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Best Airlines

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by Erika Armstrong Airlines Contributing Editor

Use our guide to research the best airline company for you. The ticket price and schedule are usually the primary factors consumers consider when choosing an airline for a specific trip, but customer care, rewards programs and seating options all factor into how enjoyable a flight will be. We explain how sticking with one airline for all of your personal and business air travel helps you save money in the long run, thanks to rewards programs that offer free flights, early boarding, waived fees for checked baggage and other perks for frequent travelers.

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Airline features to consider

Customer care

Airlines that offer additional services or just a little bit of extra care can make a big difference for some consumers. When dealing with the stress of flying, a good customer service experience can make all the difference.

  • No missing bags: Lost luggage can be a major inconvenience while traveling. Even if the airline locates the lost suitcase, delivery delays force travelers to spend money on wardrobe additions to fill the gap. If an airliner loses or damages your bag in the United States, the Department of Transportation requires that the airline compensate you up to a maximum of $3,300, but it can be difficult to prove.
  • Easy rescheduling: When something happens to change travel plans at the last minute, knowing that the airline can and will accommodate changes with no hassle is important.
  • Boarding assistance: When corralling several children or dealing with a disability, having a helpful attendant or getting priority boarding can keep everything moving.

Tiered seating

Having the option to pay more and upgrade seating can be important when booking business travel, for those who need extra space on a plane or those looking for a luxury experience. On the other hand, having the option for cheaper seats is just as important.

  • Economy class: Typically the least expensive type of seating, economy combines a lower price with the least amount of space per person. These seats are best for those who aren’t concerned with luxury and want to get somewhere inexpensively.
  • Business-class: Some airlines offer business-class seating, which typically includes extra legroom and upgraded food and beverage service. These are best for working men and women who have to travel a lot for their occupation.
  • First-class: Top-tier seating is rarely available on domestic flights, but airlines that offer this white-glove option give fliers plenty of space, extra attention and possibly gourmet meals. First-class can range from extra and bigger seats to fulling reclining seats and a private space divider. These seats are best for those looking to travel in luxury.

Reward programs

Most airlines offer some type of travel reward program for frequent fliers. Different programs offer different benefits.

  • Early boarding: Customers who fly with the same airline on a regular basis may earn enough points to get additional benefits such as early boarding or boarding right after or with first- and business-class passengers.
  • Automatic upgrades: Rewards members with a higher rating/points range may be eligible for automatic seating upgrades, free travel for companions, food and beverage services, extra luggage allowances or other benefits.
  • Free flights: Airlines may offer the ability to earn rewards that can be redeemed for travel/tickets on future trips.

Destination cities

Not every airline flies into every city or every country for that matter. Choosing an airline often depends on which departure and arrival cities are available.

  • Major cities: Most airlines offer flights to major cities, making commuter traffic a possibility for those that need to travel frequently.
  • Vacation destinations: Some airlines focus solely on vacation destinations such as Las Vegas, Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York and other top tourist destinations.
  • International airports: Many airlines support domestic travel, but only some offer flights to international destinations.

Added fees

Cost of travel is often a deciding factor in airline travel, but some airlines add fees for different conveniences. Those who are budget conscious should be aware of these.

  • Larger seats: On most airplanes, seat size is fairly standard. Upgrades are available for certain travelers, but a fee is normally added.
  • Baggage: The amount of luggage you can carry for free varies by airline. Normally baggage is weighed in pounds, and a fee is charged if the luggage is over a certain set weight. Some airlines offer one bag checked for free but will charge for extra checked bags.
  • Pets: Airlines often assess an additional fee for passengers traveling with a pet, but the amount can vary dramatically. It is important to check the airlines rules on the matter because a certain crate or other materials may be required.
  • Reserving a specific seat: Some airlines are now charging passengers who want to choose their seat. This is especially important for families who are trying to be seated together. If you want to guarantee you’ll be seated together, you may have to pay a fee.

Ticket pricing and policies

The price of an airline ticket can be the most important factor when booking a flight, so it is important to keep in mind other policies that can affect the total cost.

  • Discount flights: Discount flights for commuters may come with very low ticket prices and hidden fees. Be sure to look at the total cost of any trip to get the actual lowest price.
  • Refund policy: Before booking a flight, check into the refund policy. Some airlines only offer refunds on full price fares, so buying a refundable ticket might cost several hundred dollars more.
  • Transferable tickets: Businesses often book multiple flights for conferences and meetings. When one employee can't make the trip, transferring the ticket is a must. Look at the cost and policies involved if a last minute schedule change results in a different employee making the trip.

Types of airlines

Business-class airline

These airlines offer business-class travel between major hubs worldwide. Most airlines in this class offer no economy seating.

Passenger airlines

Passenger airlines provide safe, fast and reliable travel for passengers. Aircrafts used for passenger service usually have limited cargo capacity suitable for luggage transport.

Budget airlines

Offering some of the lowest fares, this category of airline also tends to have the fewest amenities and a more complex fee structure with added charges for checked baggage, in-flight snacks and other services.

Regional airlines

Some remote areas do not have easy access to major airports. Regional airlines fill the gap and provide commuter service between small, often remote, communities and larger airports.

Common airline passengers

Vacationers

Limited vacation time often puts travelers on a plane to reach their destination in time to enjoy it. Flights make it possible to live in temperate areas and vacation in the tropics.

Business travelers

Business can take people all around the world to handle logistical problems, line up contracts or close sales.

Frequent fliers

People who travel often for business and personal reasons can rack up a lot of miles in the air each year.

Holiday travelers

The holiday season brings many individuals and families to the airport for trips to a relative's house.

Not sure how to choose?

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    Airline author reviews

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    by Erika Armstrong Airlines Contributing Editor

    From the front desk of a busy FBO to the captain's seat of a commercial airliner, Erika Armstrong has experienced everything aviation has to offer. She is the author of A CHICK IN THE COCKPIT and her aviation articles can be found at Consumer Affairs, Plane & Pilot, Flying.com, Disciples of Flight, NYC Aviation, Contrails, Mentor, General Aviation News and Business Insider.

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