By Kerri Anne Renzulli and Megan Leonhardt
March 8, 2018

Finding the best airline in the United States may sound like a challenge. After all, between the ever-shrinking legroom and expanding baggage fees—never mind delays and overbooking debacles—air travel sometimes seems more like a necessary hassle than anything else.

But not all U.S. airlines will have you feeling the same pain. Believe it or not, you can still get something akin to the kind of enjoyable experience now thought of as a “golden age” relic—even from economy seats.

MONEY compared the nine largest U.S. airlines—weighing such factors as pricing, fees, customer experience, and flight performance—to identify the country’s best. Here’s how the rankings shake out.


Passengers walk on the Tarmac toward an Alaska Airlines 737 Jet in Barrow, Arctic Alaska. Design Pics Inc—Alamy
Design Pics Inc—Alamy

1. Alaska Airlines

  • Avg. price per roundtrip flight: $450
  • Avg. price per kilometer flown: $0.22
  • Share of on-time arrivals: 85.29%

Seattle-based Alaska Airlines has long been hugely popular with West Coast travelers, but its acquisition of Virgin America at the end of 2016 has vastly extended its network. The combined entity now ranks as the fifth-largest airline in the U.S., flying to more than 115 destinations; new routes cover spots like Mexico City, Philadelphia, and Raleigh.

Travel + Leisure named Alaska’s loyalty program the best for U.S. flyers, with generous benefits and easy ability to earn of round-trip flights. Alaska also tops the industry’s Airline Quality Rating, which tracks mishandled baggage, customer complaints, timeliness and denied boardings. (Alaska actually promises to deliver your luggage within 20 minutes of gate arrival or discount your next flight.)

Over the next two years, Alaska plans to outfit its Boeing planes with “mood lighting”—a signature of Virgin America’s in-flight experience and add high-speed satellite Wi-Fi to all its planes. You’ll also still get free texting on board, plus 200 free movies and shows, Tom Douglas-inspired meals, and decent alcohol selection. And the best part: You can have all that for less. Average fares dropped 6.3% year over year, the largest dip of any domestic airline, according to Rome2Rio.


Courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines

2. Hawaiian

  • Average price of a roundtrip flight: $625
  • Average price per kilometer flown flown: $0.17
  • Share of on-time arrivals: 88.68%

Gavin DeGraw sings his new single, "Best I Ever Had" on a [f500link]Southwest Airlines[/f500link] flight. Southwest Airlines—Wieck
Southwest Airlines—Wieck

3. Southwest

  • Average price of a roundtrip flight: $415
  • Average price per kilometer flown: $0.30
  • Share of on-time arrivals: 87.17%

Simon Lewis Studio—JetBlue Airways

4. JetBlue

  • Average price of a roundtrip flight: $414
  • Average price per kilometer flown: $0.30
  • Share of on-time arrivals: 86.34%

Interior photos of the Terminal B [f500link]Delta[/f500link] Air Lines Sky Club at Hartsfield Jackson International airport on Thursday, September 22, 2016. Chris Rank/Rank Studios—Delta Airlines
Chris Rank/Rank Studios—Delta Airlines

5. Delta

  • Average price of a roundtrip flight: $413
  • Average price per kilometer flown: $0.29
  • Share of on-time arrivals: 90.72%

Frontier Airlines departing Las Vegas. Rich Simon Photography—Alamy
Rich Simon Photography—Alamy

6. Frontier

  • Average price of a roundtrip flight: $327
  • Average price per kilometer flown: $0.15
  • Share of on-time arrivals: 86.68%

courtesy of Spirit Airlines

7. Spirit

  • Average price of a roundtrip flight: $248
  • Average price per kilometer flown: $0.14
  • Share of on-time arrivals: 90.47%

American Airlines employees at MIA, Tuesday, August 29, 2017. Brandon Wade—American Airlines
Brandon Wade—American Airlines

8. American

  • Average price of a roundtrip flight: $398
  • Average price per kilometer flown: $0.29
  • Share of on-time arrivals: 87.41%

Wayne Slezak—United Airlines

9. United

  • Average price of a roundtrip flight: $428
  • Average price per kilometer flown: $0.31
  • Share of on-time arrivals: 87.53%

Methodology

The pool of U.S. airlines considered included the nine largest domestic airlines. Criteria included average fare price, year-over-year ticket pricing changes, and the cost per kilometer for passengers; average departure and arrival delay time, number of on-time arrivals, number of canceled flights, and amount of denied boardings; baggage and change fees; and customer satisfaction ratings for reservations, check-in, boarding, aircraft, flight crews, in-flight service, food and drink, entertainment, seat comfort, amenities, fees, loyalty program, and overall value. Data providers included Airfarewatchdog, FlightStats, J.D. Power, Rome2rio, SkyTrax, Travel + Leisure, and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

With additional reporting by Sergei Klebnikov

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