Which Airline Has the Most Comfort and Customer Satisfaction Per Dollar?

Published on June 13, 2014 by

Summary

  • Hopper looked at ticket prices, airline fees, customer satisfaction surveys and seat size and pitch to identify the best and worst airlines for different types of travelers (Table 1).
  • Spirit is on average the cheapest U.S. airline (from those analyzed) when no additional fees are incurred for services such as checked luggage, snacks, etc, which makes them a great choice for budget travelers.
  • JetBlue is on average the cheapest U.S. airline when fees for a carry-on, two checked bags, and seat selection are added in. It has the highest customer satisfaction per ticket price and the largest seat area and pitch on the top five domestic routes. These factors combine to make JetBlue a great choice for standard, service focused, and comfort focused travelers.
  • AirTran has the best seat area and pitch per dollar spent on a flight (on the top five domestic routes), making it a great choice for comfort focused travelers looking to get the best deal.

 

Traveler Type Best Airlines Worst Airlines
Budget Spirit, Frontier Delta, Alaska
Standard JetBlue, Virgin America Delta, Alaska
Customer Service Focused JetBlue, Virgin America United, Alaska
Comfort Focused JetBlue, AirTran Spirit, Alaska

 Table 1: Best and Worst Airlines by Traveler Type (Note: Standard Traveler includes carry-on, two checked bags and seat selection)

 

Airline Prices

Hopper has looked at ticket prices, customer satisfaction, and seat pitch and size for 10 US airlines to figure out what travelers get for their ticket price and to see which airline provides the best deal for the most comfort and satisfaction.  The study includes Spirit, Frontier, AirTran, JetBlue, American, Virgin, USAirways, United, Delta, and Alaska Airlines.  The notable exception from this list is Southwest which is not included because it does not share data with GDSs. Looking at base ticket price (does not include airline fees), Spirit Airlines is the cheapest large domestic airline followed by Frontier and AirTran (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Good deal price for domestic U.S. airlines (April and May 2014) *this analysis does not include every US airline

 

The least expensive airline can change based on what amenities travelers select and what fees each airline charges. Ranking the airlines by total ticket price when a carry-on, two checked bags and seat selection fees are included, JetBlue becomes the least expensive major domestic airline followed by Virgin America and AirTran. Spirit Airlines falls to 6th place, while Delta and Alaska remain at the bottom.

The actual total ticket prices will change based on what route travelers take and also what specific amenities they choose, which affects the fees charged. Hopper has built an airline fees calculator to help fliers pick the best airline on a route with fees factored into the cost.

Figure 2: Good deal price for domestic airlines (April and May 2014) with added fees.

 

Comfort and Customer Satisfaction

Looking at two different reports analyzing customer satisfaction for different U.S. airlines, JetBlue consistently has the highest customer satisfaction for each dollar spent on a ticket. Virgin and Frontier airlines also perform well, while United consistently scores near the bottom.

Figure 3: Satisfaction rating per dollar (Using 2013 Consumer Reports and 2014 April and May prices)

 

Figure 4: Satisfaction rating per dollar (Using 2013 JD Power report (2) and 2014 April and May prices)

 

We also looked at “cost per seat inch” and “pitch” on the top five domestic routes. We found that that JetBlue has the largest pitch and seat area and Spirit has the smallest. On a dollar/pitch basis, Alaska is the worst and AirTran the best. On a dollar/area basis, US Airways is the worst and AirTran the best. Note that Spirit Airlines “Extra Room” option gets fliers an additional 8" for $12-$199 dollars. If travelers can get this option for under $100, they’ll get the largest seat available at 36" pitch for a below average price (not adding in any other Spirit Fees).

  • Smallest Pitch: Spirit (28")
  • Largest Pitch: JetBlue (34")
  • Smallest Width: Sun Country (17")
  • Largest Width: US Airways, Alaska, American, Frontier (18")
  • Smallest Area: Spirit (497 sq. in.)
  • Largest Area: JetBlue (605 sq. in.)
  • Worst $/Pitch: Alaska (>$28, JFK-LAS)
  • Best $/Pitch: AirTran ($10.81, LGA-LAS)
  • Worst $/Area: US Airways ($1.60, LAX-HNL)
  • Best $/Area: AirTran ($0.60, LGA-LAS)

 

1. Consumer Reports (subscription needed)

2. http://www.jdpower.com/press-releases/2013-north-america-airline-satisfaction-study

 

Data and Methodology

The flight price data presented in this analysis comes from Hopper’s combined feed of Global Distribution Service (GDS) data sources which includes about 10 million queries and 1 billion trips per day. Demand is represented as the number of queries not actual ticket purchases, and is calibrated across all GDS sources for each market. Good deal prices are represented by the 10th percentile prices. For example if the 10th percentile price is $800 dollars it means that only 10% of trips are priced at or below this price.

Consumer reports and JDPower surveys of customer satisfaction were also used.

The study includes Spirit, Frontier, AirTran, JetBlue, American, Virgin, USAirways, United, Delta, and Alaska Airlines.  The notable exception from this list is Southwest which is not included because it does not share data with GDSs.

46 Comments

  1. Kenneth Englade

    Interesting that you didn't include Southwest Airlines in your study. As an Albuquerque resident that is often the first option.

    • Patrick Surry

      We'd love to include Southwest but unfortunately they won't share pricing information with us, so we couldn't compare on a like-for-like basis.

    • Mike

      And how would Southwest compete in this anyway - horrible 'cattle style loading' and seating....and the pricing is usually not as good as they make it out to be...maybe out of ABQ where you don't have that many options, but in most larger markets they don't compete really - besides that you add like 3 stops to fly from Seattle to Kansas City

  2. [...] site Hopper ranked airlines for different types of travelers by analyzing seat size and pitch (defined as “the distance [...]

  3. [...] site Hopper ranked airlines for different types of travelers by analyzing seat size and pitch (defined as “the distance [...]

  4. Greg

    No Southwest? Get not including smaller airlines, but they're too big to ignore.

    • Patrick Surry

      We'd love to include them, but unfortunately they won't share any pricing data with us.

      • Patrick

        Then it's not much of a survey

  5. William Wilson

    You can see southwest prices by going to their web site. Why would you need a quote from them to know their prices? Too lazy to look them up yourself?

    • Patrick Surry

      William, thanks for chiming in!

      While it is true that Southwest's prices are available through their website, it is not a simple process for an automated system to scrape this data, for reasons both technical and legal. Our computers crunch billions of data points to come up with trends that are easier for people to understand without having to sift through all of the data themselves: legal restrictions aside, having humans collect this data manually from the Southwest website would require enough time that the data would be out of date by the end of collection, besides the task being completely infeasible.

      Our analyses are obviously better the more data we have, and we are constantly working to acquire more-complete data; unfortunately, this is not always possible, since some airlines require consumers book through the airline's own website to avoid third-party fees, and as a result do not circulate fare data to consumer sites like Hopper.com.

      We wish we could provide reliable data about airlines like Southwest, too, but barring greater openness from them, it is simply not possible!

  6. Dick Wieman

    Even though Southwest would share ticket prices is misleading not to mention that fact leaving one to believe your survey is complete and those are the only options travelers have. They should have been noted as not sharing pricing.

    • Patrick Surry

      Thanks for the feedback. We'll clarify which airlines were covered in the research.

  7. Bob

    Doesn't matter. Southwest is the best.

  8. [...] new survey from Hopper has analyzed the value passengers are getting for their ticket price and compared the results to [...]

  9. JP

    Someone needs to check their facts. Figure 4 has Frontier second best based upon JD Power Rating/$ yest they were scored at the very bottom of the ratings. And Alaska shows last yet they were an award winner with the highest ratings.

    • Patrick Surry

      Our chart is based on rating per dollar, not raw rating, which is why the ordering is different.

  10. Mia

    Seeing United last a couple of times makes me smile.

  11. Chris

    No Southwest? The largest US domestic carrier and you leave them out?

  12. [...] new survey from Hopper has analyzed the value passengers are getting for their ticket price and compared the results to [...]

  13. Darrell

    your study has no cred when you can't look at a web site a compare price and fees. It's bias because Southwest and other small carriers do not us travel sites and pay their fees.

    • Patrick Surry

      Thanks for your feedback. Our pricing analysis of other airlines is based on millions of current and historical price data points. Comparing to a few current prices taken from Southwest's website isn't a viable option unfortunately. We're big advocates of more transparency in pricing, but unfortunately the way the airline industry currently works makes it very difficult to get comparable data, and tough for consumers to do "apples to apples" comparisons.

  14. Mike

    I am really surprised about this research - I am in Seattle, and Delta is frequently the best price option to their domestic destinations. I will say however that their international price structure out of Seattle is not always competitive. But that is not what this research was going for it seems.
    Alaska being the worst airline also really surprises me. Alaska is frequently awarded as one of the most customer friendly airlines all around - and here they get the last spot on a few research items? Odd. I also would like this research extended to the business traveler. That is who pays the biggest $ to the airlines - shouldn't their opinion really matter here, since they fly the most miles usually? Research, mmmmhhhhh.

  15. Tracie Wells

    Interesting that you have Alaska Airlines rated at the bottom of the charts. One of your charts is incorrect, and that chart in particular shows Alaska at the bottom of the JD Powers listing. Alaska has won the JD Powers award for being THE BEST network carrier in the United States for 7 straight years!! Also, Alaska has won more awards than any US carrier in history. Clearly this survey is and was flawed. Southwest is not listed, nor is Hawaiian, just to name a few that were not a part of the survey.

    • Patrick Surry

      Thanks for your feedback. Our charts are rating based on satisfaction per dollar, not just the raw satisfaction score,
      i.e. we divide each by the airline's weighted average domestic ticket price.
      Alaska's prices tend to be higher which is why they aren't at the top of our chart.
      Southwest won't provide access to current and historical pricing data, in contrast to the billions of ticket prices we look at for the other airlines. Hawaiian airlines wasn't included in the JD Powers survey so we couldn't compare them on a like-for-like base.

      • Steve

        What a completely flawed "research study" this way. Alaska doesn't even fly out of JFK, so not sure how you can compare them on a route which they do not fly (nor have ever operated). What an absolute piece of crap story this is. Go do your homework.

        • Patrick Surry

          Alaska sells codeshare tickets with both Delta and American out of JFK.

          • Chris

            My goodness, those flights operate on AA and DL aircraft with AA and DL seats. You're rating Alaska Airline based on the American or Delta experience. That could not possibly be more misleading to consumers. I find zero value in this survey.

            I think your survey deserves a disclaimer that Southwest data is not included. Too many people have direct experience with them and have noted their absence.

  16. Paul

    Spirit Airlines is horrible!! Dirty planes. Sassy and rude flight attendants. Extremely uncomfortable seats. Need I mention the outrageous costs for checked baggage (which they asses per LEG of a trip rather than per trip). On the other hand... Southwest Airlines must have "something up" that they do not wish to share at the moment. It probably has a lot to do with the lifting of the Wright Amendment and Love Field in Dallas. It is funny how a worn out old liberal pork barrel politician can screw up not only an airport but also the ability of a great airline to serve it's clientele in one of the 10 largest metro areas in the US? Oh well... Hell ain't half full. And there is a special little corner there waiting for Jim Wright. When he gets there I hope he sizzles!!

  17. [...] of the study broke down “seat area:” AirTran, researchers found, offers the most total seat area for your dollar. This means that on AirTran, passengers pay the least for the most seat width and seat pitch (a term [...]

  18. [...] of the study broke down “seat area:” AirTran, researchers found, offers the most total seat area for your dollar. This means that on AirTran, passengers pay the least for the most seat width and seat pitch (a term [...]

  19. Chris

    Worst $/Pitch: Alaska (>$28, JFK-LAS)
    What does this mean? Alaska does not fly to JFK - at all, and certainly not between JFK and LAS.

    Honestly, given their reputation, I would think a person would seriously reconsider any study parameters that results in them being last 4 times, and United once - esp. with UA as the lowest rated carrier per the DOT. Fine if your numbers prove it, but that does not reflect reality.

  20. Stan McClintock

    Southwest Airlines is always No. 1 in Customer Service. Also they don't charge anything for the 1st. two (2) bags. Oh, they also have the lowest complaints of any Airline. Hard to believe you would publish a report without even mentioning them. Go Southwest!

  21. Mike Howe

    This is a pointless survey! If you don't even make the effort to tackle the Southwest data, you are just being self-serving to attract people to your website. All of you explanations don't resolve the fact that you just ignore the third largest carrier in the US. And, not even a disclaimer on the survey as to whey Southwest is not included. Sophomoric at best.

    • Patrick Surry

      Given that Southwest won't share comparable data, there doesn't seem to be much option to do data-driven comparison. We've added a more prominent list of the included and excluded carriers.

  22. [...] of the study broke down “seat area:” AirTran, researchers found, offers the most total seat area for your dollar. This means that on AirTran, passengers pay the least for the most seat width and seat pitch (a term [...]

  23. Linda

    No Southwest? Not much of a survey, they are clearly the best!!! I especially love that they will let you change your flight as often as you need to and never pay a fee...

  24. [...] Airline Seat Space for a Buck The flight-planning site Hopper crunched a numbers and resolved that AirTran Airways, that is owned by Southwest, offers a best [...]

  25. [...] Airline Seat Space for the Buck The flight-planning site Hopper crunched the numbers and concluded that AirTran Airways, which is owned by Southwest, offers the [...]

  26. [...] Airline Seat Space for the Buck The flight-planning site Hopper crunched the numbers and concluded that AirTran Airways, which is owned by Southwest, offers the [...]

  27. [...] Airline Seat Space for the Buck The flight-planning site Hopper crunched the numbers and concluded that AirTran Airways, which is owned by Southwest, offers the [...]

  28. [...] Airline Seat Space for the Buck The flight-planning site Hopper crunched the numbers and concluded that AirTran Airways, which is owned by Southwest, offers the [...]

  29. [...] Airline Seat Space for the Buck The flight-planning site Hopper crunched the numbers and concluded that AirTran Airways, which is owned by Southwest, offers the [...]

  30. [...] Airline Seat Space for a Buck The flight-planning site Hopper crunched a numbers and resolved that AirTran Airways, that is owned by Southwest, offers a best [...]

  31. [...] Airline Seat Space for the Buck The flight-planning site Hopper crunched the numbers and concluded that AirTran Airways, which is owned by Southwest, offers the [...]

  32. Christy

    Interesting take on analyzing the ever-under-scrutiny (yet never-really-seems-to-care) airline industry.

    (As a side note, I can't believe the number of people who clearly didn't read the article and then outed themselves by complaining about the lack of including Southwest. I thought your omission of SW was clearly stated in the article, not to mention fair and appropriate, given the data you have to work with.)

    I think all of the breakdowns by cost is an interesting take, but one that I would argue strongly against, unless you used some sort of an adjustment factor to account for flight distance and popularity. Please surprise me and tell me that you did?

    • Patrick Surry

      Yes, we looked at average distances by carrier and found there wasn't much difference, and focused on the most popular routes to make the comparison as consistent as possible.

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