Alaska Airlines takes the top spot in the Points Guy survey of major US carriers


Flying is an emotional experience. Travelers can bond - and break up - with an airline before the first beverage cart rolls down the aisle. Which is why the Points Guy relied on unfeeling numbers, not capricious hearts, to calculate the Best and Worst U.S. Airlines in 2018. 

"We used data," not passengers' opinions, said Brian Kelly, the founder and chief executive officer of the Points Guy, a travel news and consumer-advice site. "But I was shocked that JetBlue scored so low."  

See, you cannot strip all the sentiment from an air travel study.  

In the website's second annual survey, JetBlue took the penultimate spot - eight places behind the champion, Alaska Airlines, and one above last place finisher Hawaiian Airlines. Yes, Kelly is bewildered by Hawaiian's low placement, too.  

"The last is not the worst," he said as a consolation.  

Hawaiian Airlines is not awful, he explained, but its higher fares and limited route network dragged down the airline like a coconut attached to the tail of a parrotfish. JetBlue, which earned high marks for cabin comfort and in-flight entertainment, dropped four places because of flight delays and low customer satisfaction, among other factors.  

"It didn't excel in any one category," he said.  

The study is based on 2017 facts and figures supplied by the On-Time Airline & Airport Rankings, the Transportation Department's Bureau of Transportation Statistics and Routehappy. The Points Guy, a savant of mileage plans, handled the airlines' frequent-flier programs. The team filed the findings under four categories: price (specifically, airfare and baggage and change fees), convenience (route network, on-time arrivals and cabin comfort), headaches (customer satisfaction, lost luggage and involuntary bumps) and extras (frequent flier programs and lounges). Price carried the most weight, with 25 percent of the total tally; route network accounted for 15 percent. The remaining components ranged from 2 percent to 10 percent.  

"We were thinking about consumers," he said of the categories. "The fliers come first."  

Kelly was not surprised Alaska held onto its crown for another year. "The airline continues to be a favorite of its customers, and ranked in the top 3 across half of our criteria - airfare, on-time arrivals, baggage handling, customer satisfaction and its best-in-the-industry frequent flyer program," the report stated. He was, however, stunned by some of the other results. For one, United.  

After a year of ghastly customer service, including the video-seen-around-the-web of security forces dragging a Louisville, Kentucky doctor off an overbooked flight, the legacy carrier fell only two spots, to fourth. Kelly said the airline redeemed itself by reducing involuntary bumps and lowering the number of passenger complaints by 17 percent.  

Another shocker: Spirit's rise to seventh place from rock bottom. (Last year, the site featured 10 airlines; for 2018, it listed nine, due to Alaska's purchase of Virgin America.) He said the budget carrier scored well on lost baggage, on-time arrivals and, of course, ridiculously low fares.  

"They deliver cheap tickets to people who want cheap tickets," he said.  

However, penny-pinching Spirit could not touch bounteous Southwest that occupied second place. The carrier scored big with its modest ticket prices, expanding route map and generous policies, including two free checked bags and no change fees.  

For next year's survey, Kelly said they might tweak some of the percentage weights and show how close the airlines ranked, so travelers better understand the tight race. This year, for example, Alaska was less than one point ahead of Southwest, and Delta and United were separated by only a few tenths of a point.  

"Maybe we won't call it the best and the worst," he said. "We will call it a ranking and see how the airlines can improve."  

The Points Guy is also considering a survey of transatlantic flights. Kelly said he plans to start collecting the indifferent data soon.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Travel

Universal opens Boutique with Marvel merchandise

Universal Orlando is offering another way to buy Marvel merchandise with a store called, simply enough, Boutique. It’s in the Marvel Super Hero Island at Islands of Adventure theme park.  Boutique carries Marvel-inspired goods, including comic-styled dresses, bedazzled handbags (plus one that looks very Iron Mannish), backpacks shaped like...
A low-key Mediterranean escape

Hotel Les Roches Rouges, St.-Raphael, France  90 Boulevard de la 36e Division du Texas; hotellesrochesrouges.com/en  Rates  Rooms start at 395 euros (about $462) during high season (July, August and September) and 280 euros other months.  A dreamed-of experience of the French Riviera is to find one of those secret and stunningly...
Hurricane-damaged Hawks Cay Resort reopening Aug. 30 after $50 million renovation

Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys is scheduled to reopen Aug. 30.  The resort, at Mile Marker 61 in the Middle Keys, was damaged in Hurricane Irma hit last September. The $50 million renovation includes the lobby on the main hotel, 177 guest rooms and public areas.   “We’re bringing back what guests loved about Hawks Cay...
As children head back to school, getaway for grown-ups

Adults-only vacations for parents appear to be growing in popularity. Expedia recently reported that social media posts about child-free trips doubled in the past year. Travel Leaders Group, which represents 50,000 travel agents in North America, reports an upsurge in adults-only travel — in particular romantic trips, getaways with friends and...
Devastating toxic algae bloom plagues Florida's Gulf Coast

LONGBOAT KEY, Fla. (AP) — Tons of dead fish. A smell so awful you gag with one inhale. Empty beaches, empty roads, empty restaurants.  A toxic algae bloom has overrun Florida's southern Gulf Coast this summer, devastating sea life and driving people from the water.   "I've never seen it this bad," said 31-year-old Heather...
More Stories