The ticket price and schedule are usually the main factor 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.
Sticking with one airline for all of your personal and business air travel can wind up saving 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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Founded in 1930, American Airlines is now one of the world's largest airlines by fleet size and revenue. On an average day, the American Airlines Group flies approximately 530,794 passengers.
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United Airlines is a major U.S. airline that serves 342 airports in 58 countries, and has more than 4,600 daily departures. United has hubs in the four largest U.S. cities and offers the MileagePlus rewards program.
|Delta Air Lines|
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Delta started in 1924 as a crop-dusting operation. Today, this Atlanta-based airline serves 328 destinations in 57 countries and operates more than 15,000 daily flights. Its popular rewards program is called SkyMiles.
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Southwest Airlines serves more than 90 destinations and operates more than 3,800 daily flights. Customers' Rapid Rewards program points don't expire as long as their accounts are active at least once every 24 months.
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Spirit Airlines, founded in 1980, is an American low-cost carrier. They operate scheduled flights to over 50 destinations throughout the U.S. as well as the Caribbean, Mexico, Latin America and Canada.
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Frontier Airlines, headquartered in Denver, markets itself as a low-fare carrier. Customers choose options from an "a la carte" menu. It operates more than 275 daily flights to more than 40 cities in the U.S., Mexico and Jamaica.
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Air Canada has been Canada's leading airline since 1937. They serve over 38 million passengers annually and are committed to connecting Canadians to over 190 destinations around the World.
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Air India is the flag carrier airline of India and is India's most extensive flight service provider. The airline operates a fleet of Airbus and Boeing aircrafts serving Asia, Europe and North America.
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Founded in the 1930s, Alaska Airlines' fleet of Boeing aircraft serves more than 17 million customers per year and flies to more than 60 cities in three countries. The airline offers customers the Mileage Plan awards program.
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Alligiant was founded in 1997. It’s a publically traded company with headquarters in Las Vegas. The airline offers non-stop flights to popular U.S. locations, like Orlando and Las Angeles. They cater to budget-conscious travelers.
Airline features to consider
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.
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 leg room 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.
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.
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.
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 to want to chose 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
These airlines offer business-class travel between major hubs worldwide. Most airlines in this class offer no economy seating.
Passenger airlines provide safe, fast and reliable travel for passengers. Aircrafts used for passenger service usually have limited cargo capacity suitable for luggage transport.
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.
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
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 can take people all around the world to handle logistical problems, line up contracts or close sales.
People who travel often for business and personal reasons can rack up a lot of miles in the air each year.
The holiday season brings many individuals and families to the airport for trips to a relative's house.
Airline expert reviews
American Airlines is the world’s largest airline by fleet size and revenue. With headquarters in Ft. Worth, TX, they have an extensive international and domestic network with 953 aircraft making it the largest commercial fleet in the world.
Originally founded as a crop-dusting company in 1924, Delta is now one of the largest airlines in the world. Each year, more than 160 million travelers fly Delta.
With 723 aircraft in their mainline fleet and an additional 510 aircraft operated regionally, United Airlines has one of the largest passenger fleets in the world.
After incorporating in 1967, Southwest Airlines did not start taking passengers until 1971 after a long battle through the court system. Today, Southwest is the largest budget passenger airline in the U.S., launching more than 3,800 flights per day on peak travel days.
Founded in 1999, JetBlue has become known for innovation and leading-edge technologies. In 2013, they were the first airline to offer personal electronic device connection from gate to gate.
Founded in 1932, Alaska Airlines is now the seventh-largest passenger airline in the U.S. It is a West Coast favorite with corporate headquarters in Seattle.
Founded in 1994, Frontier Airlines now launches more than 375 flights each day to destinations throughout the U.S., Mexico and Jamaica. Today, this relatively new airline employs more than 3,000 aviation professionals.
Headquartered in Honolulu, Hawaiian Airlines is the eighth-largest commercial airline in the U.S. It has the distinction of being the oldest U.S. carrier to have avoided a fatal crash.
Even though the licensed logo and Virgin name are on the tail, Virgin Atlantic only owns 25% while the rest is owned by private investors who are U.S. citizens. Since its launch in 2007, the California-based airline’s mission has been to “make flying good again.”
Ryanair is a Dublin based low-cost airline that is Europe’s busiest international airline by passenger numbers. They fly 1600 flights daily to 185 destinations and boast the most on-time flights of any airline in Europe.
Qantas was founded in 1920 under the name Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Limited. Today, this airline is the largest in Australia for both domestic and international travel and one of the nation's largest employers with a roll call of more than 30,000.
Headquartered in Seoul, Korean Airlines is the largest airline in South Korea. This airline's combined passenger and cargo divisions offer service to 127 cities worldwide.
Founded in 1984 by Richard Branson, the owner of legendary record label Virgin Records, this airline started with a single plane. More than three decades later, Virgin Atlantic is now the second-largest long-haul airline in the UK.
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Founded in 1999, JetBlue operates more than 900 daily flights. Based in New York, it's the fifth-largest U.S. airline. Billed as a low-cost carrier, its fleet of 216 planes serves 97 destinations, primarily in the United States.
Emirates is the largest airline in the Middle East and operates flights to 148 cities in 78 countries. Its new Boeing 777 and Airbus A380 aircraft feature an entertainment system with 2,186 channels of video and 1,230 of music.
Ryanair, founded in 1985 and headquartered in Dublin, Ireland, operates over 550,000 flights yearly to 33 countries. They have an unblemished 31-year safety record and carry more international passengers than any other airline.
Lufthansa is a German airline and the largest in Europe, by passengers and fleet size, when its subsidiaries are included. Its Business Class seat measures 6.5 feet in length and can fold down to a horizontal bed.
Aeroplan was founded in 1984 and is headquartered in Montreal, Quebec. This Canadian company is a loyalty program, which has issued more flight reward seats than any other Canadian program.
Qantas is an Australia-based international airline founded in the 1920s. It operates Australia's largest domestic wide-bodied fleet and is committed to investing in fuel-efficient next-generation planes over the next decade.
British Airways is the flag airline of the United Kingdom. It flies the most Boeing 747s of any airline, with 42 still in operation, but recently has upgraded its fleet with Airbus A380s and A350s, and Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
Qatar Airlines, founded in 1997, is one of the youngest global airlines to serve all six continents. Their fleet of latest-generation aircrafts connects to over 150 destinations on the map.
Founded in 1929 and based in Honolulu, Hawaiian Airlines has 52 planes serving the United States and several Asian-Pacific destinations. It's the 8th-largest U.S. commercial airline and offers the HawaiianMiles rewards program.
AeroMexico, based in Mexico City, is the only airline in Mexico to offer inflight wifi. Their menu includes meals with special options designed by prestigious chefs and complimentary bar and snack service.
Aer Lingus is the second largest airline in Ireland and flies to destinations in Europe, North America and Turkey. Its longer flights to Europe and North America include a KidZone, where children can access special entertainment.
Founded in 1919, KLM is the flag airline of the Netherlands and the oldest airline in the world that still uses its original name. Renowned for its safety record, it allows customers to organize trips using a Facebook app.
Tiger Airways is a low-fare airline based out of Singapore. It flies to popular regional destinations in Southeast Asia, India and China. Passengers with long layovers are offered free sightseeing tours of the country.
Singapore Airlines is the flag airline of Singapore and the 10th largest in the world in terms of international passengers carried. The airline places an emphasis on its female flight staff, known as Singapore Girls.
Avianca Airlines, founded in 1919 has 180 planes in their fleet. With over 5,600 flights weekly, they serve more than 100 direct destinations in the Americas and Europe. They have been recognized for providing world class service.
|Cathay Pacific Airlines|
Cathay Pacific is the flag airline of Hong Kong and has won the World's Best Airline award four times, more than any other carrier. Since 2010, the airline has upgraded its cabins with more comfortable seats and larger screens.
LATAM Airlines is Brazil's largest air carrier by market share and fleet size. First Class cabins on the airline's new Boeing 777 aircraft feature spacious, stylish rooms with a sofa, dining area and chef-designed meals.
Iberia is the largest airline and flag carrier of Spain. Founded in 1927, Iberia flies to over 102 destinations in 39 countries. Iberia merged with British Airways, which created Europe's third largest scheduled airline.
As Italy's largest airline, Alitalia operates more than 4,400 weekly flights to 97 destinations. They are known for their award-winning menus, winning "Best Airline Cuisine" for six consecutive years by Global Traveler Magazine.
Air France is France's flag airline, operating independently despite a 2004 merger with Dutch airline KLM. Its Economy Class seats feature winged head rests and large touchscreens, which passengers can use to choose their meals.
Aeroflot is the largest airline and the flag carrier of the Russian Federation. It is one of the oldest airlines in the world, with origins dating back to 1923, and is undertaking an unprecedented fleet modernization program.
|Cebu Pacific Airlines|
Cebu Pacific Airlines is a Philippines low-fare airline that primarily operates domestic flights. Starting in 2009, Cebu Pacific removed fuel and insurance surcharges for all domestic and some international flights.
Copa Airlines, founded in 1947, is the flag airline of Panama. It serves 72 destinations in North America, South America, Central America and the Carribean. In 2015, it placed an order for 61 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.
Easy Jet is one of Europe's leading airlines, which has 2,000 pilots and over 4,500 cabin crew. The company has a fleet of over 200 Airbus aircrafts that travel to more than 30 countries.
Austrian Airlines is well-known for their family-friendly services and benefits including Family Check-In, priority boarding, specialized menus for children and babies along with entertainment programs and free ice cream cones.
|South African Airways|
Founded in 1934, South African Airways is an airline that serves 56 destinations. Their values are to be customer focused, to be accountable, to have integrity, to be safe, to excel in performance and to value their people.
|SWISS International Air Lines|
Awarded "Europe's Leading Airline - Business Class" for five consecutive years, Swiss International serves 102 global destinations from Zurich and Geneva. They are committed to offering high quality service and products.
After being privatized in 1969, Korean Airlines evolved into a major global airline. Its fleet of 158 planes (and counting) serves 129 cities in 46 countries. Korean Air is a member of the 20-airline SkyTeam global alliance.
Founded in 1984 by Richard Branson, Virgin Atlantic is known for operating the world's first commercial flight using biofuel as well as its innovative customer service. Virgin offers a three-tiered Flying Club rewards program.
China Airlines is the flag airline and the largest carrier of Taiwan. Its Premium Economy Class features 12-inch screens and 39 inches of legroom, so that passengers don't encroach on the space of the person behind them.
Kenya Airways is the flag airline of Kenya, and considered one of the leading sub-Saharan air carriers. The airline is the fourth largest in Africa and has one of the largest seat capacities among African airlines.
Asiana Airlines is one of South Korea's two principal airlines and serves 90 international passenger routes. Its new A380 Airbus offers First Class passengers a private booth and Economy Class passengers 18-inch-wide seats.
The first privately owned airline in Thailand, Bangkok Air started as Sahakoi Air in 1968 as a charter company. They began offering domestic flights in 1986, and now fly on major routes in Thailand and South Asia.
|Virgin America Airlines|
Virgin America was founded in 2007 and is based in California. The company is proud of it's new planes, their service and their innovative amenities, which include mood-lit cabins, leather seats, power outlets and more.
ExpressJet, a regional airline headquartered in Atlanta, operates as American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express. Their fleet has over 300 jets and flies to airports in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.
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