Frontier Lowers Its Change Fee to $100

We don’t see this very often, but the folks at the newly-reinvigorated Frontier have decided to make some changes. While bag fees are going up $5, the big news is that the change fee is going down from $150 to $100. Huzzah!

The $150 change fee is something that just makes me angry. Considering the fare levels that are out there today, many fares have become effectively non-refundable. I was just looking for a one way from JFK to LAX, and American had a $119 all-in while United had $144. You can book it, but it’ll cost you more to change it than it will to just throw it away and start over. That’s crap. (BTW, I’ll be having my first Virgin America long haul experience for that trip – $98 all-in.)

Here you can see a chart of domestic change fees for many US-based carriers. Yes, I realize it looks suspiciously like something you might wave at a reggae concert. On the right side, I’ve included a completely arbitrary decree regarding what’s fair and what isn’t.

Domestic Change Fees

Why do I say this is completely arbitrary? Well, I don’t have change fee data to back me up here. All I can do is go by what seems fair considering the fares I see out there. To me, anything over $100 is completely absurd. Anything between $50 and $100 seems possibly fair, but it still may be too much for shorter haul carriers considering the fares that are out there. To me, the $25 to $50 range is the sweet spot for short haul while anything below $25 seems like a wasted opportunity. (We’ve talked about this before regarding Southwest.)

But let’s get back to Frontier. They were in the zone of ridiculousness, and they’ve now moved down into the zone of questionability. Why? Well I asked Frontier spokesperson Peter Kowalchuk, and he actually gave a pretty straightforward answer.

We’ve always been a customer-focused company. We realized a couple things. Aside from the great experience that our customers enjoy flying with us, our customers love us for our low fares. We also understand that our customers sometime need to change their plans and the change that we made in the change fee allows them to enjoy our low fares and have the flexibility they need to change their flights. . . . This fee change makes our fees more proportional to our actual fare. Airfare has dropped but fees haven’t.

My interpretation here is that, as I said above, fares have gotten so low that the $150 change fee probably results in people just throwing away their tickets because the change costs more. So now by lowering it 33%, they’re likely hoping they’ll get more than a 33% bump in the number of changes being made. I hope this actually happens, because it gives us hope that other airlines will review their fee as well.

I can dream, can’t I? But least Frontier is moving in the right direction. Kudos to the furry little animal tails.


17 Responses to Frontier Lowers Its Change Fee to $100

  1. Dan says:

    Those change fees *are* nuts. When my fiance and I were doing the long-distance thing earlier this year, I always tried to get her into IAD. Change fees for the carriers she would fly were always $150. If I needed to change something, I’d just drive her up to BWI on the weekend where AirTran would sell me a one-way with 7-day advanced purchase for $70.

  2. Andrew says:

    Note that Frontier has that three-tier fare level, as well, and the change fee is different among them: On the mid- and high-tier fare levels, the change fee is only $50. Since it’s only $20 to jump from one level to the next, if your trip schedule is at all in question, it makes sense to jump to a higher level and pay even less for the change ($50 change + $20 fare level jump = $70). This makes for an even better deal, since the higher fare levels also don’t have baggage fees and include some other niceties.

    I start to see why Southwest has found Frontier to be such a bear in Denver.

    Back to the subject, I am by no means a Numbers Nerd®, but I’ve always wondered if conspicuously high fees are less a revenue source and more a deterrent to aid in operations/planning/etc? I’d be curious to know if Southwest’s “change all you like” policy causes them any sort of headaches. For the same reason, I never understood why refundable fares are so incredibly high, usually at the level of a First Class ticket (the only airline I’ve known to only charge moderately more for a refundable ticket is Midwest). Wouldn’t it make more sense revenue-wise to charge a slight premium and encourage it, like an up-sell? But I’m making the assumption that most people *don’t* change their itineraries.

    It’d be one way to raise fares without raising fares.

  3. David SFeastbay says:

    They either hope people will book them over UA in the Denver market because their change fee is lower or by the lower fee they hope people will pay to make the change and not toss the ticket in the trash and go searching for a lower fare on another airline for their new plans. A lower fee will help keep the passenger in-house and pay to change what they already have.

    Before pay-for-everything-you-used-to-get-for-free came along, having a high change fee was the only way for airlines to make extra money over the price of the ticket that didn’t involve selling someone a beer on board.

  4. Michael says:

    While I agree a reduction is a good thing for customers, I’m not sure the change from $150 to $100 is significant enough of a change from a perception perspective to make a huge difference. $75 seems much more “reasonable.”

  5. JK says:

    I am very loyal AA customer, but I absolutely HATE them when it comes to change fees. I will often spend more (up to $100) just to fly them. I figure that extra amount is worth it so I can take advantage of Gold or Platinum benefits, especially in the case of weather/mechanical disruptions, avoiding bag fees etc. etc.

    However I HATE the change fees. Sure, I think they should discourage me from making changes and charge/punish me for doing so. But the punishment does NOT fit the crime.

    Have you seen what they charge for international changes? Something like $200! I’d love to see that chart. There would need to be a “Zone of Absurdity”.

    Keep up the good work.

  6. David SFeastbay says:

    @ JK:

    AA’s intl changes fee can be $200.00 or $250.00 or like other airlines NONREFUNDABLE and NO CHANGES PERMITTED depending on the market. The lower advance purchase Business fares can be $400.00 to change/cancel.

    But what one does they all do so it’s not like they stand out in the crowd.

  7. Ron says:

    I just paid $143 to change my wife’s ticket to get on the same flight with me and the kids (she was supposed to fly separately due to work commitments, but that changed unexpectedly). We wanted to get her on a specific flight, so we knew we’d have to pay up. The silly thing is that at the time we made the change, a one-way ticket on the same flight cost $132! However, since this was the outgoing leg of a round trip, we couldn’t just toss her original outgoing ticket, as that would have created problems with the return. Airline came out ahead by $11.

  8. frank says:

    JK
    September 9th, 2009 at 2:01 pm
    But the punishment does NOT fit the crime.
    =================================================

    why NOT? Suppose you change your ticket at the last minute and that seat that you had held goes out empty. That’s LOST revenue to the airlines. Change fees inhibit everyone from changing on a whim.

    Seriously, Cranky. You found this: I was just looking for a one way from JFK to LAX, and American had a $119 all-in while United had $144.

    and your complaining about a CHANGE FEE? For $119 I can fill up my vehicle with gas and probably drive a few hundred miles.

    WHAT’S THE BETTER DEAL (even with the change fee)??????????

  9. CF says:

    frank wrote:

    WHAT’S THE BETTER DEAL (even with the change fee)??????????

    I look at this from a completely different perspective. Let’s say someone bought a ticket for $119 on Airline X and could no longer use it. With a $150 fee it gets thrown away and the customer has to book another flight. This flight might be booked with any number of different airlines. With a $100 fee, the customer gets to change the ticket and will stay on Airline X. If the fare is more expensive now, Airline X will also get the difference in fare. It’s a win-win situation. Now the question, of course, is whether they can increase the number of changes to compensate for the lower revenue per change.

  10. frank says:

    With a $150 fee it gets thrown away and the customer has to book another flight. This flight might be booked with any number of different airlines. With a $100 fee, the customer gets to change the ticket and will stay on Airline X. If the fare is more expensive now, Airline X will also get the difference in fare.
    ==============================================

    of course, the passenger is going to do whatever is cheaper. No brainer. Is it cheaper to toss the ticket or can you find another cheap fare? That 150 fee may be the answer as well.
    All the airline is trying to do is inhibit so many changes so flights do NOT go out with empty seats. Once that plane takes off, that’s lost revenue.

  11. CF says:

    frank wrote:

    All the airline is trying to do is inhibit so many changes so flights do NOT go out with empty seats. Once that plane takes off, that’s lost revenue.

    I don’t follow your logic. If the passenger throws away the ticket, then the airline will simply see a no-show and the seat will go empty. If the passenger can change the ticket, then the airline at least has a chance to resell it.

  12. frank says:

    but, what if they cant resell that seat? The passenger HELD that seat, now wants to change to another ONE. That’s one ticket for two seats.

  13. CF says:

    frank wrote:

    but, what if they cant resell that seat? The passenger HELD that seat, now wants to change to another ONE. That’s one ticket for two seats.

    So? The person isn’t going to show up for that flight no matter what. The seat will be empty if it doesn’t get resold no matter what.

  14. PFR says:

    Well, it’s an improvement. But Denver’s my home airport, and I will ALWAYS take Southwest over Frontier until the latter’s change fees fall to the “Zone of Irrationality.” Yep, Southwest bought my business.

  15. AirlineWONK says:

    Good for you, PFR.

  16. DCTA says:

    @ PFR:
    So if you find Frontier’s Classic Plus to be less than lowest Southwest fare (as has been known to happen) you take Frontier as you then have the $0 change fee, right.

  17. PFR says:

    @ DCTA:
    @DCTA:

    Good point. Yes, if I can figure out that that’s the case in a reasonable amount of time. I end up rescheduling flights at least 25% of the time, and could really use a travel search engine that lets me compare flights costs AND change fees easily!

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