the majority of the value of your original ticket, so the amount you receive in your online account at the end of the transaction is a fraction of what you paid.
This policy is actually a bit iffy in our books. It’s definitely worth reading the Ts & Cs before booking a Basic Economy ticket, especially if you think you’ll be able to get the full value of your trip back.
Delta offers 11 different meal options for passengers with various dietary requirements.
Alongside decent domestic and short-haul flights to the Caribbean and Central America from across the country, we love when Delta’s niche long-haul destinations pop up as deals. We’ve seen cheap flights to places like Tanzania, Morocco and Tahiti in the past (thanks to their Sky Team alliance with airlines like Air France).
You know we like the value you get on their long-haul flights in Economy, but Delta is also unique in that you need to upgrade to their Main Cabin fare to choose your seats. While it may be a little annoying to fork out more for something you can get with most other airlines for cheaper, this does mean you get free changes thrown in.
The starry cabins, friendly onboard staff, Hawaiian music filtering through the speakers as you board - Hawaiian Airlines does a great job of setting the mood for your island holiday.
Based in Honolulu, Hawaiian flies between the Hawaiian islands and the US mainland, as well as making shorter, interisland flights. They’ll also take you further to Asian and Pacific destinations like South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
- Main Cabin Basic: carry-on bag
- Main Cabin: choose your seats, make free changes, free alcoholic drinks on interisland flights
- Preferred Seat: priority boarding, more legroom and early overhead bin access
- Extra Comfort Seat: even more legroom, priority security, USB ports and amenities kit if you’re flying internationally
- Business Class (on international flights): 2 checked bags, lie-flat seat, a personal tablet for entertainment, 2 checked bags and bedding
- First Class: a dedicated crew member and access to the Premier Lounge
Given Hawaiian’s long-haul routes between the US mainland and Hawaii are so, well, long, you get a hot meal included by default. Considering you can usually nab a deal between the West Coast and Hawaii for a similar price as a ticket to, say, Chicago, this is a lot more bang for your buck.
And, just because it’s included, doesn’t mean they skimp on the food service, either. Their website has really extensive menus for each route (with meals tailored to your final destination), so you know exactly what to expect when the food trolley comes rumbling up the aisle.
Keep in mind that if you’re just hopping from one island to another, you’ll only get a snack and a drink.
Unfortunately, Hawaiian is another airline that doesn’t have seat-back entertainment as standard on all their planes. If you’re flying on a neoA320, you’ll have to bring your own device to be able to stream the entertainment they provide.
Also, they don’t have Wi-Fi onboard - and for an airline that’s main routes are often over 6 hours long, this is a feature many customers are crying out for. That being said, they’re planning on introducing it in 2023.
As mentioned above - you’ll know when you step onto a Hawaiian Airlines plane. Everything has been curated to get you onto Island Time, from the crew’s uniforms to the interior color scheme.
A big part of Hawaiian’s marketing strategy is that they know their passengers are on their way to a relaxing island destination, and so they want to kick-start that feeling before you even touch down on Hawaiian soil. It’s no surprise that positive customer reviews reflect that cabin crew go above and beyond during their trip.
It’s also worth noting that Hawaiian’s lounge pass is actually the cheapest of all the full-service airlines ($40 for one visit, verses $60 for American or United). That being said, their Premier Club lounges are smaller, poorly designed and don’t have the same amenities (like a shower or complimentary beer/wine) that you’d expect from their competitors.
Unsurprisingly, we see great deals to all the Hawaiian islands from the US mainland, and rarer deals to Pacific and Asian destinations also pop up now and again.
We particularly like their website - it’s easy to use and very clear about what’s included in your ticket. They also show a visual route map that does a great job of clearly explaining where you’ll be stopping over on your flight.
The value you get for your money is up there with the best of the full-service airlines, considering you are guaranteed a meal on flights to/from Hawaii, and they also include seat selection in Basic Economy (called ‘Main Cabin Basic’) tickets.
Oh, United. If Delta is the ‘love it or hate it’ airline, United is the ‘love to hate it’ airline. And, it’s kind of justified. From reports of outdated decor and poor customer service, to…breaking guitars? If you go looking for it, you’ll find someone ready to complain about their bad experience.
Not to pile on, but they recently received the largest fine for flight delays ever given out by regulators for forcing thousands of passengers to sit on the tarmac for hours on end. Ouch.
United is based in Chicago and is the US airline serving most international destinations. That means over 360 airports can be reached non-stop from the US with United, which is definitely impressive.
- Basic Economy
- Economy: carry-on bag, seat selection and flexibility to change your trip
- Economy Plus: extra legroom
- Premium Plus: 2 checked bags, priority check-in/security/boarding, discounted access to United Club Lounge, large reclining seat with USB port, complimentary food, drinks and amenities
- United Business (on short-haul international and transcontinental flights): larger seats, in-arm storage space, bigger tray table, premium snacks/meals and alcohol
- United First (on domestic flights): lie-flat seats
- United Polaris (on long-haul routes): first-class seats in a separate cabin, and access to Polaris lounge
Even with a mind-boggling number of flights every day, it does seem that the negative experiences far outweigh the positives. We struggled to find an aspect of the flight experience that United excelled at.
That being said, they are part of the Star Alliance network, which has a lot more members than their competitors, Oneworld and SkyTeam. This means that you can fly United, or one of the other 25+ member airlines, and earn loads of points fairly easily (United’s MileagePlus Program is one of the most popular thanks to their credit card options).
Ah, where do we start. Apart from what we touched on above, United’s food service usually leaves a lot to be desired. They don’t give out complimentary snacks on short-haul flights (this is one of the most common complaints). It’s especially poor form when their competitors, like American and Delta, do.
Otherwise, the onboard Wi-Fi system is patchy, and only works with certain providers, meaning it’s on the passenger to check if they’ll be compatible.
Their website does have a handy feature where you can check if your specific flight will have seat-back entertainment, or if you’ll have to bring your own device.
United comes up often in our deals, both for domestic routes and in conjunction with their Star Alliance partners to Europe (especially places like Greece, Hungary, Poland) and to further destinations like India or Tahiti.
There’s one thing we really don’t like about United: they are the only full-service airline on our list that doesn’t include a carry on bag in their Basic Economy tickets, so the only way to take a cabin bag with you is to upgrade. Otherwise, you’ll be slapped with a $25 gate handling fee and have to pay to check your bag at the last minute.
It’s a clear loss for United on the ‘value for money’ front, which is definitely something to keep in mind if you ever have the choice between United and another airline.
Those red, white and blue plane tails are as iconic as apple pie. American has its loyal followers, but plenty of critics as well. As it turns out, United isn’t the only airline accused of poorly treating their passengers (or trapping them on the tarmac…).
Headquartered in Dallas, American is the world’s largest airline in terms of fleet size and passengers they carry. This is helped by their regional airline branch that zips across the US, American Eagle.
- Basic Economy: carry-on bag
- Main Cabin: seat selection and flexibility to change your trip
- Main Cabin Extra: extra legroom, priority boarding and early access to overhead bins
- Premium Economy: 2 checked bags, wider seats, more legroom, priority check in and security, better meals, complimentary alcohol, large screens and noise-cancelling headphones
- Business Class (on shorter international flights): lots of legroom/lie-flat seats in some cases, access to Admiral Lounge and luxury bedding
- First Class (on domestic flights): chef-inspired menu with wine pairings
- Flagship Business (long-haul flights): lie flat seats as standard, expedited baggage return, access to Flagship Lounge, chef-curated meals, amenities kits and luxury bedding
- Flagship First: private check-in in some cities, access to International First Class lounges, lie-flat seats with aisle access
Much like United, there aren’t any consistently-positive aspects of the flying experience with American. While their loyalty program is popular and likely encourages many passengers to fly American where they can, they definitely aren’t being rewarded with exceptional service.
Of course, that global reach means you’re likely to find an Admirals Club lounge in most major transport hubs. On top of their flagship lounges in New York, LA and Chicago, they also have an international flagship lounge in London.
On top of the customer service complaints, American passengers often complain about patchy Wi-Fi and poor quality food served on-board (and, it turns out that even Premium Economy passengers aren’t immune to these issues).
While the number of seat-back screens has been varied across all full-service airlines we’ve covered, American joins Alaska as the only airline to have no screens across their domestic flights.
It has a super-secret loyalty tier - ConciergeKey. This swanky membership includes perks like a private car to escort you between terminals, priority on all upgrade and standby lists and a dedicated phone line for queries. Of course, to reach this elite level, you’ll likely have to spend at least $50K on flights per year, so it’s not something that will make a difference to the vast majority of passengers.
We have a better impression of the value you get on American versus United, and in some aspects, Delta. This is because you can bring a carry-on bag onboard for free, and don’t have to upgrade to Main Cabin to purchase your seats.
In addition, they generally have good domestic and short-haul deals to the Caribbean, South America and Mexico. We also see deals with their Oneworld partners to places like Indonesia and Australia.
Their website is easy to use, upgrades are clearly marked, and bag information is accessible on multiple pages throughout the booking process.
There are good budget airlines, there are bad budget airlines, and then there are ones we feel were created with downright evil tendencies. So, how do you smart decision to satisfy your wallet while hopefully avoid a nasty flight?
Here’s our run-down of what we like (or don’t) about these US budget airlines.
|Airline||Bag fees||Seat fees||Seat pitch and width|
|Spirit||Carry on: ~$45
Checked bag: $37-$41
|Seat fees: $23-$30||Seat pitch: 28"
Seat width: 17.75"
|Frontier||Carry on: $60-$65
Checked bag: $55-$60
|Seat fees: $27-$40||Seat pitch: 28"-31"
Seat width: 16.5"-19.1"
|jetBlue||Carry on: bag upgrade $80-$150
Checked bag: $30-$60
|Seat fees: $10-$30||Seat pitch: 32"-35"
Seat width: 17.2"-18.5"
|Southwest||Carry on: free
Checked bag: 2 bags free
|No seat fees||Seat pitch: 31"-33"
Seat width: 17"-17.2"
|Sun Country||Carry on: $30
Checked bag: $30
|Seat fees: $11-$25||Seat pitch: 29"-30"
Seat width: 17"
|Allegiant||Carry on: $26
Checked bag: $29
|Seat fees: $1-$31||Seat pitch: 31"
Seat width: 17"
|Breeze||Carry on: $25
Checked bag: $29
|Seat fees: $10-$20||Seat pitch: 29"-31"
Seat width: 17.6"
|Avelo||Carry on: $40
Checked bag: $40
|Seat fees: $12-$31||Seat pitch: 29"
Seat width: 17"
These fees are guidelines, as airlines change their fees frequently
FYI - if you’re looking for a further breakdown of baggage fees and other add-ons for these budget airlines, read our guide on how to get the most out of your personal baggage allowance.
With a label like ‘the worst airline in America’, we’re not off to a great start. We don’t want to come out swinging too hard, but there’s a bright yellow elephant in the room - Spirit really isn’t that well-liked. And we can kind of see why.
Spirit is based in Florida and flies across the US, the Caribbean, Central and South America. They are one of the super-low-budget airlines on our list, which means we’re starting at the bottom of the barrel. Don’t expect anything included in your ticket, except a seat to sit on.
There are no fare classes on Spirit, but you can splurge for more legroom and a wide leather seat with the ‘Big Front Seat’ option.
The price? We would really only recommend flying Spirit if you want to save some money and don’t really need any extra frills (try to keep your flight shorter than 4 hours, your back will thank you!).
The fees. We’re not just talking about baggage fees. Oh no, these, we expect from a budget airline.
Instead, Spirit heaps on surprise costs wherever they can. This even includes paying extra to book your flight online, rather than at the airport counter. But, once you’ve booked your flight and want to check in, you’ll be charged more for heading up to the counter, rather than the in-airport kiosk.
Once you’re actually on board, you really feel the pinch of a budget airline - seats don’t recline, there’s no in-flight entertainment or Wi-Fi, only 28 inches of legroom (when the standard is 30 and above) and a teeny tiny tray table.
Customer service is also a downside to Spirit - from long lines at the airport (which can force people into paying more money by taking their checked luggage onboard) to their poor track record for flying on-time, there’s really not a lot to love.
Spirit does have a ‘Big Front Seat’ option, which does push the pitch up considerably to 38 inches. This is equivalent to a Business Class seat on a full-service domestic flight, so if the base price of your ticket is cheap enough, it’s probably worth paying extra to nab all that legroom.
We rarely send a Spirit flight as a deal, because they need to be very cheap for us to justify those ridiculous add-ons.
That being said, you shouldn’t have any problems using their website, and they do have a personalized bag fee tool that would help you calculate your extras easily. But, that’s about it. Sorry, Spirit!
Frontier is Spirit’s green counterpart, and faces similar criticism when it comes to their on-board service. Let’s just say, it’s an experience.
Headquartered in Denver, Frontier flies to 100+ cities across the country. As they’re another ultra-low-cost airline on this list, you should expect to pay extra for anything on top of your ticket, and get the bare minimum in return.
Similar to Spirit, Frontier doesn’t offer fare classes, but has ‘Stretch Seating’ that you can purchase. Alongside more legroom, the seats also recline, you get priority boarding and in-flight service.
Well, they really don’t offer much to write home about (unless you’re blogging a bad review) in terms of their service or on-board offering, but they do claim to be ‘America’s Greenest Airline’, which will give plenty of customers an incentive to book with them. Apparently, they have a smaller carbon footprint, and are 43% more fuel efficient than the competition.
Buuuut, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. It seems the main ways they cut their emissions is by making their seats lighter (and way less comfy), encouraging passengers to pack lighter (by raising bag charges) and cutting down on amenities (of which there weren’t many to begin with.
After all this, it’s surprisingly hard to find hard data that confirms they are more fuel efficient than other airlines (apart from this study, which found their 2017/18 fuel consumption was less than the competition).
Well, where do we begin? No freebies on board, including food or entertainment. Their seats are thin and don’t recline at all, and their tray table is flimsy.
But, even before you get there, you’ll find booking your flight on Frontier’s website difficult - it’s slow to load, difficult to see which routes are available on certain days, and they bombard you with prices, making it hard to compare bundles.
If you do make it a habit to fly Frontier (no judgement here…), you can join their Discount Den membership club, which actually means your kids can fly for free on certain routes.
As with Spirit, we rarely send deals with Frontier as they usually aren’t worth the extra money you have to spend on add-ons.
Speaking of which, the checked bag fees are even pricier with what you find with Spirit, and they similarly charge for services most people would expect to be free, like having a member of staff check you in for your flight in the airport terminal. Yep, that one still stings.
After all these super-low budget options, jetBlue comes flying in like a breath of fresh air. Thanks to their great customer service, in-flight entertainment and complimentary snacks, they’re rated the number one budget airline in the US.
Based in Long Island, NY, jetBlue flies across the US, to the Caribbean and Mexico. And, in 2021, they launched their inaugural flight across the Atlantic from the East Coast to London.
- Blue Basic: complimentary snacks
- Blue: carry-on bag, seat selection and flexibility to change your trip (you get a checked bag if you’re flying to London)
- Blue Plus: 1 checked bag
- Blue Extra: same-day switches and standby, priority security and boarding (you get a checked bag if you’re flying to London)
- Mint: 2 checked bags and suite-like seating with lie-flat seats and self-serve bar, but you don’t get same-day switches or standby
JetBlue lets any passenger buy their ‘Even More Space’ add-on, which comes with more legroom, early boarding and priority security, regardless of their fare class.
This is not something we expect from an airline in the budget category, but jetBlue actually has the most legroom in Economy of any other airline operating in the US. They offer at least 32 inches of pitch across every seat, which is more than the most offered in United, Alaska or Hawaiian’s cabins.
Another big plus in comparison to all US airlines is the seat-back entertainment across all flights. Yay, finally!
Plus, the free snacks are only matched by one other budget airline here, Avelo.
There’s not much to complain about here, really. Given they are technically a budget airline, when we compare their product to others on this list, they win out in almost every category.
Because we know it’s easier to compare jetBlue to full-service carriers, rather than the super-low budget options on this list, we will point out that, like with United, you won’t be able to bring a cabin bag into the cabin for free if you’re a Blue Basic passenger.
jetBlue is the only budget airline on our list that offers cheap flights all the way across to London. They started this service in 2021 with New York and Boston, and the complimentary Wi-Fi (and, of course, great in-flight entertainment) are huge pluses.
If you can’t already tell, our impression of jetBlue is pretty high for a budget airline. Their offering is similar to many of the full-service airlines on our list.
In terms of value for money, if you can find a cheap jetBlue fare in comparison to essentially all their competitors, you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck.
Giving jetBlue a run for their money, Southwest’s generous baggage allowance, flight rewards program and safety record make them a favorite budget airline.
Southwest is based in Dallas and is the world’s largest budget airline, with over 4,000 daily flights. Alongside their US routes, the airline also flies to the Caribbean and Mexico.
- Wanna Get Away: 2 free bags, free changes and cancellations
- Wanna Get Away Plus: transferable flight credit, same-day confirmed change, same-day standby list
- Anytime: refundable, priority check in and boarding (with early access to overhead bins)
- Business Select: complimentary drink
The biggest one is that you can check in 2 bags for free, regardless of your fare class or route. As the only airline in the whole of the US who has such a good baggage policy, it’s hard to beat their value for money.
Plus, you can also make unlimited changes on your flight. Considering this isn’t even the norm for all fare classes on full-service airlines, this is a huge plus for Southwest.
Other perks are: you can stream free entertainment on your device, and your travel credits with the airline don’t expire.
A big one (that’s shared with most budget airlines on this list) - no complimentary food on board. And, you’ll need to fill up at the airport before you board, because you can only buy snacks once you’re in the air.
Also, while their customer service is good in person, it seems it can be hard to get a hold of someone to help you over the phone. That being said, this isn’t a Southwest-specific problem - it seems that most airlines have struggled to keep up with customer service demands due to pandemic flight cancellations.
Unlike other airlines where you can book your seat (often for a fee), Southwest has no pre-assigned seating. Instead, once you check in before your flight, you’ll be given a boarding group and number, which determines when you’ll be able to board. Once you’re in the plane, you can take any free seat.
This is either a positive or a negative, depending on your needs. On the one hand, it saves you money because you don’t need to worry about seat fees. But, some people would prefer to shell out a little extra to guarantee their seat choice. The best thing to get the best of both worlds is to try to get on the plane as early as you can. Boarding groups are assigned at check in, so the earlier you check in, the better.
Another unique thing about Southwest is that they aren’t listed on Google Flights, so it makes it difficult to track and compare their prices. That being said, their low fare calendar on their website is fairly good at showing you the lowest prices month-by-month.
We love Southwest. We think that they have the best value for money compared to any other budget or full-service airline on this list if you’re planning on flying on the cheap.
This is especially true when you can pick up a deal that’s the same price as what the full-service airlines are offering, but with your free bags and flexibility included.
Sun Country Airlines
Sun Country Airlines is a newbie on the budget airlines scene, only having transitions to an ultra-low-cost model in the past few years.
Based in Minneapolis, they fly to 81 destinations across the US, Canada, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.
Sun Country Airlines doesn’t have fare classes, but you can pay extra for ‘Better’ or ‘Best’ seats for extra legroom.
They definitely give you a little extra onboard compared to the likes of Spirit and Frontier (which isn’t hard). So, you can expect complimentary soft drinks and water, a full-sized tray table, USB ports at your chair and streaming options on most aircraft (with your own device).
This may not be a big deal to everyone, but unlike their competitors, they don’t have an app where you can book your flights, check in, or get updated info on your flight.
Not much more to say here, Sun Country is pretty middle-of-the-road.
As with Spirit and Frontier, we only think it’s worth booking Sun Country Airlines if you find an extremely cheap flight that compensates for the bags and seat fees you’ll likely need to pay to have a comfortable ride.
At least their website is easy to use, with these extra fees clearly marked.
If you’re looking for the budget airline with the lowest add-on fees, look no further - Allegiant is your winner.
Allegiant is based in Las Vegas, and, as you’d expect, concentrates largely on the leisure market with flights to 100 destinations in the US, including to Puerto Rico.
They don’t offer fare classes, but you can pay extra for ‘Giant Seats’ or ‘Legroom+’, depending on the plane.
As mentioned above, Allegiant’s seat selection and checked bag fees are lower than the competition on the whole. You can find seats starting from just $1, and bag fees often in the $20s - check out our article on US budget airlines and their fees for a full breakdown.
No on-board amenities included here, like entertainment or snacks. Boo!
They only run a non-stop service, so you won’t find any routes with long layovers. While this is handy if you need to get somewhere quickly, it does mean that they often go days without flying their routes to regional airports, so you need to be flexible with your travel plans.
For what it’s worth, Allegiant often have some of the lowest fares for domestic routes, and they fly to regional airports that you may find difficult to connect to with other airlines.
That, on top of their cheaper bag and seat fees, make them a slightly better choice than other options (*cough* Spirit *cough*) on our list.
Breezing through the competition is Breeze - one of the newest airlines on our list, with an intuitive website, app and better perks to match.
Breeze was founded in 2018, but didn’t start flying until May 2021. It now serves 30 destinations, intentionally focusing on travel between regional cities which usually don’t have a non-stop service.
- Nice: free changes/cancellations, reusable credit
- Nicer: carry-on and checked bags included, extra legroom, complimentary snack and priority boarding
- Nicest (for longer flights): 2 checked bags, even more legroom with a better seat
At the booking stage, you’ve got a low fare calendar on their website similar to Southwest’s that can come in handy when you’re trying to save money.
Their bag fees are fairly reasonable - not as cheap as Allegiant, but usually waaay better than Spirit or Frontier.
Unlike several airlines on this list, you do have some entertainment available to stream on Breeze’s flights, and they’ve even installed a phone stand on the seat back to act as a mini screen. It’s these little touches that Breeze uses to stand out from the pack and gain new fans.
If you splurge for Nicer or Nicest fares, you’ve got complimentary snacks and water, and they are in the process of introducing Wi-Fi on their planes.
While complimentary snacks are great, it would be better if all passengers were able to enjoy them.
As a complete opposite to Sun Country Airlines, Breeze is very app-heavy. You use it to search and book your flight, check in and board.
If you’re traveling with children under 12, you can choose your family’s seats for free within a designated ‘family section’ when you book, so make sure you’re all sitting together.
Their branding is also interesting - to try to differentiate themselves from their competitors who have built a reputation for poor customer service, they are all about ‘treating passengers the right way’.
Everything from their tagline: ‘the Seriously Nice’ Airline, to their ‘nice’ branding for bundles screams that they care about giving you a great experience. While their perks are better than their competitors, we think time will tell if they maintain this higher standard.
We covered Breeze’s introductory sale when they launched, and found that the airline definitely feels like it gives you better value for money than others. The bag prices are reasonable, and you can get perks like free snacks and free changes if you upgrade.
Their website also feels intuitive and modern, and their points system is a lot easier to use than others, as your points are automatically applied to your future flights.
The smallest airline on our list, Avelo’s flexibility policy is more generous than most, but their on-board service is bare-bones basic.
Headquarted in Houston with hubs in Burbank, Orlando and New Haven, their 10-plane fleet are busy zipping along the East and West coasts. While their routes are limited, you may find Avelo flies non-stop where the competition flies with a stop.
Like Spirit and Frontier, there’s only economy fares available on Avelo planes, but you can pay more for better legroom.
Avelo’s flexibility policy is one of the best we see across budget and full-service airlines. You can change your flight for free, and even cancel it up to 15 minutes before you fly (for a $20 fee).
While there aren’t any food or drinks available to buy onboard, all passengers will get a bottle of water (and, on some routes, a cookie) for free.
Since the fleet is so small, Avelo only flies on most routes once or twice a week. If you plan around their schedule, you should be fine. That is, of course, unless your flight is delayed or cancelled. Because there just aren’t that many alternative flights to bump you to, you could be stranded and forced to make your own arrangements.
Unlike many other airlines on this list, Avelo is strictly against baggage and seat selection bundles. Instead, all fees are added separately.
While Avelo isn’t strictly a new airline, they rebranded and re-launched in 2021, so we haven’t had too much experience with them. They do have sales on regional routes to smaller airports that aren’t as well serviced by other airlines (to Kalamazoo, or Redmond Oregon, for example), so it would be worth checking them out if you plan to fly these very niche trips.
But, keeping in mind that you will likely have to work around a 2-3 flight a week schedule, you may be better off looking for alternatives if you need to fly on specific dates.
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