The 5 Best Low-Cost Airlines

Low-cost airlines are finally getting their time in the spotlight as more travelers tighten their belts.

These days, with all the tacked on fees and bare-bones amenities, paying top dollar to fly on a legacy carrier isn’t worth the ticket price.

Budget carriers have long been a success story in Europe, where passengers give up frills for the chance to travel internationally on a shoestring. American and Asian travelers are quickly catching on: cheap tickets are out there and flying doesn’t have to be a high-cost, luxury affair.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to know the airline that you are considering flying with has glowing reviews from your peers.

With that, we rounded up the top five low-cost carriers based on recent customer satisfaction surveys by the travel industry’s leading players.

The Best Low-Cost Airlines, Based on Awards and Reviews
Next time you want to fly cheap, here are the carriers to consider:

1. AirAsia – This year, the airline was named the World’s Best Low-Cost Carrier – for the third consecutive year – at the World Airline Awards, which is voted on by 18.8 million airline passengers worldwide. In addition, it was voted as a finalist in About.com’s survey of Best International Budget Airlines (survey participants based their evaluation on airfare, efficiency, convenience, service, fee structure and availability). Based in Malaysia, it is the largest low-fare, no-frills airline in the Far East and it offers flights to more than 400 destinations in 25 countries. It’s been a pioneer in Asia – helping 3 billion people stay better connected to the rest of the world – as illustrated by its slogan: “Now Everyone Can Fly.”
Recent passenger review: “As good as it gets as far as low-cost carriers go, no check-in or baggage problems, allocated seats, on-time departures and arrivals, clean, modern A320’s and efficient and friendly cabin crews. Granted, not much leg room, but more than on some European operators, including a couple of full service airlines I can think of.”

2. JetStar Airways – Created as a low-cost subsidiary of Australia’s Qantas Airlines in 2003, JetStar flies to 18 domestic and 16 international destinations in seven countries across Asia, America and Oceania. It won second place for the World’s Best Low-Cost Carrier at this year’s World Airline Awards and was a finalist in About.com’s survey of the best international budget airlines.
Recent passenger review: “Comfortable seats, cabin crew very friendly. Movie played on overhead TV’s and flight updates via screens and lots of communication from captain. Smooth flight and not fussed about paying for food/drinks as flights worth the money.”

3. Virgin America – Created in 2007, this low-cost U.S. carrier, based primarily in San Francisco, provides cheap fares but high-quality service for “long-haul, point-to-point service” (i.e. direct flights between major metros on the East and West coast seaboards). It was the runner-up for World’s Best Low-Cost Carrier, and honored at the 2011 World Airline Awards for having the best overall guest service among budget carriers in North America. In the past several years, Virgin America has been lauded in Conde Nast Traveler’s Reader’s Choice Awards and Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards.
Recent customer review: “I was traveling with family and we were late. The ticket counter reps at Virgin America did a great job. They helped get my family (wife and 2 small ones) on board and set me up with a later flight with our luggage (we were too late to check the bags). They were very friendly, professional and helpful. Plane has comfortable seats, leg room (even in coach) and the individual screens make flying a joy. The fares we had were very good as well.”

4. JetBlue – For the sixth consecutive year, JetBlue won the J.D. Powers Award for best North American low-cost airline, besting major competitor, Southwest. It scored particularly well in customer satisfaction for aircraft and in-flight services and was one of a few budget carriers with a four-star rating by Skytrax. In addition, JetBlue was ranked second best among U.S. Airlines by this year’s Conde Nast Traveler’s Reader’s Choice Awards and Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards.
Recent customer review: “Unlike other airlines, I don’t have to worry about my bags going missing and I don’t have to pay a bag check-in fee. They don’t have First Class because they don’t need it. They have more legroom than others and snacks and drinks. Every seat has a personal TV with free DIRECTV and radio for your entertainment.”

5. easyJet – Being named the Best Low-Cost Airline in Europe at the World Airline Awards is no small feat, especially considering Europe is one of the most competitive regions for budget carriers in the world. EasyJet was also a finalist in About.com’s survey of Best International Budget Carriers and is the second-largest budget carrier in Europe, behind RyanAir. The fact that it operates out of major cities makes it attractive to leisure travelers. According to the airline, more than half of its passengers originate outside of the U.K., where the airline is based.
Recent customer review: “Liverpool-Madrid return. Punctual both ways, friendly crew without the hard sell of other no-frills airlines. Seating seemed cramped compared with the last time I used easyJet (2007), but you get what you pay for – ($143) return compared with over ($300), plus a change of planes, with national carriers from Manchester.”

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Published: December 1, 2011