Delta Air Lines remains at the top spot for best overall experience for flyers, according to a new study conducted by The Points Guy. Meanwhile, Allegiant Air received the lowest ranking of the 10 major carriers.
While the 2020 Best Airlines report focused on COVID-19 safety protocols and keeping fliers safe in the sky (https://thepointsguy.com/news/tpg-2020-best-and-worst-airlines/), The Points Guy has taken a more traditional methodology for 2021 as the travel industry makes a comeback, highlighting the best overall experience for flyers.
The four objective categories to determine the final rankings include reliability (30%), experience (25%), loyalty (25%), and costs and reach (20%). The full rankings include:
1. Delta Air Lines
2. Southwest Airlines
3. United Airlines
4. Alaska Airlines
5. American Airlines
6. JetBlue Airways
7. Hawaiian Airlines
8. Spirit Airlines
9. Frontier Airlines
10. Allegiant Air
“Once again, Delta Air Lines rose to the top of TPG’s Best Airlines analysis,” says Nick Ewen, Senior Editor at The Points Guy. “The data showed that the carrier offers consistent, high-quality performance — from its reliability to the in-flight experience to its SkyMiles loyalty program. As the travel industry continues to bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic, Delta is well-positioned to capitalize on the rebound.”
Delta Air Lines cruises at number one for top-performing areas such as reliability and travel experience. Delta tied with Allegiant and Hawaiian for zero involuntary bumps during the 12-month period, shared the top spot with Alaska Airlines for lounge access, ranked second for frequent flyer programs, and was part of the four-way tie for runner-up in customer service (below 10 complaints per 100,000 passengers). While the carrier didn’t stand out in any single category (they scored consistently across all the criteria), this helped push them to the top spot for the third year in a row.
Southwest Airlines follows shortly behind with high remarks for customer satisfaction, bag/change fees, and award availability. Southwest ranked #1 in customer satisfaction (an average of just 3.17 complaints per 100,000 passengers) baggage/change fees ($0.31 in these fees per passenger) and award availability (they offered the widest availability at the best value compared to other programs). They were docked for lack of lounges.
Low-cost carriers like Allegiant Air and Frontier rank poorly due to timeliness, cancellations, and their no-frills experience (including no Wi-Fi, no entertainment, and no outlets). Additionally, Allegiant Air requires passengers to be co-branded credit cardholders to earn miles. This exclusion results in the low-cost carrier scoring near zero in the loyalty category.
TPG's editorial team carefully reviewed published policies as well as real-time reports to score each airline across these elements for each of the four broad categories. To focus on the airline’s operational performance during the COVID-19 pandemic, all data was based on flights operated between a 12-month period that ran from April 1, 2020 through March 31, 2021. Ranking categories included:
- Reliability (30%): Timeliness, cancellations, involuntary bumps, baggage and wheelchairs/scooters
- Experience (25%): Cabin features (including seats and entertainment), quantity and accessibility of domestic lounges, family-friendly policies and customer satisfaction/complaints to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)
- Loyalty (25%): Frequent flyer and award availability
- Costs and Reach (20%): Route network, affordability and bag/change fees
For all criteria, the raw scores from the data were converted into a scaled score from 0-10 and then weighted using the above percentages to arrive at the final score. This ensured that relative differences among the airlines were accounted for in the computation — as opposed to a 1-10 ranking system that would ignore large gaps in performance between two carriers.