Discount Airlines in the United States

by Jessica

October 16th, 2009

virginamericaWho doesn’t love a bargain? I don’t know anyone who doesn’t feel a certain amount of satisfaction when they can avoid paying full price for something, whatever it is. When it comes to travel, the victory can feel even sweeter. The thing is, when you hear the word “discount” you might think you’re getting sub-par service – which you might be willing to tolerate, if it means you still get to go somewhere fun. But when you pair the word “discount” with the word “airline” that might conjure up images of unsafe planes or something.

The reality is quite different from that image, however, with some of the discount airlines operating in the United States offering luxuries the bigger carriers have long since eliminated from their services. And with so many of the so-called “legacy carriers” cutting back on their amenities anyway, the gap between what you get on a flight with a discount airline and what you get on a big airline has decreased dramatically.

In this article, we’ll take a look at what you can expect from discount airlines in the U.S., and give you a list of some of the bigger domestic discount carriers you should definitely keep in mind for your next trip.

>> And if you’re looking for destinations north of the border, don’t miss our list of discount airlines that fly into Canada, too.

What You Can Expect on a Discount Airline

Discount airlines are also sometimes called budget airlines, no-frills airlines, low-cost airlines – you get the idea. The services and amenities offered by each airline that fits under this category will vary by the airline. You might find that discount carriers in the U.S. have done away with first class and business class, making the entire plane economy class. You might find that they seat passengers on a sort of first-come, first-served basis. You might find that they’ve never offered free meals or drinks.

But in some cases, the amenities may be nicer than coach class in bigger airlines. jetBlue, for instance, has an in-seat entertainment system for every passenger that includes satellite TV – and those seats are all leather, by the way. Virgin America’s perks also include in-seat entertainment systems, and their touch-screens also let you chat with other passengers on the plane or order snacks from the galley without using the call button.

If you’re used to searching for airfare on big search engines like Orbitz or Expedia, you might need to do a little more digging to find the discount airlines – some of them, including some of the big ones, don’t provide their fares to those booking websites. Even if you do see some of these budget airlines on a list of search results, it’s still a good idea to visit the airline’s website directly, as many of them reserve their best deals for customers on their websites.

Keep in mind that some of these discount airlines don’t fly to the same airports as the big carriers. Sometimes they do, but often you’ll find it’s a smaller airport serving the same city (although sometimes a little further away from the city) that’s the home base for one or more budget airlines.

Discount Airlines in the United States

This isn’t an exhaustive list of domestic budget airlines – many of them have very limited regional routes, so if you’re curious about the carriers that serve your area check the website of your local airports and see which airlines fly in and out. These airlines have pretty extensive route maps, and are definitely worth checking for your next trip.

  • AirTran – AirTran is based at the excessively busy Atlanta Airport and covers more than 70 cities, mainly the east and midwest. The company was founded in 1992 and used to be called ValuJet.
  • Allegiant Air – Allegiant, which began its life as WestJet Express in 1997, has its headquarters in Nevada and flies to more than 70 destinations throughout the country.
  • Frontier Airlines – Frontier has only one hub (at Denver International Airport) but serves more than 50 cities in the U.S., Mexico and Costa Rica.
  • jetBlue Airways – jetBlue is based in New York, and serves almost 60 cities in 12 countries (including serveral Caribbean islands, Costa Rica, and Mexico besides the U.S.).
  • Southwest – Southwest is probably the best-known budget airline in the country. They’re based in Dallas, but operates roughly 3,500 flights every day to more than 65 destinations.
  • Spirit Airlines – Spirit started out as a charter airline in 1980, and now flies to 40 cities in the United States, Bahamas, Caribbean, and Latin America.
  • Sun Country – Sun Country is the operating name of MN Airlines, which is based in Minneapolis and serves more than 30 cities (many of which, as you can guess by the name, are in the Caribbean and Mexico).
  • USA3000 – USA3000 Airlines is based in Pennsylvania and flies to 20 destinations in the U.S., Mexico, Jamaica, Bermuda, and the Dominican Republic.
  • Virgin America – Virgin America is one of the airlines under the guidance of eccentric entrepeneur Richard Branson. It’s based in San Francisco and serves 10 cities in the country.

photo by DC9T

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