U.S. Domestic Airlines Ranked for the Budget Traveler

Monday, August 20, 2018

Recently I’ve been traveling a lot. Not for long periods of time but I’ve been on 4 round trips flights in the past month and a lot of you have noticed and asked how I can afford to travel so much and what airlines I’m taking. Well, you asked, I’m telling and I’m ranking so you know what you’re getting into with your airline and being a cheap flyer. 

First things first, do your research. Don’t look once at flights and book right away. Look, look again, look on some other travel sites, and then look one last time. 

Second, I would like to preface this list with the fact that I feel I’m about one step above your average traveler. I know what’s expected at security, I know how to line up and load in when my zone is called, and if there is an issue I am the most pleasant person to deal with. I say that with confidence because my flights have been canceled, delayed, then canceled again, etc. Whatever can happen, has, at some point, happened to me. When I go and talk to the desk agents I understand that yelling at them will most certainly not get me what I want. I’m more likely to get my answer if I approach in a pleasant manner because at the end of the day it’s not their fault the weather sucks or there are mechanical issues on the plane. 

I also know I’m the one buying the cheapest ticket so I don’t expect luxury. I expect common courtesy and human decency though because at the end of the day I am still a paying customer. 

With all of that in mind, I present to you my budget traveler airline list, ranked from worst to best. 

Worst to Best 

6. United - Fly the Friendly Skies

They have the most flights but honestly, I rarely have a good experience with this airline. They have competitive pricing but only in their basic economy category, which if you use Expedia, is typically what you’re going to get. Basic-economy does not allow you to have a carry-on, guarantees you a middle seat with no chance of changing even if there are open seats (you’re on restricted access) and you’re usually the last to board. It’s decent if you can fit everything into a backpack but it better be a small backpack because on multiple occasions they have measured my personal item and have charged me on the spot.  If you don’t book Basic Economy then you pay a boatload to get to your destination which is usually not a direct flight, so expect a layover somewhere. Their lounges are hit or miss so you could be waiting in a teched out area or somewhere that hasn't seen renovations since the 90s.

5. Allegiant Air - Travel Is Our Deal.

The in-flight features aren’t so bad. I honestly think the amount of legroom they provide their customers is very competitive with other airlines especially on their newer planes but their flight attendants need a lot of work. I’ve yet to have a friendly flight attendant on an Allegiant flight. So if you can afford to take a verbal punch for (usually) a direct flight then they’re not the worst option. This could be just the routes I take with them but it seems like their planes are not as well equipped to handle turbulence as I typically feel EVERY bump and hear every noise the plane makes. I guess that Explains why they were just in the news recently for mechanical issues though. *le sigh* Also, you have to be flexible for their schedule. They may only fly to your destination once or twice a week so be sure to time 

4. Spirit - Less Money. More Go.

Spirit is Spirit. There’s not much I can say. They advertise low low prices but that’s because they nickel and dime their customers at every other turn. I’m never excited to fly spirit, it’s just kind of something I accept. A HUGE plus in my eyes, their planes are fairly clean, neat and NEW. I don’t want to feel like I’m sitting on some old leather couch from my great aunt Meryl’s house. Their staff is relatively friendly. Nothing stands out in relation to horrible customer service. I’d almost say their staff is “low budget travelers serving low budget travelers.” Right? Like I feel like my flight attendant and I can level and understand we’re both here because we are ballin' on a budget. Bring your own snacks and buy a water bottle at the airport. This will save you money in the long run because they do not serve complimentary drinks to the flight. 

3. Frontier- Low Fares Done Right.

These flights are typically pretty empty. Obviously, its all about your destination which could alter that but I've yet to be on a full Frontier flight. They have aggressively expanded their routing network so more destinations are popping up on their maps. They do tend to have some issues (a mix of scheduling and mechanic) but they are more than happy to offer up meal vouchers and  more than adequate flight vouchers to make up for any delays. I wouldn't run to them for booking right away because they also charge for carry on baggage but they are extremely loose in defining their personal item sizing so I typically can get away with any size bag as long as it fits under my seat. 

2. Delta - Keep Climbing

Delta flies pretty much everywhere. You are more than likely going to be able to book a Delta flight from any airport. The convenience of this airline is what really does it in for me. I don't fly them too often because I live right next to a major airport with multiple airlines but for those who aren't as fortunate, Delta is always a good contender. Decent service, a VERY LOW lost baggage rating, and wonderful customer service policies. I rarely see delta passengers waiting around for their flight too. Punctuality is something that Delta must take very seriously which is super nice if you have to be at your destination at a specific time. No one has time for delayed or cancelled flights. Sometimes they can be pricer but they have better flight times that might be worth spending the extra $30-50, especially since each plane ticket (at minimum) comes with a personal item and a carry on. Their baggage policy ultimately makes your plane ticket cheaper than if you had to purchase a ticket and baggage on another airline. 

1. Southwest - Low fares. Nothing to hide. That's transfarency.

Their planes are rad, the staff is friendly, and everyone gets two carry on bags. My loyalty lies in the stuff I can bring. Plus, their rewards program is fantastic. On multiple occasions have I bought my plane tickets just by using points. They’re customer service is really well done. I never have any long wait times in the rare case I have an issue. Also, can we talk about their in-flight streaming! They provide you with direct TV literally to your tablet or screen in front of you. Southwest highly ensures the customers experience is pleasant from check-in to landing. They are tricky though because you can only look up flights through their website, so if you're booking third-party, be sure to check out their wanna get away deals too!

All is not lost for the worst ranked airlines. At the end of the day, each trip is going to offer up a different experience. Am I going because I have time? Do I want a quick budget-friendly trip? Mybe Im planning a one way stop? It's hard to say which airline is the ULTIMATE of all airlines because everyones needs are all anticpated. 


  1. I'm traveling Southwest next month and this was so nice to read because I don't do air travel very often and I felt like if I was getting that good of a deal, it was probably too good to be true. Sounds like I can feel good about flying with Southwest. Super helpful, girlie! xo

    1. Yes! Southwest is the plug. They're always offering specials and the staff is super funny and friendly. You're in for a treat!

  2. I've travelled using Spirit before. Its a cheap airline but I wouldn't take it again lol unless I'm on a very tight budget. It's not a bad airline, just very tight in the plane itself. I'm 5'2 and I was squished and uncomfortable the whole plane ride. I prefer southwest honestly!

    1. Right?! Im waiting for their standing room only tickets to be sold at this rate haha. I cant imagine being a 6'0 human squishing into those seats.

  3. This is such a helpful post. I get pretty lost when it comes to booking flights and just make my boyfriend do it all - ha! We pretty much fly United all the time since we have so much miles! x Shannon • www.essellesse.com

    1. OMG you and I are so opposite. I literally presented a power point to my boyfriend discussing different trips we should take haha. EXTENDED AMOUNTS OF RESEARCH HERE.

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  5. Love this list and tips roundup, super helpful! We've had a few flights booked via Southwest and had to cancel them so have yet to experience them, but even the fact that they allow last minute changes is fantastic! Can't wait for the actual in-flight experience. And totally agree -- I'm also loyal to the stuff I bring with me ;-)


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