Best Low-Fare Airline: Airtran Airways
Since AirTran walked away with the Best Low-Fare Airline award two years ago, it has continued on a slow and deliberate path to success, winning over the hearts and wallets of value-conscious business travelers fed up with major airlines. From its main hub in Atlanta, AirTran now flies nonstop to more than 40 cities, using a fleet of all brand-new Boeing 717's.
AirTran fares rarely exceed $100 each way for tickets bought at least 21 days in advance. And walk-up fares rarely exceed $299 each way. There's never a Saturday night stay-over requirement. AirTran also offers a simple frequent-flier program, which rewards members with a free, one-way flight for every eight segments flown. Standby upgrades to its business-class cabin (identical to the major airlines' first class) cost $35 to $50. AirTran also offers a special program for small businesses-called the A2B Corporate Travel Program-which provides member companies with easier access to upgrades, reduced restrictions and waived change fees.
Last year, AirTran broadened its mostly East Coast/Midwest presence with new nonstops between Atlanta and Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, DC, with fares as low as $100 each way. It's also developing secondary hubs in Baltimore, Dallas and Philadelphia.
Don't confuse AirTran with American Trans Air (ATA), another low-fare carrier operating out of Chicago, which was a close runner-up for this year's award.
Best Major Airline: America West Airlines
If you're paying less than $300 for a round- trip, coast-to-coast ticket this year, you can thank America West . Based in Tempe, Arizona, the carrier-which took this category last year-continues its remarkable turnaround this year as one of the few profitable, growing major airlines.
America West seems to be one of the few major carriers that "gets it" when it comes to offering value to travelers. Two years ago, when the airline was on the brink of insolvency, it dumped its worn-out major-airline fare structure and replaced it with simplified, flexible fares that offer customers reasonable prices on tickets bought on short notice, with no aggravating Saturday night stay.
Business travelers in its Las Vegas and Phoenix hubs are among the lucky beneficiaries of America West's resurgence. And now that the airline is offering transcontinental nonstops from New York to Los Angeles and New York to San Francisco, as well as Boston to Los Angeles and Boston to San Francisco, budget-conscious travelers on both coasts benefit with lower fares and fewer restrictions. Fares in these nonstop transcontinental markets were as high as $1,219 each way before America West entered the market and lowered the one-way, walk-up business fares to as low as $299.
Its FlightFund frequent-flier program offers elite benefits that include unlimited, space-available upgrades; mileage bonuses; preferred seating; priority check-in; and early boarding. It also offers a 5 percent discount on all tickets to small businesses that are enrolled in its Corporate AWArds program.
America West is the eighth largest carrier in the country, and flies to 93 cities in the United States, Canada, Costa Rica and Mexico.