Winner: Two Free Checked Bags on Southwest
In this era of fees and diminished service, what constitutes a "perk" in the first place? By our definition, a perk is something optional that enhances the flying experience, such as in-flight entertainment, food, beverages, and satellite radio. And, yes, checked bags. These days, free checked bags absolutely qualify as a perk. Should they? That's debatable. Checked bags are not "luxuries," unlike satellite TV or a complimentary snack, and for many, they are essential.
That said, the airlines' insistence on adding and raising fees for checked bags have made the rare free bag, by definition, a perk. Free checked bags "enhance" flying, to borrow from our definition, by mitigating hassle at the airport and while packing, and saving you money out of pocket. With that in mind, we award the Best Free Perk to Southwest for its two free checked bags, and an honorable mention to JetBlue for its one free checked bag.
Speaking of JetBlue, the low-cost carrier had several entries in the Best Free Perk category. Its unlimited free snacks perk was neck-and-neck with the eventual winner. Free food is almost as rare as free checked bags these days, and while JetBlue's snack offerings won't be confused with a full meal any time soon, the snacks are unlimited and, generally, pretty good. On a short- or medium-haul flight, JetBlue's snacks are probably enough to keep you satiated, and on a long-haul flight, they're adequate enough to bolster a sandwich brought from home.
In-flight seatback TV and movies were also in the running, with similar products from JetBlue and Virgin America leading the pack. Most parents will tell you that seatback TV is a godsend for occupying restless children, and adults are just as content to pass the time zoned out in front of the tube. Several airlines also offer free XM satellite radio, which provides more choices than the traditional dozen stations piped through your armrest. And then we have the old-fashioned overhead in-flight movie, which nowadays is better than nothing.
As welcome as those perks are, none trumped Southwest's two free checked bags, which can save travelers upwards of $60 or more compared to other airlines. It's a rather bleak commentary on the state of the industry when checked bags, once taken for granted, are considered a perk at all, let alone win recognition as the best free perk, but c'est la vie. Kudos to Southwest (and JetBlue) for holding out while the rest of the industry plunged headlong into checked-bag-fee frenzy.
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Most Customer-Friendly Airline | Best Free Airline Perk | Best Coach-Class Experience | Best Value Airline | Best Value Destination | Best Hotel Loyalty Program | Best Rental Car Loyalty Program | Best Travel Rewards Card for Domestic Use | Best Travel Rewards Card for Overseas Use | Best Travel Rewards Card for ATM Use | Best Airline Website | Best Use of Social Media | Most Pet-Friendly Airline for Checked Pets | Most Pet-Friendly Airline for Carry-On Pets | Most Eco-Friendly Airline | Best Airport for Layovers | Best Airport for Connections