By Louis DeNicola, Cheapism.com
Whether you're trying to squeeze in a vacation before the weather begins to cool or starting your holiday travel planning early, finding cheap airfare is key to organizing an affordable trip. With airlines adding new fees and reducing amenities, though, it pays to look at more than just the base price of the ticket. You may be surprised to find that the carriers known as budget airlines often have just as much to offer as legacy airlines. They promise friendly service and even welcome add-ons such as free checked bags and personal TVs on every seatback. Cheapism.com recently ranked the best domestic low-cost airlines:
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Fly domestically at a reduced rate with an economical airline.
- Southwest Airlines is the largest of the budget carriers, sending more than 3,400 flights each day to 74 destinations. The airline wins praise in online reviews for its affordable tickets, friendly and funny staff, and comfortable planes, even as it reduces legroom to fit more passengers onboard. A perk that sets Southwest apart from the mainstream airlines is the two free checked bags allowed to accompany passengers on any flight. Wi-Fi is available for a fee on some flights and nonalcoholic drinks and snacks are provided free of charge. Southwest's boarding procedure is unique in that the airline doesn't assign seats. Instead, groups line up at the gate and choose their seats upon boarding, a system that seems to garner more kudos than criticism from passengers.
- AirTran Airways has been acquired by Southwest Airlines but stands out on its own as a top budget airline. AirTran flies to more than 60 destinations in the U.S., Mexico, and the Caribbean, with hubs in Atlanta, Orlando, and Baltimore. It offers Wi-Fi access and provides complimentary beverages and snacks. Although there is a $20 charge for the first checked bag, many passengers nonetheless give the airline positive reviews for courteous and helpful customer service, not to mention low ticket prices.
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- JetBlue Airways may charge slightly higher ticket prices than other budget airlines, but it also offers some extra frills, such as a personal screen with DirecTV on each seatback, one free checked bag, and complimentary specialty snacks such as Terra potato chips (in contrast to those tiny bags of peanuts). Larger snack boxes are available for a fee. JetBlue scored highest among North American airlines in J.D. Power and Associates' most recent survey of customer satisfaction.
These airlines are expanding as their popularity continues to grow, but most budget carriers still offer flights only to select airports. Flight paths to the Caribbean and Latin America are among the choices, but if you're headed elsewhere overseas, you're limited to the larger legacy airlines.
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With carriers of all stripes charging fees for the slightest of privileges -- extra legroom, checked bags, a chance to select your seat -- it's worth checking to see if a budget airline flies your desired route. You're likely to enjoy not just similar service but even some additional perks that help you sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight.
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