Your average airline dishes out gobs of extra fees for services that once cost nothing. But not every carrier is guilty. Select airlines have eschewed the fee frenzy, offering better customer service, fewer extra charges, and more creature comforts than their industry brethren—for free. Find out which airlines supply complimentary perks, from no-cost checked bags to on-the-house itinerary changes.
Change of plans
Purchasing an airline ticket is always daunting for the commitment-phobic, as nearly every major U.S. airline charges fees for flight-itinerary changes. But there’s one exception: Southwest. This budget airline allows you to change your travel to a different date and you’ll only have to pay the difference in fare (if there is any). So if you come down with the flu or can’t find a decent hotel room, you can easily rebook your flight for an alternate date at no additional charge.
TRAVEL’S F-WORD: Fees obscure bottom-line prices
Five years ago, we wouldn’t have considered free checked bags a perk by any stretch of the imagination. Things are different now. With so many airlines hitting travelers left and right with checked-bag fees, those carriers that continue to buck the trend with complimentary checked luggage on domestic flights deserve a bit of recognition. Southwest and JetBlue’s checked-bag policies are categorically consumer-friendly; the former permits two checked bags, the latter permits one.
Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic, Air Canada, Alaska, Emirates, and Lufthansa are just a few airlines that don’t charge coach-class passengers who want to pass the time in the air watching a favorite rom-com or action-packed blockbuster. Air Canada has even taken recent steps to expand its movie offerings, doubling the number of on-demand movies available on both international and domestic flights this year. But other carriers still need to play catch-up when it comes to free flicks on demand. JetBlue, for example, charges $5.99 for movies on flights within the continental U.S.
Want to catch up on your favorite trashy reality shows or watch the latest episode of Animal Cwops at 35,000 feet? Book a ticket with JetBlue. The domestic discounter may charge for on-demand movies, but its complimentary TV offerings make up for it. The airline streams 36 channels of free Directv, including Food Network, History Channel, Lifetime, CNN, and The Weather Channel, on all flights. In fact, JetBlue was the first commercial airline to offer live TV during flights. Virgin America also offers free live satellite TV through its Red entertainment program.
In-flight Wi-Fi is fast becoming an ever-present airline amenity, but it’s not always free. Many airlines, including the legacies, offer Wi-Fi through Gogo; pricing for connectivity ranges from $1.95 to $39.95 (the latter is for a monthly pass on all participating airlines). But several carriers stand out by providing Wi-Fi that doesn’t cost a thing. JetBlue will offer free Wi-Fi on flights beginning in 2013. (The discount U.S. carrier is even going the extra step to make sure its connection is lightning fast by partnering with a company that provides satellite broadband services to ensure speedy page-load time.) And Norwegian offers complimentary Wi-Fi on most of the planes in its fleet.
Thirsty? Your next drink’s on the airline, depending on your carrier of choice. Considering that airlines these days impose fees on everything from exit-row seats to carry-on bags, it’s almost surprising that a wide range of carriers pour complimentary alcoholic beverages in economy class. But they do: British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Porter, Alaska (only on flights operated by Horizon Air and SkyWest), Hawaiian, and Air France are a few airlines that give coach-class passengers free drinks. Air France takes its beverage service to another level with complimentary Champagne on long-haul international flights.
Forget those expensive for-fee snack boxes. Free prepackaged munchies are still generously doled out on some carriers, including AirTran, Vision, Delta, Hawaiian, and JetBlue. We especially love the complimentary morning offering on Hawaiian: on North American flights before 10 a.m., sweet Maui-onion potato chips are served alongside a mai tai. And JetBlue’s bagged Terra Chips make discount air travel so much more delicious.
It’s B.Y.O.B. (bring your own blanket) on many airlines, including JetBlue and US Airways, which charge for blankets on oft-chilly air-conditioned flights. This fee in particular is a cruel one. Only the soulless would charge a shivering air traveler eight bucks for a flimsy piece of felt. But, fortunately, a few noble carriers continue to hand out free blankets and pillows to those in economy class. Air Canada, Air Berlin, and Hawaiian (a few examples of airlines that still offer free blankets), we salute you.
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