Low-cost airlines both lead and trail in customer satisfaction

According to a just-released survey, your best and your worst bet for a satisfying travel experience is with a low-cost airline. Whether you end up singing their praises or cursing their canine lineage will depend on which one you choose.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), based on 8,660 customer surveys collected between mid-April 2016 and mid-March 2017, shows that the two airlines ranked best in customer satisfaction were low-cost carriers jetBlue (NASDAQ:JBLU) and Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV).

Airline rankings
But before you jump to any conclusions, three other low-cost carriers were cellar dwellers. Allegiant Air ranked No. 6 of nine airlines rated while Frontier (NASDAQ:FRNT) was No. 8 and Spirit (NASDAQ:SAVE) was last, at No. 9.

“Customer satisfaction has never appeared to be a goal for airlines,” Claes Fornell, ACSI chairman and founder, said. “Compared to other industries, the financial return on passenger satisfaction is not much of an incentive. The exception is in the few airports where airlines actually compete with one another – or when they treat passengers spectacularly badly in public.”

More on that last point later.

The highest-rated traditional carrier was Seattle-headquartered Alaska Airlines (NYSE:ALK) at No. 3, followed by American Airlines (NASDAQ:AAL) at No. 4 and Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) rounding out the Top Five.

In the No. 6 slot was the catch-all “All others” followed by low-cost carrier Allegiant at No. 7, United Airlines (NYSE:UAL) at No. 8 and Spirit Airlines.

“Apparently, low ticket prices are not enough of a trade-off for low service quality, particularly as most airlines now also compete on price,” David VanAmburg, ACSI director, said.

Notably, United’s satisfaction score of 70 out of a possible 100 points was calculated before Dr. David Dao was forcibly removed from a United Express jet. While the indecent was captured on social media and was the top story for several days, it occurred on April 8, after the completion of data collection. It is unclear how much impact the will have on future passenger satisfaction as United already has the lowest score among the legacy airlines, the study’s authors noted.

Overall satisfaction

Overall satisfaction since survey began
Passenger satisfaction is up compared to a year ago, but airlines remain in the bottom third of industries tracked by the ACSI. While jetBlue scored 82 of a possible 100 points, the industry as a whole averaged only 75 out of 100, up three points from 2016. Scores for the individual airlines are shown in the accompanying graphic, along with a comparison of their relative ratings last year.


Guest satisfaction with hotels is up 2.7 percent to an ACSI score of 76, driven by gains for smaller hotels and B&Bs.

“With the rise of online hospitality brokers like Airbnb, travelers have more choices than ever before, forcing hotel operators to compete on both price and customer service,” ACSI noted.

Overall, guests of Hilton hotels (NYSE:HLT) are the most satisfied, giving the chain 81 of a possible 100 points. Hyatt Hotels (NYSE:H) ties Marriott International (NASDAQ:MAR) for second place at 80. Marriott’s Starwood brand is just a notch below at 79 points followed by InterContinental Hotel Group (NYSE:IHG) at 78.

Best Western, La Quinta and Choice Hotels are in the range of 76 to 74, while the combined score of all other smaller hotels and B&Bs is up three points to 74. At 71 points, Wyndham (NYSE:WYN) lags most of the major hoteliers at 71 points, but was ahead of G6 Hospitality, which operates Motel 6, at 65 points.

Among hotel brands, luxury offering JW Marriott tops the chart with 85 points while Hilton Garden Inn and Hyatt Place share the next spot at 84. Starwood’s Aloft, part of the Marriott family, comes in at 83, alongside Hilton’s Embassy Suites Hotels.

Internet Travel Services

Customer satisfaction with travel websites for booking flights, hotels and car rentals is steady at 79. Expedia gains four points to 80 and ties with the combined score of smaller travel websites, which were up one point from the previous survey. For a contrasting view, read my article about my experience with Expedia here.

Other brands of the Expedia family are somewhat lower. Orbitz earned 78 points while Travelocity earned 77, as did competitor Priceline, though Priceline’s score deteriorated five points from last year.

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.

Chart and graph provided by ACSI
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