You'd be excused if you think that airlines continually try to invent new ways to make you miserable, given the number of unpleasant choices regularly foisted upon travelers. It's my way of being thankful that I no longer travel regularly for work.

But if you're not out of the woods, then the next best thing is to have suggestions as to which airline might edge out others in service, on-time operations, comfort, and so on. The lists are always changing, as the carriers tip one way and then the other. The most recent suggestions come from the Points Guy travel website.

First, here are the factors they use to pick the winners:

  • Percentages of departures and arrivals that were delayed
  • Cabin features such as Wi-Fi and room between seats
  • Percentage of flights that got canceled
  • Extent of the carrier's routes
  • How much was charged per mile flown
  • Fees
  • Quality of the frequent flier program
  • Customer satisfaction
  • What percentage of passengers file lost baggage claims
  • Quality and number of lounges as well as fees charged
  • Percentage of people bumped from a scheduled seat

Each is a weighted factor. The overall score is what counts, and the lower the number, the better the score. So if an airline maybe has a smaller set of routes, it could make up from it in another area like customer satisfaction or cabin features. But the details may show what's most important to you.

To start, here are the top five domestic airlines:

  1. Delta
  2. Alaska
  3. Southwest
  4. United
  5. Hawaiian

Delta took it away with its extensive lounge network, 92.7 percent of planes departing or leaving on time, and an insanely low number of bumped passengers (32 individuals out of 136 million passengers). Alaska is an on-time monster, with an average of 6.4 percent of flights delayed by a half-hour or less, compared to the average of 15.6 percent across all airlines.

Then there were those on the bottom half of the list:

  1. American
  2. JetBlue
  3. Allegiant
  4. Spirit
  5. Frontier

But here we can see that choosing an airline is a more tactical decision than you might expect. For example, JetBlue was the winner at cabin comfort, with the best seat pitch, free Wi-Fi, and comfort. Spirit had the least comfortable seats but the best fare cost per mile traveled.

Certainly, look at the best/worst rankings but pay attention to how they make their place. Depending on what is most important to you for a given flight--maybe comfort being top for one and price or timeliness at another. Remember to check the details and find a balance that will get what you need for a specific flight.

Published on: Mar 20, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.