MONEY Travel

These Are the Airlines With the Most Passenger Complaints

customers waiting in line at airport check-in counter
Patti McConville—Alamy

Here are the airlines with the most complaints per 100,000 passengers.

If you feel like airline service is slipping, that’s because it is. In fact, it has slipped back to levels not seen since the recession, according to a new “Airline Quality Rating” report out this week. The rating considers four factors most important to travelers: on-time performance, involuntary bumping, mishandled baggage and complaints. Only Virgin America, Alaska and Hawaiian upped their game last year, according to the study, while all other major airlines offered worse service.

University professors Brent Bowen (Embry-Riddle) and Dean Headley (Wichita State) have conducted the research using Department of Transportation data for 25 years, and found that performance levels have sunk back to where they were in 2009, during the Great Recession.

“The Airline Quality Rating industry score for 2014 shows an industry that declined in overall performance quality over the previous year. As an industry, performance in 2014 was worse than the previous four years,” the authors say. “Of the 11,364 complaints registered with DOT regarding all U.S. domestic carriers, 62.7% were for either flight problems, customer service problems, or baggage problems.” Overall, complaints skyrocketed 22% in 2014.

So which airline attracted the most complaints? To adjust for airline size, the authors published a rate of complaints per 100,000 passengers. The industry average was 1.38 for 2014. At the “top” of the list is Frontier and United. Alaska and Southwest attracted the fewest complaints. These stats aren’t a fluke: Alaska also had the fewest complaints per 100,000 in 2013, while Frontier and United had the most last year, too.

The Most Complaints per 100,000 Passengers

  1. Frontier 3.91
  2. United 2.71
  3. American 2.12
  4. Envoy 1.59
  5. JetBlue 1.17
  6. Virgin America 1.14
  7. ExpressJet 1.01
  8. Hawaiian 0.89
  9. SkyWest 0.84
  10. Delta 0.72
  11. Southwest 0.53
  12. Alaska 0.42

Frontier didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

“I’m not surprised by the latest results,” said consumer travel advocate Chris Elliot, who operates Elliot.org. “Airline passengers are fond of referring to the industry’s customer service record as a race to the bottom. These numbers leave little doubt that the race is far from over.”

The results also reveal a backslide from improvements that airlines had made since the recession, Elliot said.

“These numbers suggest that the uptick in customer service was only temporary,” Elliot said. “The study is a big disappointment, both for airline passengers, and also for me personally. I had really hoped the industry had begun to turn a corner.”

Airline tickets can come with big price tags, which can be especially rage-inducing if you’re bumped or experience customer service issues. You can eliminate some of the cost by using airline rewards credit cards to earn free flights, free checked bags and even upgrades (here are a few of the best airline miles credit cards on the market). But be sure you don’t spend your way into debt just to score a freebie — rewards cards are best used by cardholders who pay their balances in full every month.

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

MONEY Taxes

Want to Pay Lower Taxes? Here’s Where You Should Move

Downtown, Juneau, Alaska
Jochen Tack—Alamy Juneau, Alaska

Leave New York for Alaska.

If you want to keep a bigger portion of your paycheck next year, pick up and head west. According to a new report from WalletHub, the states with the lowest tax burdens on the middle class include Alaska, Montana, and Wyoming. The states with the heaviest tax burdens on the middle class: New York, Illinois, Arkansas, Hawaii, and Maryland.

In fact, you’ll pay the fewest taxes in Alaska whether you’re rich, poor, or somewhere in the middle. Altogether, low earners pay an average of 5.4% of their income in total taxes (including sales taxes, property taxes, and income taxes), middle earners pay an average of 4.5%, and high earners pay an average of just 3.4%.

Compare that to New York state, where households earning $50,000 pay an average of 12.4% of income in taxes. WalletHub found that New York state was the worst state for middle and high earners and the eighth worst for low earners.

Here are the full rankings.

The five states where middle earners (households making $50,000) pay the least:

  1. Alaska
  2. Delaware
  3. Nevada
  4. Montana
  5. Wyoming

The five states where middle earners (households making $50,000) pay the most:

  1. New York
  2. Illinois
  3. Arkansas
  4. Hawaii
  5. Maryland

The five states where high earners (households making $150,000) pay the least:

  1. Alaska
  2. Wyoming
  3. Nevada
  4. Tennessee
  5. South Dakota

The five states where high earners (households making $150,000) pay the most:

  1. New York
  2. Connecticut
  3. Maryland
  4. New Jersey
  5. Minnesota

The five states where low-income earners (households making $25,000) pay the least:

  1. Alaska
  2. Delaware
  3. Montana
  4. Nevada
  5. South Carolina

The five states where low-income earners (households making $25,000) pay the most:

  1. Washington
  2. Hawaii
  3. Illinois
  4. Arizona
  5. Ohio

Read the full WalletHub report here.

For answers to your tax questions, check out MONEY’s 2015 Tax Guide:
11 Smart Ways to Use Your Tax Refund
Don’t Make These 8 Classic Tax Filing Fails
Why the IRS Probably Won’t Audit Your Return This Year

TIME cities

Know Right Now: Washington, D.C. Legalizes Pot

Four other states have already legalized recreational marijuana

Recreational marijuana use and adult possession (up to two ounces) became legal in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, but there’s still no way to legally buy the drug. Watch today’s Know Right Now to find out more.

TIME Drugs

Marijuana Is Now Officially Legal in Alaska

Alaska Marijuana
Mark Thiessen--AP Alaska Cannabis Club CEO Charlo Greene prepares to roll a joint at the medical marijuana dispensary in Anchorage, Alaska, on Feb. 20, 2015

In small amounts, for use in private, if you are over the age of 21

On Tuesday, Alaska’s new marijuana law officially goes into effect, which means that as of Feb. 24 recreational weed is now a legal substance in three states. Oregon is set to follow in July.

Adult residents in America’s northernmost state are now able to personally consume weed in their homes — as well as grow up to six plants — and confidently be on the right side of the law. If they get pulled over for expired tags and have up to an ounce of weed on their person, the latter is no longer going to get them in trouble. (So long as they haven’t been toking and driving.)

Consuming weed in public remains illegal. As Cynthia Franklin, director of the state’s liquor control board, said on Monday “People will not be legally lighting up out in the park tomorrow.” Should someone feel compelled to celebrate the occasion in public, they’re looking at a $100 fine. In the hopes of keeping everyone informed and behaving, legalization-advocacy group the Marijuana Policy Project will also be launching ads on the sides of Anchorage buses with messages like “Consume responsibly” and “With great marijuana laws comes great responsibility.”

MORE How Colleges Are Dealing With Legal Pot

Weed has been quasi-legal in Alaska since 1975, when the state’s supreme court ruled that Alaska’s constitutional right to privacy included the ability to possess and use a small amount of marijuana at home. But the force of that historic ruling became unclear when lawmakers explicitly criminalized the possession of pot, even at home, in 2006. While getting arrested for smoking weed at home was not a common occurrence before Alaska voters legalized it in 2014, Franklin says Tuesday marks a moment of clarity. “For the people of Alaska, it’s a day where all of this ‘Is it legal?’ or ‘Isn’t it legal?’ is straightened out,” she says.

Franklin’s team at the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board is in charge of setting up the state’s legal market. Tuesday also marks the first day they can get to work, though Franklin says she isn’t quite sure what that job will look like in a few months. On Feb. 22, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker introduced a bill that would set up a new Marijuana Control Board to oversee and enforce the law, rather than leaving it to the board that oversees liquor licenses. Franklin is also expecting lawmakers, currently in the midst of a busy session, to pass other marijuana-related bills that will affect the scope of their work, like legally defining the term edibles, or food prepared with marijuana.

Alaska officials have already visited Colorado to see how the social experiment is being run there, and they’re planning on a visit to Washington soon. Franklin is grateful that her state, the fourth to legalize marijuana, had a chance to learn from those trailblazers’ successes and challenges. A prime example is what she calls “the gummy bear problem” of children accidentally ingesting THC-packed treats that look like regular candy or snacks. She says that edibles in Alaska will be well labeled with recommended serving sizes and may be going before a board, one-by-one, to get pre-approved before they go to market.

But those details are just a few in a pile that officials will be racing through in hopes of getting the first marijuana business licenses issued in early 2016. “It’s really just the beginning for us,” Franklin says.

Read next: 7 Dizzying GIFs of Spinning Cannabis Strains

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Alaska

This State Leads the Country in Well-Being

A truck passes a street sign named for the Bore Tide at Turnagain Arm in Anchorage, Alaska, in 2014.
Streeter Lecka—Getty Images A truck passes a street sign named for the Bore Tide at Turnagain Arm on July 11, 2014 in Anchorage, Alaska.

Perhaps Sarah Palin knows something we don't

In terms of well-being, it seems Americans might want to move off the mainland: Alaska came in number one, with Hawaii following at second.

According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, this is Alaska’s first time in the top spot. But the bottom of the list hasn’t been so changeable. For the sixth year in a row, West Virginia came in last and Kentucky came in second-to-last in the 49th spot.

The 2014 index is based on 176,000 interviews with adults from all 50 states from January to December 2014, and is based on five aspects of well-being: purpose, social, financial, community and physical.

TIME States

Alaska Forced to Reroute Iditarod Sled-Dog Race Over Lack of Snow

Iditarod
Anchorage Daily News—MCT via Getty Images Mitch Seavey's dogs look back at the musher after they arrived at the White Mountain checkpoint during Alaska's Iditarod sled-dog race on March 10, 2014

Temperatures in Alaska are quickly increasing

The famous Iditarod sled-dog race will alter its route this year because of low snowfall.

This is only the second time in the race’s 42-year history that the climate has forced a course change, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports.

Temperatures in Alaska have been rising twice as fast as the national average, increasing an average of 6.3 degrees over 50 years, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Rocks and boulders that have been hidden for decades now block the dogs’ path to their finish line. This year, the race will start in Fairbanks rather than Willow and stretch over 1,000 miles.

[Fairbanks Daily News-Miner]

TIME White House

Obama Moves to Protect 12 Million Acres of Alaskan Wildlife

183745239
Getty Images Polar bears in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

It would be the largest such designation in more than 50 years

The Obama Administration will ask Congress to protect millions of acres of land in Alaska from a range of human activity including drilling and road construction, officials said Sunday.

If approved by Congress, the move would designate more than 12 million acres as wilderness, the highest level of federal protection, and protect native wildlife including caribou, polar bears and wolves. It would be the largest such designation in more than 50 years.

“Designating vast areas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as Wilderness reflects the significance this landscape holds for America and its wildlife,” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said in a statement. “Just like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of our nation’s crown jewels and we have an obligation to preserve this spectacular place for generations to come.”

The proposal will undoubtedly meet opposition in Congress. Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski condemned the move immediately as an act of federal overreach.

“It’s clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory,” she said in a statement. “The promises made to us at statehood, and since then, mean absolutely nothing to them.”

MONEY Health Care

The Most and Least Expensive Places in the U.S. for Health Insurance

South Franklin Street with Mount Roberts tram car passing overhead in Downtown Juneau, Alaska.
Alamy Buy your own health insurance? You're paying top dollar if you live in Alaska.

A survey of health insurance premiums on the exchanges finds that costs tend to be the highest in rural areas with less competition.

In health insurance prices, as in the weather, Alaska and the Sun Belt are extremes. This year Alaska is the most expensive health insurance market for people who do not get coverage through their employers, while Phoenix, Albuquerque, N.M., and Tucson, Ariz., are among the very cheapest.

In this second year of the insurance marketplaces created by the federal health law, the most expensive premiums are in rural spots around the nation: Wyoming, rural Nevada, patches of inland California and the southernmost county in Mississippi, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which has compiled premium prices from around the country. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

The most and least expensive regions are determined by the monthly premium for the least expensive “silver” level plan, which is the type most consumers buy and covers on average 70% of medical expenses. Premiums in the priciest areas are triple those in the least expensive areas.

Along with the three southwestern cities, the places with the lowest premiums include Louisville, Ky., Pittsburgh, and western Pennsylvania, Knoxville and Memphis, Tenn., and Minneapolis-St. Paul and many of its suburbs, the analysis found.

Starting this month, the cheapest silver plan for a 40-year-old in Alaska costs $488 a month. (Not everyone will have to pay that much because the health law subsidizes premiums for low-and moderate-income people.) A 40-year-old Phoenix resident could pay as little as $166 for the same level plan.

That three-fold spread is similar to the gap between last year’s most expensive area — in the Colorado mountain resort region, where 40-year-olds paid $483—and the least expensive, the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, where they paid $154.

Minneapolis remained one of the cheapest areas in the region, although the lowest silver premium rose to $181 after the insurer that offered the cheapest plan last year pulled out of the market. Premiums in four Colorado counties around Aspen and Vail plummeted this year after state insurance regulators lumped them in with other counties in order to bring rates down.

Cynthia Cox, a researcher at the Kaiser foundation, said the number of insurers in a region was a notable similarity among both the most and least expensive areas. “In the most expensive areas only one or two are participating,” she said. “In the least expensive areas there tends to be five or more insurers competing.” She said that other factors, such as whether insurers need state approval for their premiums and the underlying health of the population, may play a role as well in premiums.

The national median premium for a 40-year-old is $269, according to the foundation’s analysis.

Alaska’s lowest silver premium rose 28% from last year, ratcheting it up from 10th place last year to the nation’s highest. Only two insurers are offering plans in the state, the same number as last year, but the limited competition is just one reason Alaska’s prices are so high, researchers said. The state has a very high cost of living, which drives up rents and salaries of medical professionals, and insurers said patients racked up high costs last year.

Ceci Connolly, director of PwC’s Health Research Institute, noted that the long distances between providers and patients also added to the costs. Restraining costs in rural areas, she said, “continues to be a challenge” around the country. One reason is that there tend to be fewer doctors and hospitals, so those that are there have more power to dictate higher prices, since insurers have nowhere else to turn.

By contrast, in Maricopa County, Phoenix’s home, the lowest silver premium price dropped 15% from last year, when Phoenix did not rank among the lowest areas. A dozen insurers are offering silver plans. “Phoenix, during the boom, attracted a lot of providers so it’s a very robust, competitive market,” said Allen Gjersvig, an executive at the Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers, which is helping people enroll in the marketplaces.

The cheapest silver plan in Phoenix comes from Meritus, a nonprofit insurance cooperative. The plan is an HMO that provides care through Maricopa Integrated Health System, a safety net system that is experienced in managing care for Medicaid patients. Meritus’ chief executive, Tom Zumtobel, said they brought that plan’s premium down from 2014. The insurer and the health system meet regularly to figure out how to treat complicated cases in the most efficient manner. “We’re working together to get the best outcome,” Zumtobel said.

Katherine Hempstead, who oversees the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s research on health insurance prices, found no significant differences in the designs of the plans that would explain their premiums. “In most of the plans – cheap or expensive – there seemed to be a high deductible and fairly similar cost-sharing,” she said.

Highest and Lowest Premiums

Here are the 10 most and least expensive regions in the country–with the counties listed in parenthesis–based on premium prices for the lowest-cost silver plan. Regions are counties that share the same price for the same lowest-cost-plan and are either geographically contiguous or are part of the same rating area created by the state.

Premiums are listed for 40-year-olds; and for most states the difference in prices stays the same for people of any age. Vermont and two upstate New York area—Ithaca and Plattsburgh—also are among the 10 most expensive places, although those states do not let insurers adjust premiums based on the consumer’s age, making comparisons inexact. Older residents in those states will end up getting better deals than in most places, while younger ones tend to pay more.

10 Highest Premiums
Region Monthly premium
Alaska (entire state) $488
Ithaca, NY (Tompkins) $459
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi (Hancock) $456
Plattsburgh, NY (Clinton) $446
Rural Wyoming (Albany, Big Horn, Campbell, Carbon, Converse, Crook, Fremont, Goshen, Hot Springs, Johnson, Lincoln, Niobrara, Park, Platte, Sheridan, Sublette, Sweetwater, Teton, Uinta, Washakie, and Weston) $440
Vermont (entire state) $428
Rural Nevada (Churchill, Elko, Eureka, Humboldt, Lander, Mineral, Pershing, and White Pine) $418
Casper, Wyoming (Natrona) $412
Inland California (Imperial, Inyo, and Mono) $410
Cheyenne, Wyoming (Laramie) $401
10 Lowest Premiums
Region Monthly premium
Phoenix, Ariz. (Maricopa) $166
Albuquerque, N.M. (Bernalillo, Sandoval, Torrance, and Valencia) $167
Louisville, Ky. (Bullitt, Jefferson, Oldham, and Shelby) $167
Tucson, Ariz. (Pima and Santa Cruz) $170
Pittsburgh, Pa. (Allegheny and Erie) $170
Western Pennsylvania (Beaver, Butler, Washington, Westmoreland, Armstrong, Crawford, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, McKean, Mercer, and Warren) $179
Knoxville and Eastern Tennessee (Anderson, Blount, Campbell, Claiborne, Cocke, Grainger, Hamblen, Jefferson, Knox, Loudon, Monroe, Morgan, Roane, Scott, Sevier, and Union) $181
Minneapolis-St. Paul (Anoka, Benton, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott, Sherburne, Stearns, Washington, and Wright) $181
Memphis and suburbs (Fayette, Haywood, Lauderdale, Shelby, and Tipton) $184
North of Minneapolis (Chisago and Isanti) $189

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a nonprofit national health policy news service.

TIME Travel

These Are the Best Places to See the Northern Lights

Fairbanks, Alaska
Sherman Hogue/Explore Fairbanks Fairbanks, Alaska

Find out where to witness the aurora borealis, with reindeer sleigh rides, ice hotels, and hot springs included

At Finland’s Kakslauttanen Resort, you don’t even need to get out of bed to catch the northern lights. Gaze up through your glass-domed igloo, and you’ll drift off to sleep as emerald green, fuchsia, and indigo streaks light up the night sky.

North of the Arctic Circle in the vast Finnish Lapland, surrounded by towering pines, it’s a surreally beautiful place to experience the aurora borealis, which has been confounding and delighting observers for centuries. Towns across Scandinavia, Alaska, and Canada market the lights as the main attraction, offering experiences for adventurers and luxury travelers alike. It’s so ingrained in Norwegian culture that the government recently opted to add the neon lights to its passports by way of a black light feature.

There’s never been a better time to set out to view the spectacle. Not only are we in the midst of a solar maximum (when aurora activity is at its peak), but the United Nations also named 2015 the International Year of Light, making dark sky preservation and global awareness of light pollution priorities.

Before the scientific cause of the lights—charged particles from the sun colliding with atoms in Earth’s atmosphere—was understood, local legends provided all sorts of creative explanations. The Inuit people of Greenland, for one, believed the lights came from spirits of ancestors playing soccer with the skull of a walrus. These days, you can rough it like a musher in Greenland, staying in hunting cabins and tending to the dogs, all while hunting the aurora on World of Greenland’s three-day dogsled expedition in Kangerlussuaq.

In Churchill, Canada, you can watch the lights dance over a family of polar bears from the comfort of your mobile sleeper car. There’s even a chance to see the northern lights in the continental U.S.: Pennsylvania’s Cherry Springs State Park reported four sightings in 2014 and holds the highest designation given to a dark sky site, from the International Dark-Sky Association, meaning that light pollution in the area is minimal and the full array of sky phenomena (the aurora, faint meteors, zodiacal light) can be seen clearly from the park.

If 2015 is the year you vow to see nature’s light show for yourself, set your sights on these destinations.

Sweden

Every year, about 100 artisans meticulously create the Icehotel structure anew, using ice harvested from the Torne River here in Lapland, north of the Arctic Circle. Guests choose from a simple snow or ice room, a suite with intricate carvings, or the Northern Lights suite, complete with a light installation mimicking the natural wonder. When you’re ready for the real thing, set out on the hotel’s northern lights horseback tour or plan an excursion to the nearby Aurora Sky Station in Abisko(open November 30 through March 30). Located 900 meters above sea level, the station experiences little light or noise pollution—optimal conditions for viewing the northern lights. Ascend via chairlift, and indulge in a four-course meal before a guided tour and an evening of sky-watching.

Fairbanks, AK

The bitter cold that often comes with witnessing the northern lights can be a real deterrent. Enter Chena Hot Springs Resort, with its warm, mineral-rich healing waters. The resort’s adults-only Rock Lake offers the opportunity to enjoy a light show along with a soak. Fairbanks lies directly beneath a band of aurora activity, meaning from August to May, the town regularly experiences a celestial display of green, yellow, and purple. The phenomenon is most frequently seen between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m., but the early-to-bed crowd need not worry. Guests staying in Moose Lodge rooms can request to receive a phone call when the aurora is spotted in the sky.

Tromsø, Norway

Prefer your light show with a soundtrack? Turn up in Tromsø for the annual Northern Lights festival (in 2015, January 24–February 1). The nine-day celebration features more than 40 jazz, classical, dance, and electronic performances, with some events taking place outside, potentially under the aurora borealis. Stop in Emma’s Restaurant to refuel on fresh fish and local delicacies like reindeer meat, then make your way to the planetarium for some perspective on the science behind the lights. Tromsø is just north of the Arctic Circle, near the magnetic north pole, so it sees the lights regularly between October and mid-March.

Finland

The northern lights make an appearance over Finland about 200 nights per year. Doze off watching the dancing display from within a glass igloo at romantic Kakslauttanen Resort, 155 miles north of the Arctic Circle. And the next night, hunt for the aurora on a reindeer-drawn sleigh ride through the surrounding wilderness. In addition to two- and four-person igloos, accommodations also include a nearly century-old traditional log house with its own sauna. Hotel Iso-Syöte, on Finland’s southernmost mountain, is slightly more accessible and offers a similar glass-roofed experience in the Eagle’s View suite, along with snowshoeing, ice fishing, and overnight stays in traditional snow igloos, outfitted with reindeer pelts and specially designed sleeping bags.

Greenland

With minimal light pollution and near-perfect visibility in some places, Greenland provides exceptional odds for viewing milky-green lights. A three- or four-night stay during the aurora season (September to the beginning of April) practically guarantees a sighting. Settle into the Hotel Arctic’s igloos on the edge of the Ilulissat Icefjord; double rooms are outfitted with electric heating, TVs, and a small bathroom, with skylights and expansive front windows so that you can soak up the night sky from your bed. If roughing it is more your style, plan a trip to Kangerlussuaq. This former U.S. military base near the airport counts northern lights sightings 300 nights per year, and serves as one end of the popular three-day World of Greenland dogsled expedition. Participants sleep in hunting cabins, take care of the dogs, and experience the wilderness firsthand.

Read the full list HERE.

More from Travel + Leisure:

TIME People

A Man Survived 3 Days in Alaskan Wilderness Stalked by Wolverine

He could hear the helicopters of the search team fly past him

A man in Alaska survived three days lost in the wilderness in subzero temperatures after his snow mobile fell through the ice.

Craig Johnson was on his way to visit his family when his snow mobile started to sink, ABC reports.

As Johnson endured a 30-mile trek in search of help, a wolverine started to stalk him.

“You could hear it on the ice, just playing with me, toying with me,” he told ABC.

The 38-year-old faced a grueling three nights in the remote wilderness, sheltering in a wooden box he found on the ice, as search helicopters flew past him.

“That third night when they passed right be me — not even 200, 300 yards — that’s when I lost hope,” he said.

Read more at ABC.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com