Flying a true budget airline gives you a bare-bones experience, unless you’re willing to pay. Pay to check your luggage. Pay to bring your carry-on bag on the plane. Pay for your seat.
But what if you want to fly with some style, but within a budget? GOBankingRates asked travel experts for their input on which airlines provide the best value for your travel budget.
Whether you’re a frequent flier or a less-frequent flier who wants a combination of a fair price and top-flight perks and customer service, the experts named these airlines as those deserving of your consideration.
Southwest Airlines received the highest praise from the experts. So what perks and policies gave Southwest the top honor?
“While it may be considered a no-frills airline, their offerings are perfect for domestic flights,” said Brittanie Harbick, co-host of the Travel Squad Podcast. “One major advantage is that you can check two bags for free with every flight, which alone will save you a minimum of $50 per flight. Another perk is the free drink coupons they send to Rapid Rewards members. Their online platform is user friendly, which makes flight bookings a breeze.
“My favorite perk is that if you notice a price drop on your purchased flight, you have the option to change your flight to the same one and receive a credit for the price difference, with the added benefit that the credit will never expire.”
Travel experts said you’ll want to join the Rapid Rewards program for the benefits that will come your way as you fly with Southwest more often.
“Becoming a loyalty member can unlock further benefits, especially if you achieve A-list, A-list preferred or companion pass,” Harbick said. “A-list status gives you perks like a dedicated customer service line, same-day standby and same-day change for no additional cost. However, my favorite status to earn is companion pass, which I’ve earned twice and grants me the privilege of adding another person to my reservation for only the cost of taxes. Companion pass has saved my household hundreds of dollars per flight, with a few thousand overall saved throughout the year.”
Delta Air Lines
To Hans Mast, a travel advisor with Golden Rule Travel, Southwest is the No. 1 option if you’re checking your bags. If you’re flying with just your carry-on, Delta Air Lines ranks at the top of the list for him.
“Their customer service is superior in every way: operational reliability, onboard service, plane interiors, pre- and post-purchase customer service and irregular operations recovery. They are the most willing of the U.S. carriers to quickly put you on competing carriers when things go wrong.”
Delta also has a couple of attractive extras, one especially reserved for first-class fliers, said blogger Jen Ruiz, who runs Jen on a Jet Plane.
“Delta’s new free Wi-Fi offering is attractive,” she said, “and they have lay-flat seats on Delta One for select domestic flights if someone wants bang for their buck in first class.”
Genni Franklin, blogger at the Traveling Franklins, is another Southwest fan who has almost equal admiration for JetBlue.
“I really enjoy the products with JetBlue and Southwest,” Franklin said. “These airlines know how to keep things simple and affordable without sacrificing convenience. I love the fact that they don’t make me feel like they’re constantly trying to empty my wallet, unlike some other budget carriers out there. Plus, they’ve got some awesome perks that make the whole flying experience even better and affordable.
“I also enjoy the snack selection on JetBlue. I cringe every time I get a Biscoff cookie or a Stroopwafel in economy with other airlines. For the low fare, the complimentary snack selection in JetBlue is one of the best in economy.”
“For international travel, Singapore Airlines is worth a mention,” said Laura Lynch, founder of Go Travel California. “Now, they might not be the first name on your lips when budgeting, but their services offer perks hard to ignore. They serve food that actually qualifies as ‘delicious’ — when was the last time you said that about airline food? Their flight attendants are so attentive it feels more like a high-altitude restaurant than an airplane. And their in-flight entertainment? It’s like your personal movie and TV show archive up in the clouds.”
“One airline that has stolen my heart is Emirates,” said Shelley Marmor, operator of Travel Mexico Solo. “The experience with Emirates is nothing short of mind blowing. The moment you step on board, you’re greeted with warmth and hospitality that melts your worries.
“Emirates doesn’t hold back when it comes to making your long-haul flights feel like a breeze. Spacious seats? Check. Delicious meals? Check. A vast selection of entertainment options to keep you entertained for hours on end? Double check. They’ve mastered the art of pampering you from takeoff to landing.”
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