NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Which airline stocks are the best investments in today's low-cost fuel environment?

Airline stocks were getting a lift this week following earnings. Several airline companies noted that low fuel costs in the current quarter would be a boost to earnings.

The NYSE Arca Airline Index not only hit a new 52-week-high on Thursday, it was the index's highest level since March 2002.

TheStreet analyzed which airline stocks present the best opportunity for investors looking for exposure to the sector.

TheStreet Ratings, TheStreet's proprietary stock rating tool, projects a stock's total return potential over a 12-month period, including both price appreciation and dividends. Based on 32 major data points, TheStreet Ratings uses a quantitative approach to rating over 4,300 stocks to predict return potential for the next year. The model is both objective, using elements such as volatility of past operating revenues, financial strength, and company cash flows, and subjective, including expected equities market returns, future interest rates, implied industry outlook and forecasted company earnings.

Buying an S&P 500 stock that TheStreet Ratings rated a "buy" yielded a 16.56% return in 2014 beating the S&P 500 Total Return Index by 304 basis points. Buying a Russell 2000 stock that TheStreet Ratings rated a "buy" yielded a 9.5% return in 2014, beating the Russell 2000 index, including dividends reinvested, by 460 basis points last year.

The 10 stocks on the list are all stocks of all market capitalizations and have a "buy" rating, with a B- or better grade from TheStreet Ratings.

Which airline stocks should you target for the best returns? Click through to see which companies are top-rated stocks.

10. Delta Air Lines (DAL - Get Report)

Rating: Buy, B-

2014 Return: 81.9%

Delta Air Lines, Inc. provides scheduled air transportation for passengers and cargo worldwide. Its route network comprises various gateway airports in Amsterdam, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit, Memphis, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York-LaGuardia, New York-JFK, Paris-Charles de Gaulle, Salt Lake City, Seattle, and Tokyo-Narita.

"We rate DELTA AIR LINES INC (DAL) a BUY. This is driven by multiple strengths, which we believe should have a greater impact than any weaknesses, and should give investors a better performance opportunity than most stocks we cover. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its revenue growth, solid stock price performance and largely solid financial position with reasonable debt levels by most measures. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company has had sub par growth in net income."

You can view the full analysis from the report here: DAL Ratings Report

 

9. United Continental (UAL - Get Report)

Rating: Buy, B-

2014 Return: 81.8%

United Continental Holdings, Inc., through its subsidiaries, provides passenger and cargo transportation services. The company transports people and cargo through its mainline operations, which use jet aircraft with 118 seats, and its regional operations.

"We rate UNITED CONTINENTAL HLDGS INC (UAL) a BUY. This is driven by multiple strengths, which we believe should have a greater impact than any weaknesses, and should give investors a better performance opportunity than most stocks we cover. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its impressive record of earnings per share growth, compelling growth in net income, revenue growth, notable return on equity and good cash flow from operations. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company has had generally high debt management risk by most measures that we evaluated."

You can view the full analysis from the report here: UAL Ratings Report

 

8. JetBlue Airways Corp. (JBLU - Get Report)
Rating: Buy, B
2014 Return: 88.1%

JetBlue Airways Corporation, a passenger carrier company, provides air transportation services in the United States, the Caribbean, and Latin America. As of December 31, 2013, it operated a fleet of 4 Airbus A321 aircraft, 130 Airbus A320 aircraft, and 60 EMBRAER 190 aircraft.

"We rate JETBLUE AIRWAYS CORP (JBLU) a BUY. This is driven by a number of strengths, which we believe should have a greater impact than any weaknesses, and should give investors a better performance opportunity than most stocks we cover. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its solid stock price performance, growth in earnings per share, revenue growth, attractive valuation levels and good cash flow from operations. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company shows low profit margins."

You can view the full analysis from the report here: JBLU Ratings Report

7. Copa Holdings (CPA - Get Report)
Rating: Buy, B
2014 Return: -33.8%

Copa Holdings, S.A. provides airline passenger and cargo services in Latin America. It provides services within Colombia; and international flights from various cities in Colombia to Panama, Venezuela, Ecuador, Mexico, Cuba, Guatemala, and Costa Rica.

"We rate COPA HOLDINGS SA (CPA) a BUY. This is driven by a few notable strengths, which we believe should have a greater impact than any weaknesses, and should give investors a better performance opportunity than most stocks we cover. Among the primary strengths of the company is its solid financial position based on a variety of debt and liquidity measures that we have evaluated. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company has had sub par growth in net income."

You can view the full analysis from the report here: CPA Ratings Report

 

 

6. Allegiant Travel Co. (ALGT - Get Report)

Rating: Buy, A-

2014 Return: 44.2%

Allegiant Travel Company, a leisure travel company, focuses on the provision of travel services and products to residents of small cities in the United States.

"We rate ALLEGIANT TRAVEL CO (ALGT) a BUY. This is based on the convergence of positive investment measures, which should help this stock outperform the majority of stocks that we rate. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its revenue growth, good cash flow from operations, notable return on equity and solid stock price performance. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company has had sub par growth in net income."

You can view the full analysis from the report here: ALGT Ratings Report

5. Hawaiian Holdings HA
Rating: Buy, A-
2014 Return: 174.2%

Hawaiian Holdings, Inc., through its subsidiary, Hawaiian Airlines, Inc., is engaged in the scheduled air transportation of passengers and cargo. The company offers daily services on North America routes between the state of Hawaii and Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Phoenix, Arizona; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle, Washington, as well as daily services on its neighbor island routes among the four major islands of the state of Hawaii. It also provides scheduled service between the state of Hawaii, and New York City, New York. In addition, the company provides daily services on its international routes.

"We rate HAWAIIAN HOLDINGS INC (HA) a BUY. This is based on the convergence of positive investment measures, which should help this stock outperform the majority of stocks that we rate. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its solid stock price performance, revenue growth, good cash flow from operations and notable return on equity. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company has had sub par growth in net income."

You can view the full analysis from the report here: HA Ratings Report

 

 

4. Ryanair Holdings (RYAAY - Get Report)
Rating: Buy, A
2014 Return: 53.7%

Ryanair Holdings plc, together with its subsidiaries, provides scheduled-passenger airline services in Ireland, the United Kingdom, continental Europe, and Morocco.

"We rate RYANAIR HOLDINGS PLC (RYAAY) a BUY. This is based on the convergence of positive investment measures, which should help this stock outperform the majority of stocks that we rate. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its largely solid financial position with reasonable debt levels by most measures, expanding profit margins, good cash flow from operations, notable return on equity and solid stock price performance. Although no company is perfect, currently we do not see any significant weaknesses which are likely to detract from the generally positive outlook."

You can view the full analysis from the report here: RYAAY Ratings Report

3. Spirit Airlines (SAVE - Get Report)
Rating: Buy, A
2014 Return: 68.4%

Spirit Airlines, Inc. provides low-fare airline services. It operates approximately 250 daily flights to 50 destinations in the United States, Caribbean, and Latin America.

"We rate SPIRIT AIRLINES INC (SAVE) a BUY. This is based on the convergence of positive investment measures, which should help this stock outperform the majority of stocks that we rate. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its growth in earnings per share, revenue growth, largely solid financial position with reasonable debt levels by most measures, good cash flow from operations and solid stock price performance. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company is trading at a premium valuation based on our review of its current price compared to such things as earnings and book value."

You can view the full analysis from the report here: SAVE Ratings Report

 

2. Alaska Air Group (ALK - Get Report)
Rating: Buy, A+
2014 Return: 66%

Alaska Air Group, Inc., through its subsidiaries, provides passengers and cargo air transportation services in the United States. The company operates through Alaska Mainline and Alaska Regional segments. It serves approximately 100 cities in Alaska, the Lower 48, Hawaii, Canada and Mexico.

"We rate ALASKA AIR GROUP INC (ALK) a BUY. This is based on the convergence of positive investment measures, which should help this stock outperform the majority of stocks that we rate. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its solid stock price performance, revenue growth, expanding profit margins, good cash flow from operations and largely solid financial position with reasonable debt levels by most measures. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company has had sub par growth in net income."

You can view the full analysis from the report here: ALK Ratings Report

1. Southwest Airlines (LUV - Get Report)
Rating: Buy, A+
2014 Return: 125.8%

Southwest Airlines Co. operates passenger airlines that provide scheduled air transportation services in the United States. As of December 31, 2012, the company operated 694 aircraft, including 606 Boeing 737 aircraft and 88 Boeing 717 aircraft.

"We rate SOUTHWEST AIRLINES (LUV) a BUY. This is based on the convergence of positive investment measures, which should help this stock outperform the majority of stocks that we rate. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its impressive record of earnings per share growth, compelling growth in net income, revenue growth, largely solid financial position with reasonable debt levels by most measures and notable return on equity. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company shows weak operating cash flow."

You can view the full analysis from the report here: LUV Ratings Report

 

 

- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.