JetBlue, Four Seasons and National Car Rental among favorites in J.D. Power survey

Rosemary McClure

When it comes to providing on-time planes, great beds and maintenance-free rental cars, not all travel companies are created equal.

But a new survey released today by the marketing company J.D. Power and Associates may help you make better choices when you travel. The report lists America's Consumer Champions, nine travel companies that do their jobs so well, they've earned peoples' choice-style awards from thousands of business and leisure travelers.

And the winners are:

Hotel companies: The Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, Homewood Suites, Drury Hotels and Staybridge Suites
Airlines: Southwest and JetBlue
Car rental companies: Enterprise and National
The winning companies all have certain qualities in common that make them popular with consumers and with their own employees, according to the J.D. Power survey. For instance, they all tailor their offerings to their customers' needs, says spokesman Rick Garlick.

"Not everyone loves Southwest Airlines—their open seating policy, lighthearted attitudes, casual attire, doesn’t appeal to everyone," Garlick said. “But it's a winner with their core customer, families traveling on vacation.”

National Car Rental, which won J.D. Power's car-rental survey last year, offers another example of customer-friendly service.

"Their frequent renters can bypass the counter and pick out whatever vehicle they want, which appeals to the business traveler in a hurry," Garlick said.

The companies that won the awards also are consistent. Drury Inn and Suites is a champion in the midscale hotel category, where there is often a great deal of unpredictability, Garlick said. "They maintain very consistent brand standards so the experience is a dependable one wherever you go."

Another perk: The winning companies create value through distinctive offerings. JetBlue has a great in-flight entertainment system; National offers customers the ability to pick out their own cars; Drury offers hot dogs and beer at their manager’s reception, which appeals to families. These things create value for customers in unique ways, Garlick says.

And, although Four Seasons has rates that are among the highest in the industry, customers still rate it best of any hotel. The secret: it provides value for the upscale business and leisure travelers who patronize it. 

(See also: J.D. Power's 2013 hotel survey)

All of the companies chosen also strive to create desirable workplaces. Four Seasons and Marriott (Ritz-Carlton’s parent company) both were named in the 100 Best Places to Work list by the Great Place to Work Institute for having very employee-friendly workplaces, according to Garlick.

The selection of the 2014 Customer Champions was based on an independent  evaluation of consumer feedback, opinions and perceptions gathered from J.D. Power studies conducted in the United States in 2013.

“J.D. Power surveys hundreds of thousands of customers every year" said Finbarr O’Neill, president of J.D. Power. “The  companies we’ve recognized as Customer Champions demonstrate the highest levels of service excellence, not just compared with their direct competitors, but also across all facets of the customer experience.”