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Rating airlines: what factor matters most?

By Nicholas DeRenzo
updated September 29, 2021

This month, Sean O'Neill reported on updates to travel review giant TripAdvisor.com:

This being TripAdvisor, you now get to see how other travelers have rated the airline on eight measures, such as baggage handling, check-in experience, punctuality, and seat comfort. Users can give ratings (but not full reviews yet) by logging in through Facebook or their own TripAdvisor account.

TripAdvisor's new function got me thinking about what I look for when choosing an airline. Sure, factors like baggage handling and check-in experience are important. Of course, I don't want my new luggage thrown around like a rag doll. And no one wants to deal with a grumpy ticket agent. But, to be honest, I usually just go with the lowest fares on any given route, regardless of the reputation of the staff, the width of a seat in coach, or the availability of a free bag of peanuts. Am I alone in considering value above all else?

When picking an airline, which of TripAdvisor's eight categories matters most to you?

Vote in our poll, and then voice your opinions below.


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Product Reviews

Top 10 hottest new travel gadgets

The Consumer Electronics Show, which takes Vegas by storm each January, could be summed up this year in three words: Smaller, Greener, Glitzier. During the 6-day event, more than 100,000 exhibitors showcased the future of televisions, computers, phones, and personal entertainment technology. We were on the scene to scout out the best new wares for travelers. From come-hither cameras to the mother of all gadget chargers, these devices are certain to make any journey that much sweeter. Not all of these products are on the market yet, but you'll want to keep your eyes open for this gear. Click here to see the slide show! Click "continue reading" below to see the full list. Lady GaGa's Camera Sunglasses: sunglasses that moonlight as a camera The concept of fashion photography gets a makeover with Polaroid's new GL20 Camera Sunglasses. Part of the Grey Label line introduced at CES by the Fem Fatal of Fashion herself, Lady GaGa will be repping them while you will be wearing them, hopefully sometime soon. These glasses go beyond GaGa cool into a Bond-like netherworld of possibility. Users can instantly capture or upload photos with the built-in camera and then display the image they just took on the glasses' LCD screens for others to see. The sunglasses contain a camera and 1.5-inch organic light-emitting diode screens that can grab and display images and video as well as store them on a chip in the earpiece of the glasses and transfer them to a computer via USB. Call it Instant Artistry; call it Fashion with a Pun. Get it: It will be awhile until you will be putting these glasses on and playing Gotcha! They are still in prototype and do not have a launch date yet. Keep an eye out for Lady GaGa. When she gets her pair, you can get yours. For more information, visit Polaroid.com. Walkin' Bag: the carry-on that doubles as a lawn chair and a desk Finally! A carry-on that doubles as a lawn chair! We don't know what took the luggage industry so long. Not only does this do-it-all case fit a week's worth of clothing, it moonlights as a chair—or a desk. Stuck in a terminal full of cancelled flights? Turn the seat into a desk and start typing away (or simply unfold the seat, lean back, and relax). Finally, it's a four-wheel spinner so the bag practically flies down the pathway. The frame comes apart from the bag for easy storage and stuffing and the whole thing can hold the weight of a 300-pound person without concern for cracking. The only thing we don't like? It's hard to find outside the Website. Get it: $170 (with seat). Purchase through Walkinbag.com. Innex ElectroHUB: the device that charges all of your gadgets at once…wirelessly Innex ElectroHUB is one of the most genius travel devices we encountered at CES. The item is a wireless charger that lets you juice a half dozen electronic gadgets at once (no more multiple sets of cords to bulk up your luggage and lose in strange rooms!). Here's how it works: you plug ElectroHub into the wall, place up to six devices on the 6-by-9-inch surface and wait for them to charge. The hub works with everything from mobile phones to e-readers to game controllers and provides a full charge within standard time frames. The rub is that you'll need to swap ElectroHUB batteries into your devices before they'll work with the wireless charger. The hub weighs about 11 ounces. Get it: $39, including a set of ElectroHUB batteries (additional batteries cost $10 per set). The device is set to launch later this year. For more information, visit Innexinc.com. ZAGGmate: a Bluetooth keyboard for the iPad ZAGGmate might be this year's winner when it comes to iPad accessories. The sleek protective case doubles as a keypad and…well, a desk for quick notations on the go. The case comes NASA-style with aircraft-grade aluminum for protection and an attractive, high gloss finish. Open the case and the top section doubles as a hinge stand for holding the iPad at a comfortable viewing angle while the Bluetooth keyboard on the bottom section allows for easy QWERTY typing. Downside: ZAGGmate charges separately and does not double as a charger for the iPad. The case with keyboard adds nearly 13 ounces to the iPad but only about 1/4 inch in depth. Get it: $99 for ZAGGmate with keyboard. The device can be found at chain electronics stores and departments. For more information visit Zagg.com. ChicBuds: a thumb-sized boombox While ChicBuds have been around this year as cartoon-colored retractable ear buds that can attach to a key ring or hole in your MP3, CES brought the next generation of darling sound servers: the ChicBoom Keychain Speakers. These thumb-sized boom boxes keep keys and music in place while wowing the room with surprisingly decent sound output (the speakers give 2-watts of amplification; a single charge offers four hours of quality sound). Choose the a little blue box with leopard sidings, the heart-shaped speaker or the bubblegum pink speaker ball that looks like a sugarcoated jawbreaker. A built-in rechargeable battery plugs into your computer and allows you to juice up while listening to you iTunes library in some far away hotel room. The items connect to just about any listening device. Get it: $29.99. For more information, visit Chicbuds.com. Earthmate: a handheld GPS and text-messaging unit that works where cell phones don't Planning on doing any backwoods hiking, mountain-climbing or safaris in the near future? If so, you should seriously consider adding the new Earthmate by Delorme to your travel wish list. Not only does the palm-sized item hold a sensitive GPS system, it also delivers one-way email messaging. What makes this gadget so special is that it works by satellite, which means that you can use it even when cell phone service is non-existent. Other features include barometric altimeter readings, NOAA nautical charts, aerial imagery, and topographical maps. Naturally, Earthmate can be powered by the sun when other forms of energy are unavailable. Get it: Earthmate PN series start at $299. For more information visit Delorme.com. PlaySport Video Camera: the video cam that can't be broken Kodak's new PlaySport Video Camera won Innovation awards this year at CES as a hot and handy camera that goes practically anywhere you go. The rugged, durable and pocketsize HD video camera has a special appetite for adventure. It is waterproof up to 10 feet, can be dropped up to 4 feet, and features a full 1080p HD video and 5 MP still capture all with autofocus, an electronic image stabilization, and built-in software with a USB cable output so as quickly as you shoot you can edit and share on Twitter, YouTube and Face Book through a 3-step sharing button. An edit window on the camera makes it easy to trim, add voice over, or mash-up your creations. Record up to 10 hours of HD video with an expandable SD/SDHC card slot (up to 32 GB). The bad? It does not come in puce. You'll have to make do with black, red, green, white and aqua. Compatible with Mac and PC. Get it: $179 when it comes out this spring. For more information, visit Kodak.com. iPower: a solar iPhone charger Mi Suny is trying to save the world one iPhone at a time. The candy-colored portable iPower3 (for iPhone 3 series) and iPower 4 chargers use the sun to keep your iPhone in juice so you never have to go for too long with a dead phone. The iPhone fits glove-like into the hard shell case and then can be worn as single unit with a cord around the neck exposing the backside solar panel to the sun for ongoing charges. The front display of the phone remains exposed for calling, surfing and accessing apps. The downside? It takes about 8 hours to get a full charge from sunlight alone, but if you are in a hurry and nowhere near a plug, two hours of direct solar exposure will give you 30 minutes of talk time on a 3G network. Get it: Starting at about $100, buy Mi Suny through the website of the UK-based company: Misuny.com. Neoprene Laptop/iPad Case: a laptop case that's stylish and durable Built's neon neoprene designs insure that wherever you're going, your computer and your iPad can go with you in style. For your computer, we love the padded, featherweight Laptop Tote Bag, which looks more like a purse and holds computers with ease while two deep inside pockets store chargers, gadgets and keys. Roomy to the bone you can add folders, notebooks and guidebooks. For iPads, we recommend the Neoprene Envelope. The Scuba Blue Envelope provides stylish protection for the precious pad with form-fitting design and graceful curves to keep it secure. The interior pocket is perfect for storing an adapter, phone or keys and the soft inner lining helps prevent scratches and bumps from jolts. Get it: $60-70 for the Laptop Tote Bag, $40 for the Neoprene Envelope for iPads. For more information, visit Builtny.com. Protect and Play iPhone Case: a high-impact shell for your iPhone The Pelican i1015 case looks like the kind of thing that would allow you to take your iPhone, iTouch or iPod into battle and never miss a tune or a call. OK, you can't take it swimming with you, but your gadgets will go just about everywhere else in this bomb shelter of a carrying case. The high-impact, heat- and chemical-resistant polymer shell maintains a decorative edge—kind of a mini-suitcase look—while the clear coating allows you to watch videos if you want. An earpiece connector peeks through the plastic casing so you can listen to music as you go without the usual worries of dropping or losing your device, or exposing it to the elements. Downside? It's a bit clunky and does not fit easily into a purse. But it slips into a beach bag with the greatest of ease. It also fits Blackberry Curve, Storm, and Pearl; the G1 by T-Mobile; and the Nokia 5800, E63, E71, E75, N78 and N79. Get it: $38.80 at Pelican.com. —By Lark Ellen Gould

Product Reviews

Hotels: New app for last-minute deals

Let's say you arrive late at night in a major city and you unexpectedly need to book a hotel on the spot. Last-minute rates for hotels can be sky-high, and finding a cafe to do a half-an-hour's worth of Internet searching isn't practical. A (promising) new solution to this problem is Hotel Tonight, an app for buying a bargin hotel room at the 11th-hour for one night. So far, its deals are as impressive as Expedia's, Priceline's, and Hotwire's, and the app is easy to use. Hotel Tonight lets you search in three categories of hotel: basic, hip, or elegant. Reserve rooms on the same day from early afternoon until 2 a.m. in the wee hours, local time. Annoyingly, Hotel Tonight has piled on the "members' only" trend, pioneered by Jetsetter, and you have to "become a member" by filling out an online form. That means a lot of tapping on your phone just to get that first hotel stay. (About 80 taps, according to a company exec.) On the bright side, "membership" is free and quickly granted, and you receive a virtual coupon worth $10 off your first booking. Once you've joined, it's superquick to book a hotel, and prices include all taxes and fees—so there's no surprises at on checkout. Once you're set up, the app is more attractive to use than Priceline's, whose bidding process takes too long at the last-minute. Besides, when you are booking on the same day, you probably don't like the uncertainty of not knowing which hotel Priceline might book you in until your bid is accepted. Hotel Tonight is a surer bet, and less confusing to use on this score. A downside, though, at least for now: Hotel Tonight only covers hotels in New York City, San Francisco, and L.A. Most people aren't stuck in those cities needing a hotel at the last minute often enough for them to go through the long process of becoming a member of this app. But I bet the app will improve its coverage with time. The other downside is that this app is only available as an app for iPhones, iPads, and the like. I'm sure that will change, too. The company is a sister of DealBase, which we've praised in our Extra Mile Awards. It does a good job of vetting hotels: Staff members have stayed in the properties and have written up brief reviews. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Extra Mile Awards Priceline's new app is best for last-minute hotel bids Quiz: Can you spot the travel rip-off?

Product Reviews

Why you won't find American's fares on Expedia or Orbitz

Expedia and Orbitz have stopped showing nearly all American Airlines flights. If you want to book tickets on American, you have to go directly to the airline's site, aa.com, or shop at other major online travel agencies and search engines. Expedia and Orbitz are battling with American about who controls the search results you see. The backstory says a lot about how airlines want vacationers to pay even higher prices for fares. Here's the gist: American is jealous of Southwest, which has earned fatter profits over the years. American is especially jealous of how Southwest sells its tickets only through southwest.com, while preventing online travel agencies from selling its tickets. Southwest saves money by selling directly to its passengers, because it doesn't have to pay fees to middlemen. Meanwhile, every time American posts a ticket on a site like Expedia, the airline has to pay about 10 percent in fees. Some of those fees go to the online travel agency, and some go to a middleman company that runs computer databases. In contrast, every time a ticket is sold through American's own website, all of the traveler's money goes to the airline. Even better for American, whenever a flier shops for a ticket directly on its aa.com site, the airline can up-sell the person on additional services, such as roomier seats. American decided not to fully copy Southwest. It didn't want to stop listing its fares with all online travel sites—which provide about 17 percent of its revenue. So it came up with a half-way measure. The airline invented its own computer system, called Direct Connect, and asked Expedia and Orbitz to use it instead of the middleman's computer services. This would give American the best of both worlds: The airline would continue to have its fares listed on major online travel sites, but it would no longer have to pay a fee of up to $4 per ticket to a middleman for its computer services to do so. Plus, its new computer system would let it upsell vacationers on profitable services. But Expedia and Orbitz don't like Direct Connect. They don't like it for several reasons, but the most important one for budget travelers is that American's planned new system would ultimately make tickets more expensive—driving business down. Tickets sold by online agencies like Expedia and Orbitz are 45 percent cheaper than ones sold by traditional travel agencies, says a survey by UBS quoted by the New York Times. American's new model would push up prices higher. Expedia worried that the next shoe to drop would be for American to stop providing fares to it as well, not just Orbitz. So after American recently pulled its fares from Orbitz, Expedia stopped showing American's fares in solidarity with its competitor. It's an effort to team up and stop the airlines before they gain momentum and take actions that will push up prices. Other airlines are watching the battle closely. On December 17, Delta, for one, stopped allowing three sites—CheapOAir.com, OneTravel.com, and BookIt.com—from listing its flights. What do you think? MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL An airfare search with a sense of humor: Hipmunk The best flight search tool you've never heard of: ITA Software For the lowest airfare, study says book eight weeks in advance

Product Reviews

Last-minute gifts: 5 high-tech toys

Ok, I'll admit it: I am a gift procrastinator. Every year, I wait too long to buy presents, and then I spend a few, panicked days right before Christmas running from store to store. If you're like me, you know the feeling. Luckily, part of my job in 2010 was to coordinate our Coolest Gift Guide Ever, so I did my gift-buying early. But we simply didn't have the space to fit in all the awesome, high-tech toys that we found into two pages. So for all you last-minute buyers out there, I'm sharing with you a special, bonus edition. Here are five travel items you can still get for every techie on your list: Gorillamobile for iPhone 4, $40. Joby electronics has plenty of useable, funky-looking items in their roster (including the cute Torch), but this new piece is ideal for obsessive iPhone 4 users. The flexible, wrappable legs make your phone an in-flight TV, a camera tripod, or a hands-free stand during facetime calls back home. Lensbaby Muse, from $100. Love the dreamy effect of lomo and Diana cameras, but don't want to spring for the full model? This plastic optic camera lens fits onto digital SLR cameras from most major manufacturers, including Canon, Nikon, and Samsung. Focus in on subjects or create cool pinhole effects simply by scrunching the accordion-like lens with your hands. Best of all, it works right out of the box—how often can you say that at this time of year? Brenthaven 5-in-1 iPad case, $60. We've praised Brenthaven's durability before, and I'll let you watch the handy one-minute video to get a full picture of all this ingenious case does. But in brief, the 5-in-1 protects your investment in a two-sided hardshell case that can also flip around to make a typing or viewing stand. Scottevest SeV Revolution Jacket, $175. Specializing in apparel that replaces the need of a carry-on bag, Scottevest has gotten a lot of attention recently, what with the new TSA restrictions. One of the company's new models, the SeV Revolution, has 26 pockets for stashing everything from a bottle of water to your bluetooth headset, plus removable sleeves and a hood. iHome Portable Speaker Case, $80. Perfect for camping or a beach-villa stay, this portable set of speakers packs a huge sound. An array of colors to choose from makes it a fun gift for the younger set. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL The Coolest Gifts For Every Traveler Which Garmin GPS Unit It Best? 6 Money-Saving Bags