Virgin America soared to the top of the latest Consumer Reports ratings of airlines, receiving some of the highest satisfaction scores it has seen in years.
Consumer Reports’ airline ratings are based on a survey of 16,663 subscribers who were asked to rate their satisfaction with airlines’ check-in ease, cabin-crew service, cabin cleanliness, seating comfort, baggage handling, and in-flight entertainment.
Virgin America, which started in 2007 and has recently expanded the number of cities it serves to 21, received stellar scores across the board from Consumer Reports readers. Even though it charges $25 each for the first and second checked bags, it was the only airline to get the top score for baggage handling.
Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways were also rated highly. They are the only carriers on the list that let fliers check one (JetBlue) or two (Southwest) bags free of charge. Both also received high marks for check-in ease and cabin-crew service, but JetBlue scored higher for cabin cleanliness.
Spirit Airlines was at the bottom of the ratings, receiving the lowest marks across the board. The no-frills airline has fares that can be as low as 90 percent less than other carriers, but it charges a wide array of fees, including $10 to $19 to book a flight and $35 to $100 per carry-on bag. Readers were also sore about Spirit’s seats; it has the tightest seating space in the industry.
How to track down the best fare
You will have to shop around a bit to get a good ticket price. Here’s what Consumer Reports recommends:
Work the Web. Almost all of respondents (94 percent) who booked their own flights did so online. Of those respondents, 59 percent compared fees on other websites before they chose an airline. To uncover the best deal, cast that wider net.
Check prices on third-party sites. Expedia, Kayak, and Travelocity may list identical prices for flights, but they have different electronic reservation systems and add and remove fares at different times. Be sure to check airline sites, too, because sometimes they have sales that they don’t share with third-party sites. If you don’t have to book immediately, the airlines and price-comparison sites (add Airfarewatchdog, Hotwire, and Priceline to those above) might let you set price alerts; you will get an e-mail or text when prices drop.
Dodge the fees. Try to travel light or fly a low-fee airline, such as JetBlue or Southwest. If you need to check a bag or pay for a carry-on, see whether there’s a discount for prepaying.
Check your airline’s weight limits. For example, United charges $100 to $200 (depending on your destination) for a checked bag weighing more than 50 pounds, but less than 100 pounds. Overweight fees kick in at more than 40 pounds on Spirit. You might avoid certain fees if you charge your travel to the airline’s credit card.
Be flexible. Shifting travel dates by a day or two will often allow you to nab a much lower price. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays are generally the cheapest days to fly, says Rick Seaney, cofounder and chief executive of FareCompare, a travel website.
Check other airports. When you use price-comparison sites, specify the city you want to depart from, not the airport. Most sites will show you the flight options for any of that area’s airports.
Put it on hold. Thanks to regulations that took effect last year, you can hold a reservation for 24 hours without paying for it (as long as it’s at least a week from the scheduled departure date) while you check around for a lower fare.Consumer Reports writes columns, reviews, and ratings on cars, appliances, electronics, and other consumer goods. Previous stories can be found at consumerreports.org.