The Best Budget Airlines in the United States: Ranked

Oct, 19, 2021

The Covid pandemic seems to be drawing to a close and many aspects of life appear to be returning to normal. One of the biggest factors of normal life that is on its way back to normalcy is travel. Airlines have said publicly that they expect passengers to finally head back to the airports this fall and they think they will be busier than ever.

Whether that is true or not, what is undeniable is that more opportunities to travel are right around the corner, and you could very well be searching for flights to a new place soon! The pandemic has really shaken up the airline industry and cause some mergers, bankruptcies, and even allowed the creation of new airlines. This post is going to take a look at the five best budget airlines in the United States as we enter our new normal after Covid.

If you have questions about budget airlines in general and are looking for ways to save money on budget airline flights and avoid their hidden fees, be sure to read my budget airline guide.

Honorable Mention: Viva Aerobus

Viva Aerobus is one of my favorite budget airlines in the world, but it isn’t very popular or available in the United States. For that reason, it didn’t earn a true spot on this list. I wanted to put it, though, because Viva Aerobus offers very competitive rates on flights to its home country of Mexico from many cities around the United States. Cities like Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and New York City all host direct flights to Mexico City and/or Cancun on Viva Aerobus.

While Viva Aerobus won’t help you very much if you want to get from place to place within the United States, it is a fantastic option to get to Mexico or the Caribbean. The airline itself has never been late on any of the 50 times we have flown with them, and while there are no frills included in the airfare, the trip is pleasant enough to make it worth the bottom of the barrel price. How cheap are we talking? From New York City to Mexico City round trip on a direct flight, you will probably pay less than $300 and almost definitely less than $400.

Honorable Mention: Volaris

Volaris, like Viva Aerobus, is one of the big two Mexican budget airlines and offers incredible rates to and from Mexico. Volaris also doesn’t offer any frills in its base fare, but for prices so cheap you can sacrifice free crackers and Diet Coke, right? We’ve flown with Volaris countless times and have never had any issues with them at all. They’ve always been on time, they’ve never lost luggage, and the service is very friendly.

Where Volaris might separate itself above Viva Aerobus for Americans is its wider network of flights to places other than Mexico. Volaris even occasionally runs flights domestically within the United States! They also send many flights with only one layover to Central America and the Caribbean on top of all of their destinations in Mexico. If you want to leave the United States and head south, these two airlines are a great bet.

5. Allegiant

In recent years, Allegiant Airlines has really begun earning its stripes, in my opinion. What was once a small, regional airline has expanded into a full blown, large scale budget airline that serves customers all the way from California to Maine. They have specialized in serving cities that are often neglected by major airlines, which has really expedited their growth. Some of these cities include Allentown, PA, Billings, MT, Boise, ID, and El Paso, TX.

I really love Allegiant airlines, and I would fly with them any time. The only reason they are not higher on this list is because of reliability. When their flights run on time, I would say they’re a top 3 budget airline in the country. However, I have known people that have had cancellations and long delays, dropping Allegiant down to number 5 on this list of the best budget airlines in the United States.

4. JetBlue

JetBlue is a great airline, period. Until a couple of years ago, I didn’t even realize that it is a budget airline! JetBlue has become popular for its cross-country flights as well as its cheap options to Europe. I once took a flight from Boston to London on JetBlue, and the experience was fantastic. Many people fear using budget airlines for long-haul flights, and I think one flight on JetBlue would alleviate that fear altogether.

The reason that JetBlue isn’t higher on this list is because its prices are not as low as the top two airlines on this list. While JetBlue offers cheaper rates than, say, Delta, it is not going to offer you rates at 60% or more below the typical price. That is what makes it come in at only number 4 on this list of the best budget airlines in the United States.

3. Virgin America

Year after year, I see Virgin America ranked as the top budget airline in the United States. In many ways, I understand that. It is undoubtedly a great airline, and people who fly on Virgin America tend to keep flying on Virgin America. They earn great customer loyalty for their great service.

Objectively speaking, a flight on Virgin America is probably better than a flight on the top two airlines on this list. The only problem is that Virgin America’s route network is significantly smaller than the others, and this makes flying with them very limiting. Unless you happen to live in one of the few cities that Virgin America serves, you will be looking for another airline. This is what leaves Virgin America at just number three on our list of the best budget airlines in the United States.

2. Frontier

This is where things will get controversial, because I know a lot of people hate Frontier Airlines. But, I honestly think it belongs this high on the list. The fares that Frontier offers are as cheap as it gets – you wonder how they can ever turn a profit – and the service is actually very nice. Yes, there are no frills and you need to pay for absolutely everything additional to the airfare, but the dirt cheap prices are unbeatable. On top of that, the route network of Frontier is extremely expansive, both domestically and internationally, and Frontier serves both major market cities and small market cities with its flights.

The only downside with Frontier, in my opinion, is reliability. I, myself, have had some bad experiences with Frontier, and I have a very good friend who had quite the experience on his flight from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Philadelphia. That is a story for another day. All in all, I do love Frontier and I never hesitate to fly with them, but their reliability issues are what keep them out of the top spot on this list.

1. Spirit

Okay, so I said that Frontier would be controversial. Spirit being ranked as the best budget airline in the United States may be even more controversial! But honestly, this is my true evaluation after countless flights. Spirit’s flight network is just as expansive as Frontiers, their flights are somehow even cheaper sometimes, and their service is great. I have never had delay or cancellation issues with Spirit, and my flights have always arrived on time. I have flown on long haul flights and short haul flights with Spirit and have had nothing but great experiences.

One tip I would offer for people looking to fly with Spirit Airlines is to sign up for their promotional emails.

Spirit often runs absurd sales, like literally up to 85% off of their already absurdly cheap airfare, and there are no hidden loopholes! They send random coupon codes and run sales for usually 24 to 48 hours. If you are able to book during this window, you can literally get round trip flights to, say, Florida from New York, and pay maybe $30. It sounds too good to be true…but it’s true.

Thank you for reading my list of the best budget airlines in the United States! This list was put together based off of my own experiences as well as the experiences of my closest travel companions. Regardless of the positioning on this list, I fully endorse each of these airlines as great travel options. Flying with budget airlines is entirely different than flying on standard airlines, and this is something to consider before buying your flight.

Are you a budget airline fiend like we are?

Let us know if you’re in the budget airline club by commenting below!


Hi! I’m Greg, a Pittsburgh-based dad who juggles a 9-5 with a passion for traveling the world. I've spent time living in Mexico, Italy, and China, have traveled to nearly 50 countries, and make a habit of scratching epic experiences off of my bucket list.

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Meet The Family!

We're a family who seeks adventure both in our backyard and also around the world. We've spent time living in Mexico, Italy, and China, have traveled to nearly 50 countries. Life is short! All we have is this present moment to fulfill the dreams God has given us.