March 29, 2023

The Best Airlines of 2023

Air travel continues to roar back in the wake of its troubled slumber during the pandemic. Even after months of cancellations, delays, staffing shortages and fare hikes, a recent survey from the travel booking site Hopper found that 91% of people are planning to take at least one airplane trip this coming year. And the survey predicts that fares for this summer season will moderate a bit compared with their sky-high levels in 2022.

To help you navigate the chaos as you make your travel plans, here are Money’s picks for the five best airlines of 2023.

  • Delta - Best Airline for Reliability
  • Alaska - Best Airline for Pets
  • Southwest - Best Airline for Families
  • American - Best Airline for Rewards
  • JetBlue - Best Airline for Customer Satisfaction
  • Other Airlines to Consider

Best for Reliability: Delta Air Lines

• Great on-time performance • Can be more expensive than other carriers
• Free WiFi  
• Hubs in major cities across the U.S.  

Why we chose it: Though it tends to be pricier than other carriers — including some of our picks — Delta had the best on-time performance of all the airlines we reviewed. It also had the fewest instances of mishandled baggage.

Slightly more than 83% of Delta flights arrived on time between December 2021 and November 2022 — that’s the best record of any airline we considered. Delta is one of the “big three” airlines in the United States, along with American and United. It served more than 120 million passengers in 2022, and it flies to more than 275 destinations worldwide.

You’ll enjoy plenty of perks while you’re en route to your destination, too. Delta introduced free WiFi on most domestic flights last month (the rest of its domestic fleet will follow later this year); the service is garnering good reviews, but you must join Delta’s free SkyMiles rewards program to connect for free. Also, Delta’s in-flight entertainment suite features more than 1,000 hours of movies, TV, music and more.

Best for Pets: Alaska Airlines

• Expansive and relatively inexpensive pets policy • Fewer options for East Coast travelers
• Offers a Flight Pass subscription service, good for up to 24 round trips per year to certain destinations  
• Large network of international partner airlines  

Why we chose it: Alaska is the best airline for pets, thanks to its broad pet policies and relatively low fees.

Alaska allows dogs, cats, rabbits and household birds in the cabin for a fee of $100 per pet, each way. Dogs and cats must be at least eight weeks old and able to eat solid food, and their carrier cannot be larger than 17" x 11" x 7.5". The airline allows travelers to carry two pets in a single carrier, and one traveler is allowed two pet carriers, as long as a second ticket is purchased for an adjacent seat.

Unlike some other airlines, Alaska also allows pets to travel in an airplane’s climate-controlled baggage and cargo compartment. The fee is also $100, and the pet and carrier together can weigh up to 150 pounds. A wider range of animals are allowed in the cargo compartment, including ferrets, guinea pigs, hamsters, household birds, non-poisonous reptiles, pot-bellied pigs, rabbits and tropical fish. Certain breeds of short-nosed dogs and cats, like bulldogs and Persian cats, cannot travel in the baggage compartment.

Best for Families: Southwest Airlines

• Relatively easy for families to sit together • No seat assignments
• Two free checked bags • No first class or business class
• No cancellation or change fees • Won't switch you to another airline in case of delays

Why we chose it: Southwest makes it easy for families to sit together and change their travel plans, if necessary.

Southwest has long been beloved by a loyal customer base, and ranked first in the economy and basic economy category in J.D. Power’s 2022 North America Airline Satisfaction Study. Fans enjoy the carrier's low fares and lack of extra charges; Southwest doesn't charge to you switch or cancel flights, for example, and you can check two bags for free.

For some, the fact that Southwest also doesn't assign seats to travelers might be an inconvenience. But that practice allows families with young children to board the plane early — between groups A and B — to facilitate them sitting together.

The airline did make headlines over the holidays after disruption from a winter storm cascaded into the cancellation of more than 15,000 flights. Because Southwest does not partner with other major airlines, it was not able to rebook passengers on competitors’ flights to help ease the strain on its systems. Southwest compensated affected customers with refunds and extra rewards points, and has announced changes to its operations.

Despite the meltdown last year, we still think the airline is a good choice for families that need to stay flexible while traveling without paying an arm and a leg.

Best for Rewards: American Airlines

• Low threshold to redeem miles for rewards • Rewards points can expire
• Can also earn miles on JetBlue • Poorer on-time performance compared to Delta and United
• Large network, including many international partners  

Why we chose it: American’s simple rewards structure and large network make it a great choice for frequent travelers.

American’sAAdvantage rewards members earn points based on the number of miles they accrue flying with American itself or its partner airlines (including JetBlue) or by spending money with dozens of other partners including Hyatt and Marriott. Where other programs require at least 10,000 miles or points in order to redeem rewards, American's redemptions begin at 7,500 points.

Over the last year, American has revamped its rewards program to simplify the path to elite status. A user-friendly rewards map makes figuring out how to spend your points on a flight easy, and you can also use those points to purchase access to more than 100 airport lounges around the world. (One wrinkle, though: unlike some other programs, American's rewards miles eventually expire, so you need to carefully manage their age.)

Best for Customer Satisfaction: JetBlue

• The top carrier in multiple customer satisfaction surveys • Fewer flight options compared to larger carriers
• Free WiFi • Poor on-time performance compared to other airlines
• Screens on every seat  

Why we chose it: JetBlue ranked highest on multiple measures of customer satisfaction.

Much like Southwest, JetBlue has a loyal customer following thanks to its new, stylish planes, ample legroom and friendly service. The airline took the top ranking for first and business class and premium economy class in J.D. Power’s 2022 North America Airline Satisfaction Study, and ranked second (behind Southwest) in the economy and basic economy category. It also ranks first among all major U.S. carriers on the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Travelers also love the free WiFi on every flight and entertainment screens on every seat (on almost all planes), which allow access to such services as streaming Amazon Prime and satellite TV and radio.

Other Airlines to Consider

When it comes to air travel, there’s no one-size-fits-all option that’s ideal for everyone. The following carriers did not qualify as one of our top five picks, but merit consideration for the reasons we cite below.

United Airlines

The third of the “big three" domestic carriers— after Delta and American — offers a large network and robust rewards program that could make it the right choice for many people. That’s especially true for those who live near a United hub city like Chicago, Denver or Houston.
Why we didn't choose it: United lags behind most other major airlines in customer satisfaction.

Frontier, Spirit and Allegiant

Depending on your circumstances, these budget airlines might also make sense. All tend to charge very low fares, but travelers should expect to pay extra for just about everything else, from carry-on baggage to snacks to selecting your seat — so be sure to consider those add-ons when comparing costs with the carriers we picked.
Why we didn't choose them: These airlines also didn’t perform as well on measures of reliability, like timely arrivals, compared to the airlines we picked.

Copyright 2023 Money Group, LLC. All rights reserved. From By Sarah Hansen. Editor Paul Reynolds.

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