Shared Reading: Best Airlines for Different Fliers


Smart Money has released a comparison of major airlines to help readers decide which airline meets their needs for travel. To see the best and worst in each category see the original article on Smart Money.
1) Getting a cheap flight
During the first quarter of 2011, domestic airfares averaged $356, according to the Department of Transportation. That's up 8.4% from the same period in 2010. But it's not the fares so much as the fees that are eating into consumers' bottom line these days.
Don't just look at the ticket price and assume it's the best deal. Extra fees such as checked bags and reserved seating can quickly turn your great deal into an overpriced headache.

2) Arriving on time
Barring a major snowstorm or other cataclysmic event, travelers face pretty good odds of getting where they need to go on time, or close to it.
It is rare, but occasionally airlines will sell more tickets than they actually have on the plane. When this happens you might be bumped to a later flight. While annoying, this can actually be used towards your benefit. If you are bumped, be polite to the airline employees and you might find yourself with an upgrade to first class or a free ticket for a future trip.

3) Checking a bag
Travelers who paid to check a bag were much less happy with their carriers than those who didn't, rating their experience a 58 instead of the industry average 68, reports the American Customer Satisfaction Index.
I've been lucky to always have my luggage get from point A to point B but I do know people, including a few family members, that have needed to go shopping in the hotel gift shop the first night before their bags made it to the destination. Make sure you keep your checked luggage receipts so they can track your bags if something happens. Also, ask the representative if they have a courtesy bag. Some airlines will give you a small bag with a travel size toothbrush, toothpaste, and other essentials until they can track your bags.

4) Flying in comfort
Airlines have varied configurations for seat width and leg room (often expressed "seat pitch," which measures from any point on one seat to the same point on the seat in front of it). The difference, says 6'1" Daimler, is enough to make it worth comparing seat size along with fares and fees -- especially on longer flights. Travelers should also take a look at the amenities included with their seat, like snacks and in-flight entertainment.
I am not as tall as the person quoted, but I am 5'10" and always feel like my legs are squashed on airplanes. Even within the coach section of a plane, leg room can vary based on the seat. Frequent fliers have known for years that the exit row has slightly more room, but now the airlines are cashing in on that knowledge. When considering the full value of an upgrade, see exactly what is being offered. Some of the "coach-plus" seats come with a free checked bag or other add-ons that make the value worth it.

5) Redeeming rewards
Reward travel has proven increasingly elusive for travelers in recent years as airlines scaled back schedules and shifted to smaller planes, leaving fewer award seats. ... Consider shifting your loyalty to a hotel program that will let you transfer in miles so that you can at least get a free room on your next trip, if not a free flight.
Loyalty programs are used by airlines to encourage customers to be just that, loyal. While all programs benefit the airlines, some are better than others for the customer. The best programs are those that transfer between a few partnering airlines or combine airlines with hotels.


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