America's Best and Worst Airlines

Long one of the lowest rated of all U.S. industries, the country’s airlines have made something of a comeback over the past four years: in 2013 airlines scored just ahead of internet services providers at the bottom of the rankings maintained by the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Airlines’ rankings have improved by 4.3% and now sit ahead of wireless phone service and just behind internet social media services.

Much of the data related to consumer satisfaction with the airlines is based on customer surveys or reader polls. Researchers at The Points Guy chose to look at government reports and corporate financial reports to determine what consumers value most from an airline, and based on those findings, determine which airlines perform best.

The study did not include international carriers, nor did the researchers include international flights of domestic carriers. All told, The Points Guy’s research covered 10 U.S. carriers: Alaska Air Group Inc. (NYSE: ALK), American Airlines Group Inc. (NASDAQ: AAL), Delta Air Lines Inc. (NYSE: DAL), Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ: HA), JetBlue Airways Corp. (NASDAQ: JBLU), Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE: LUV), Spirit Airlines Inc. (NASDAQ: SAVE), United Continental Holdings Inc. (NYSE: UAL) and Virgin America (now part of Alaska Airlines, but maintained as an independent carrier).

The Points Guy divided 10 criteria and divided those into four main categories: price, convenience, headaches and extras. Price and convenience each accounted for 35% of an airline’s final score, while headaches counted for 17% and extras for 13% of the total. A full description of the criteria and methodology is available at The Points Guy website.

Here are the 10 airlines listed in rank order, from first to worst, along with a comment on the airline’s score:

  1. Alaska: ranked first for its frequent flyer program and top overall
  2. United: ranked second for cabin comfort along with JetBlue
  3. Virgin America: ranked first in cabin comfort
  4. JetBlue: tied with Alaska for cabin comfort
  5. American: ranked first in route network
  6. Southwest: ranked best in baggage/change fees
  7. Delta: ranked second in route network
  8. Hawaiian: ranked first for on-time arrivals
  9. Frontier: ranked second in airfare
  10. Spirit: ranked first in airfare (lowest)

Interestingly, low fares, absent just about anything else, is not enough to push an airline up in the rankings. Top-rated Alaska ranked fourth in lowest airfare behind Spirit, Frontier and Virgin America, but second in on-time arrivals and customer satisfaction.