Is Frontier Airlines testing the most radical fee changes of all?


The only thing certain about airline fees is that they only go up. The recent hike of legacy carrier change fees has gotten a lot of press, including on this site. However, Frontier Airlines, which has kept change fees at $100, has been quietly instituting new fees of their own.

Frontier’s policy changes that go with these fees could end up the most far-reaching of all.

The first fee is for carry-on bags. Anything that doesn’t fit underneath the seat is subject to a $25 fee, if paid at time of online check-in, and a $100 fee if paid at the airport.

Charging for carry-ons makes a certain amount of sense as far as speeding up boarding. The new twist here is that the fees only apply to travelers who have booked through travel agents or any third-party site.

As at most airlines, Elite level frequent fliers will be exempt from the baggage fees, but Frontier will also exempt passengers who book directly on “,” the airline website. (Note: Passengers booking directly with Frontier by phone will still pay the fees.)

Frontier is also cutting the frequent flyer miles passengers accrue when they book through a third party, down to 25 percent of actual mileage. (They cut it to 50 percent in September, 2012.) So now, a 2,000-mile roundtrip booked through a travel agency or online agency will only net passengers 500 miles.

Also as of last fall, Frontier only allows passengers to choose seats in advance when they book directly on the the airline website.

While they’re at it, Frontier has also decided to charge for soft drinks and bottled water, with an exemption for elite travelers and those on higher fares. (This is going to be interesting for flight attendants trying to figure out who qualifies, but that’s another post.)

Frontier doesn’t primarily cater to business travelers and, with a limited route structure, these changes are attracting much less press than if a major carrier tried them.

On the other hand, infrequent travelers may not care much about mileage and they may expect airline seat assignments. But they will definitely notice the carry-on bag surcharges.

Presumably, agents will divulge the new system up front. This could open up a whole new set of issues — do agents offer to do the finding work for a fee, then let the traveler book direct?

Some agents might try to start booking on the Frontier site instead of their agency computer? (This is more complicated than it sounds, as schedule changes, etc., may not get communicated after booking. Plus, it increases the chance for error in booking through an extra system.

So far, most major carriers trying to lure travelers to their websites have been using a carrot rather than a stick approach. United, for example, has offered some bonus miles every now and then for online bookings. Airlines offer baggage discounts and bonus miles through various credit cards, but qualifying travel can be booked direct or with an agency.

But since nothing is certain in the airline industry but change, my sense is that Frontier will either eventually give up these changes or see them spread. But we shall see.

  • Stephen0118

    You know it’s getting harder and harder to find an airline that flies where you need to go that doesn’t also charge some fee.

  • MikeABQ

    Once the airlines learned that the traveling public would pay their stupid fees it opened up the door for a “fee-for-all”. Plus, the airline’s PR people are masters at putting the spin on fees to make their customers feel like the fee is somehow for their benefit and not just a profit grab by the airlines. (Front page of the business section of my home paper — “Airlines Rake In $6B In Fees.” And that’s all pure profit.) If customers had rejected the first round of fees (all those years ago) we wouldn’t be where we are today. The airlines are not at fault for charging fees; the consumer is at fault for paying them.

  • DCTA

    you know, I’m all for charging for carry-on instead of checked bags! I think it will make boarding and de-planing much faster/easier.

    In terms of third-party booking…..I’m also all for the various GDS dropping their agreements with Frontier. I certainly don’t need to sell it and they certainly are de-incentivizing me to do so. They want everyone booking on their site so they avoid the GDS fees, then get off the GDS. AND for the OTAs – I think that in consideration of not being able to provide a full service to customers, they probably should drop Frontier as well.

  • Pete Shinbach

    Just had a talk with a friend who doesn’t travel much and knows that I do. She asked about booking a flight for her vacation. I told her to avoid Spirit & Frontier.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    It’s as though the airlines don’t want us to travel at all! Or if we do, please don’t encumber yourself, or them, with something as silly as luggage.

    They charge exorbitant fees to check a bag. They charge exorbitant fees to NOT check a bag. They charge exorbitant fees if you buy your ticket anywhere but with them. They charge exorbitant fees if you buy your ticket with them.

    MikeABQ said it best when he pointed out the article in today’s news about the airlines showing record profits, most likely because of fees.

  • MeanMeosh

    I suspect what Frontier did will become a trend, but for a different reason. It’s no secret that the airlines want to move to a “direct connect” model. What happens if, say, the new USAA threatens to introduce a booking fee and/or take amenities away from passengers who don’t book directly with the airline, to try and force the GDSs to play ball? There are a ton of contractual issues of course, and becomes mega-complicated due to corporate contracts, but I could totally see one of the majors attempting something like this.

  • DCTA

    Didn’t AAL already attempt this and lose in court? Last year? Something like trying to force bookings away from Sabre…

  • Freddy

    Not that we book a lot of Frontier in the past, but moving forward we WILL NOT!!
    Lots of other choices out there!

  • neal1

    I was reading that Frontier is having financial problems, which is why they are adding fees to make the opportunity presentable for a buyer. This is why I have no desire to sell them on one scenario. Insolvency has been a problem for too many carriers in the past. One reason for financial challenge is that Frontier has alienated thsoe who sold them. Once they said bought through an agency, they would pay more and no seats, it was apparent they wanted to bypass agents. Most notably the online agencies whom they negotiated their deals with in the first place. So we have a no sell on them. SO GOODBYE NO SEAT ASSIGNMENTS, GOODBYE HIGHER CHANGE FEE, GOOD BYE HIGHER CHECKED BAG FEE, GOODBYE REDUCED FREQUENT FLYER POINT, AND GOOD RIDDANCE FRONTIER. YOU WILL HAVE THE SAME FINANCIAL FATE AS THE AIRLINES BEFORE YOU WHOM ISOLATED AGENTS, AND HAVE PAID WITH CHAPTER 11. GOOD BYE

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