As the holiday season rapidly approaches, planning for the perfect getaway is in full swing. And if you’re one of the millions of people gearing up to take to the skies, finding the best airlines for your travels is vital. With so many options to choose from, it can be daunting to determine which airlines offer the best experience, amenities, and affordability. Fortunately, we’ve done the research for you, and we’re excited to reveal our top picks for the best holiday airlines out there. So get ready to pack your bags, and let’s dive into the ultimate guide for your next air travel adventure.
Table of Contents
1. Best Airlines for Domestic Holiday Travel
The holiday season is fast approaching, and that means it’s time to start thinking about your travel plans. If you’re planning on using points to cover your flights, you’ll want to make sure you’re choosing the right airline. According to a recent analysis by NerdWallet, the best airlines for domestic holiday travel on points are American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, and Frontier Airlines. To get the most value out of your points, aim for a value of 1.4 cents per mile, or divide the cash price of your ticket by the number of miles needed to book it. While holiday travel can be expensive, it’s important to remember that booking award flights during this time may not always provide the highest per-mile value. However, if fares are getting too expensive, using points can be a great way to save money.
When it comes to choosing an airline for your holiday travel plans, factors like on-time performance and customer complaints can also play a role. According to the Airline Quality Rating (AQR) by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Delta Air Lines is the top-ranked airline for holiday travel, thanks to its solid operational record and hubs that are less vulnerable to bad weather. Meanwhile, JetBlue and Alaska Airlines also rank highly, though JetBlue’s consistency can sometimes be an issue. On the flip side, Frontier Airlines is one airline to avoid if possible, as it has some of the lowest ratings and highest consumer complaints of any major carrier during the holiday season.
Ultimately, the best airline for your holiday travel plans may depend on your personal preferences and priorities. Whether you’re looking to maximize your points or simply want a smooth and stress-free travel experience, it’s worth doing your research and comparing your options before booking your flight. With a bit of planning and careful consideration, you can find the perfect airline for your holiday travel needs. 
2. American Airlines: Best Legacy Carrier for Award Flights
During the holiday season, finding affordable flights can be a daunting and overwhelming task. However, savvy travelers know that one way to save money is by using airline rewards points. Among the legacy carriers, American Airlines stands out as one of the best options for booking award flights due to its straightforward award chart. This allows travelers to estimate the required number of miles for their chosen destination easily. Unlike other carriers that use a revenue-based system, American Airlines still bases its award flights on mileage requirements, making it easier for travelers to plan their trips and save money. In addition, American Airlines offers discount fares for award flights that can cost as low as 12,500 miles plus $5.60 in fees and taxes, although finding these fares during peak holiday travel season may take some effort. Still, travelers can benefit from bringing one carry-on and one personal item free of charge on basic economy fares, which can help save money. Overall, American Airlines offers an excellent choice for booking award flights and can help travelers be home for the holidays without breaking the bank. 
3. Delta Air Lines: Competitive Option with Variable-Pricing
With the holiday season just around the corner, finding affordable airfare can be a daunting task. Luckily, Delta Air Lines is one of the best airlines for holiday travel. Delta offers a competitive option with a variable-pricing model, which means that you might be able to snag a good deal on holiday flights.
While Delta’s cash prices may be higher than other legacy carriers, the airline offers above-average reliability ratings, making it a trustworthy option for holiday travel. The variable-pricing model also means that you can find competitive award flights. One-way fares from Los Angeles to Orlando in the main cabin on December 19, 2022, are available from 32,000 SkyMiles, which is not an outrageous price.
One of the benefits of flying with Delta is that you can earn a lot of SkyMiles when you fly with the airline or its partners. If you’re a Delta Medallion elite member, you’ll earn even more SkyMiles per dollar spent on flights than general members. Additionally, Delta has more than 20 airline partners with which you can earn and redeem SkyMiles at varying rates.
To further sweeten the deal, Delta offers a range of credit cards that are an excellent way to accrue Delta SkyMiles quickly. With the right card, you can even spend your way to elite status. Delta cards typically come with generous welcome bonus offers and other perks like lounge access and free checked bags.
Overall, Delta Air Lines is a competitive option for holiday travel. While its cash prices may be higher than some legacy carriers, the potential to snag a good deal through their variable-pricing model and earn a lot of SkyMiles through flights and credit cards make Delta an attractive choice for holiday travelers. 
4. Southwest Airlines: Expansive Network and Competitive Fares
Southwest Airlines is an airline that boasts an expansive network and competitive fares. With two free checked bags and open seating, this airline offers additional value for air travelers. While Southwest flights may not appear in most flight search engines, it’s worth checking their website for competitive prices. This is especially true when booking flights for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, when they tend to have the best ticket prices and flight selection.
Southwest’s reliability ratings are average, but it’s important to note that the airline experienced significant tech problems during the 2021 holiday season. While it’s unclear whether these issues will impact the airline’s performance going forward, it’s always worth keeping an eye on their tech updates.
If you’re a flexible traveler, you can secure a Wanna Get Away fare with Southwest, which is the cheapest option. However, be aware that blackout dates typically apply during the busiest travel periods. If you’re willing to pay more, there are other options available, such as the Anytime fare, which allows for greater flexibility.
Overall, Southwest’s ticket costs are competitive, making it a good choice for budget-conscious travelers. While some may be concerned about the airline’s tech issues, Southwest’s commitment to over $1 billion in technology spending is encouraging. As long as the airline continues to prioritize its tech updates and invest in its operations, Southwest should remain a strong airline option for holiday travel. 
5. United Airlines: Not the Best Option for Award Flights
United Airlines may not be the best option for those looking to book award flights for their holiday travel plans. While United offers a variety of options for award flights, it may not provide the best value compared to other airlines.
One strategy to maximize the value of United MileagePlus miles is to use them for award flights with its Star Alliance partners. However, the availability of award seats can be limited, making it difficult to find a suitable flight.
Another downside is that United’s award chart has undergone significant changes over the years resulting in fewer award seats and more expensive redemption rates. Additionally, the airline charges a close-in booking fee for award flights booked within 21 days of departure.
While United offers a co-branded credit card that allows customers to earn miles, it may be more beneficial to collect Chase Ultimate Rewards points and transfer them to United at a 1:1 ratio. This provides more flexibility in redeeming rewards and may offer better value overall.
Despite these drawbacks, United remains a popular choice for many travelers due to its extensive network and frequent flights. However, for those looking to maximize the value of their rewards, there may be better options available. It’s important to research and compare different airlines and their reward programs to find the best option for your travel needs. 
6. Best and Worst Airlines for Holiday Travels
Flying during the holiday season can be a daunting task, but some airlines offer a better experience than others. TravelPulse recently analyzed the eight largest national airlines based on data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics Air Travel Consumer Reports. The data was based on a five-year average from 2017 to 2021 for the holiday travel season, defined as November through January. Alaska Airlines emerged as the best airline for holiday travel, boasting one of the lowest rates of self-inflicted flight delays and cancellations. Despite being the worst for mishandled bags, it is still among the best carriers in terms of complaints. United Airlines ranks best in terms of the Big Four U.S. carriers, performing well in terms of flight delays and cancellations. However, its performance when it comes to customer complaints and mishandled baggage during the holiday travel period isn’t ideal. American Airlines has the most customer complaints of any airline analyzed and the second-worst rate of mishandled baggage. Nevertheless, its performance during the holiday season is far from the worst.
Frontier Airlines is the worst-performing carrier during the holiday season. It has some of the lowest ratings and the highest rate of self-induced flight delays of any airline analyzed. Spirit Airlines’s score is third-worst nationwide but fares better than other airlines with an ultra-low-cost model. JetBlue was a strong performer, but their scores varied the most among the top three airlines for holiday travel. Delta, with hubs in Atlanta and Salt Lake City, has the least vulnerability to bad weather and boasts a solid operational record. Bowen recommends Delta as the top-ranked airline for holiday travel. Alaska is a consistent airline, with the least variation among the best airlines. With a Southwest-like effect, passengers tend to be more forgiving when something goes wrong.
Booking the right airline for holiday travel can undoubtedly enhance the passenger experience, with some airlines providing a smoother travel experience than others. Ultimately, the choice of the airline comes down to individual preferences, but reviewing the data can help make an informed decision. 
7. Delta Airlines: Top-Ranked Airline for Holiday Travel
With the holiday season fast approaching, finding the best airline to travel with can be a daunting task. Luckily, there’s data to help take some of the guesswork out of your decision. According to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University professor Brent Bowen’s Airline Quality Rating (AQR), Delta Airlines is the top-ranked airline for holiday travel. Delta, which has been performing well operationally over the past year, has hubs in Atlanta and Salt Lake City that are less vulnerable to bad weather during the winter months. In fact, last December Delta beat out rivals Alaska, American, and Southwest, making it the top-ranked carrier during the holiday season. Delta’s strong operational performance gives passengers more peace of mind during the busiest time of the year for air travel.
JetBlue, while a strong performer, wasn’t as consistent overall as Delta during the holidays, according to Bowen’s data. They had some of the lowest and highest scores of any of the top three airlines. Alaska, however, was the opposite, consistently performing well with the least variation among the top airlines. Passengers tend to be forgiving when something goes wrong with Alaska, which has a Southwest-like effect that generates positive feedback.
On the other hand, Frontier Airlines is considered the worst-performing airline during the holidays, according to Bowen’s data. Frontier has some of the lowest ratings seen, with its AQR score 7 percentage points lower than the next worst airline. Frontier’s poor performance during the hectic holiday period means that passengers may have to do without their preferred holiday plans due to disruptions.
Overall, Delta is an excellent option for anyone planning holiday travel this year. Their solid operational performance, combined with their less weather-vulnerable hubs, make for a great airline choice during a period of high demand and possible winter weather-related disruptions. 
8. JetBlue: Strong Performer but Erratic Scores
During holiday travels, there’s always a chance of experiencing flight delays, and JetBlue is well aware of that. According to the annual Airline Quality Rating report by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University professor Brent Bowen, JetBlue is a strong performer. However, the airline’s scores tend to be erratic. While JetBlue ranked high in some areas, it also had some of the lowest scores in other categories.
One possible reason for the fluctuation in scores could be attributed to the high number of consumer complaints. For instance, when compared to Delta and Alaska, JetBlue fell in the middle of the pack with an 86% rating in on-time performance. Additionally, JetBlue ranked eighth in the number of customer complaints registered during the holiday travel season by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Despite its inconsistencies, JetBlue still remains a strong performer thanks to a range of facilities such as comfortable seats, entertainment systems, and a streamlined check-in process, all of which can help passengers have an enjoyable and stress-free flight. Moreover, the airline has attracted a significant amount of passengers by serving a niche market of budget-conscious travelers.
As per Bowen’s report, JetBlue has the potential to challenge the top-ranked Delta if it becomes more consistent with its performance. Bowen also thinks JetBlue’s recent focus on enhancing its routes and amenities is a step in the right direction and could help the airline achieve a better position in the future. For travelers who prioritize budget and convenience in their travel plans, JetBlue could still be a reliable option despite some fluctuations in its scores. 
9. Alaska Airlines: Very Consistent and Fewest Complaints
During the busy holiday travel period, it can be challenging to find an airline that provides a stress-free and reliable experience. However, according to factual data collected from the government, Alaska Airlines is an excellent choice for holiday travel. With a solid operational record and very consistent performance, Alaska Airlines is a standout carrier.
Unlike some airlines with opaque ticketing options, Alaska Airlines has clear-cut fare types and displays the cheapest fares for flexible travelers. Additionally, Alaska Airlines is very generous with its Mileage Plan loyalty program, awarding a mile for a mile flown and offering bonus miles for everyday activities such as shopping or staying in a hotel.
When it comes to baggage fees, Alaska Airlines provides one personal item and one carry-on bag free of charge for all passengers. Additionally, lap infants can bring a car seat for free. For elite Mileage Plan members, Alaska applies discounts on the number of checked bags that a passenger can bring.
What sets Alaska Airlines apart from the competition is its very consistent operational performance. In January 2021, it had the fewest complaints of any major carrier, with just five reported. This consistency is why passengers tend to like the airline and are forgiving when something goes wrong, similar to Southwest Airlines.
Overall, Alaska Airlines is an excellent option for holiday travel. With very consistent performance and a generous loyalty program, you can be assured of a stress-free and reliable flying experience. 
10. Frontier Airlines: Worst-Performing Carrier with Lowest Ratings
The holiday season is one of the most hectic times to travel, and choosing the right airline can greatly affect your experience. Based on factual data, Frontier Airlines has been ranked as the worst-performing carrier with the lowest ratings for holiday travel. Bowen, an Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University professor, indicates that Frontier has some of the lowest ratings they have ever seen, a full 7 percentage points lower than the next-worst airline.
Frontier’s portrayal as an ultra-low-cost carrier, similar to Spirit, is speculated as the possible reason for their poor performance. The airline had a dismal performance in November 2016 with almost a full percent of its flights cancelled. Bowen attributes the poor performance of regional airlines to their connections with mainline carriers and odd routes, making them even more susceptible to delays during the holidays.
Bowen advises that passengers should avoid Frontier and regional airlines for their holiday travels, instead opting to fly with Delta, which has a solid operational record, including being the top-ranked airline for holiday travel. Other airlines to consider are Alaska and JetBlue, which offer more consistency in their performance.
It is essential to take into account the airline’s performance when choosing a carrier for holiday travel, as on-time performance takes a hit and consumer complaints increase during this time. Frontier Airlines, with the lowest ratings, cannot be recommended for holiday travel.