How Frontier Got Me to Pay More for a Connecting Flight Than a Nonstop

I’ve long sung the praises of Air Canada’s efforts to create fare product categories, but really, I’ve never gone through the purchase process for my own ticket. When Frontier adopted a similar structure, I felt the same way, but again, I hadn’t gone through the process myself . . . until now. I love it even more.

I have a trip coming up in a couple of months that will take me to both Chicago for a reunion of sorts and then Indianapolis to see the in-laws. The Chicago decision was an easy one – I’ll be on the JetBlue flight from Long Beach. But coming back, I had my pick of the litter. In fact, there were three appealing options, all within about $10 of each other:

  1. Frontier Lv Indy 645a Arr Long Beach 1015a (1h7m stop in Denver)
  2. Delta Lv Indy 7a Arr LAX 836a (no stops)
  3. Delta Lv Indy 815a Arr Long Beach 1209p (1h7m stop in Salt Lake)

While I normally want to fly nonstop whenever I can, I’ll take Long Beach over LAX if the connection isn’t painfully long every time. The choice of Frontier over Delta was an easy one as well. Frontier is new to town, and I always want to support the new guy. We need to fill those planes if we’re going to keep them around. (Besides, I love LiveTV.) So I went to Frontier’s website to book.

Frontier deserves kudos for actually showing the full fare amount instead of the misleading pre-tax amount that other sites show. I saw the fare I expected to see, but then I saw more. In fact, I saw this (click to enlarge):

Frontier Fare Display

Hmm, I was going to buy an Economy fare, but for only $30 I could get a Classic fare. What was that again? Oh yeah, they have a link. Here’s the comparison:

Frontier AirFairs

It was time to break out the math. What mattered here? Well, I wasn’t checking a bag, but if I was, this became an easy decision to buy up to the higher fare. I was definitely going to pay for LiveTV, though I knew we’d only have it on one of our flights. So that’s a $6 savings. I might think about paying up for Stretch at the time of check-in, but I wasn’t ready to count that yet. Really, it came down to the seat assignment. I wanted that seat assignment in advance. Was it worth $24? Yep, I bought it.

While all this was going on, I had completely blocked the other flights out of my mind. Sure, I could have had an assigned seat on Delta at the cheapest fare level, but I had already made up my mind what I wanted to fly. Frontier was able to get an extra $30 out of me, and I had no problem paying for it. It was completely fair and I expected to get more out of it than the $30 it cost.

I hate when airlines throw fees at you every step of the way, but a product like this allowed me to pay for what I wanted up front and be done with it. I wish everyone would do this.


35 Responses to How Frontier Got Me to Pay More for a Connecting Flight Than a Nonstop

  1. Lee says:

    Amen.

  2. BF says:

    This really is the future of air travel and pricing, at least I hope so.

    Southwest would be smart to take a page from Frontier’s book, and not bring down the cost of their Business Select fares (same goes for the Anytime fares when there’s a “Wanna Get Away” option). Instead of Frontier’s ~$30 difference (obviously an amount that’s going to vary depending on the route), I see Southwest charging usually $125-$200 more for fare upgrades. A price differential that tends to turn off most travelers!

  3. BF says:

    ” . . . not bring down the cost of their Business Select fares”

    Must. remember. to. read. before. submitting. comment.

    Obviously I don’t want that “not” in that sentence.

  4. David SFeastbay says:

    My question would be for the free onboard stuff how do they know you purchased the higher fare to get those?

    I can see the flight manifest showing who gets the free items and listing your seat number, but people can change seats. So are you given something to show the F/A’s onboard that you get those items as part of your ticket?

  5. CF says:

    David SFeastbay wrote:

    So are you given something to show the F/A’s onboard that you get those items as part of your ticket?

    They didn’t give me anything yet, but I’ll let you know when I write up the trip report.

  6. Ken says:

    Just flew Frontier’s Classic Plus. Stretch is great — allegedly the same pitch as United’s E+ but somehow felt like more. With 2 bags to check that, too, was a no-brainer. Excellent service. Plus the CP is fully refundable. To me, that’s huge at this price point. I’d choose Frontier again in a heartbeat. And @david: It says Classic or Classic Plus on your boarding pass.

  7. Ed Casper says:

    I really think Frontier’s pricing mechanism, in many ways, represents the best of both worlds. If combined with JetBlue’s policy of one “free” checked bag, and Southwest’s cancellation policy it would be an ideal way to split the differences among pricing models. That combination of policies, at least in my humble opinion, represents fair value for both consumers and the airlines.

  8. hk2 says:

    If you were to purchase LiveTV, isn’t it worth $12 instead of $6, because you have had to pay twice for IND-DEN and DEN-LGB. Correct me if I’m wrong.

  9. hk2 says:

    @ hk2:
    Sorry, one of your flight is not available for LiveTV. Well, still in many other connections, it’s $12 worth and more reason to upgrade to “classic”.

  10. CF says:

    hk2 wrote:

    @ hk2:
    Sorry, one of your flight is not available for LiveTV. Well, still in many other connections, it’s $12 worth and more reason to upgrade to “classic”.

    Yep, the second flight is an Embraer, so no TV (grumble, grumble, but that’s a different story). You’re right though. The afternoon flight to Long Beach is an Airbus, so if we were on that one, it would have been $12 and added even more value.

  11. Andrew says:

    When I’ve flown a LiveTV-equipped Frontier plane on the Classic ticket, the flight attendants seem to have a printed manifest that indicates who is supposed to get the “free” TV — They’ve come down the aisle usually as soon as the plane is in the air and they’re able to move around, asked me “Are you Andrew?” and then swiped a key-card in the credit card slot next to the TV monitor to activate it for me. Pretty painless. I’ve never flown on a Classic Plus ticket, but I see them getting those passengers their free liquor at the same time (and those passengers are grouped up front anyway, so it’s even easier).

    I love Frontier’s tiered pricing, and agree with the other comments that it seems like such an obvious “keep everyone happy” strategy that I’m surprised airlines haven’t rushed to embrace it. United seems almost there with all their a la carte options, but wrapping it up into tiered ticket prices would make the whole thing easier to parse. And a better value.

    CF wrote:

    Yep, the second flight is an Embraer, so no TV (grumble, grumble, but that’s a different story).

    Allow me: REPUBLIC, FIGURE OUT YOUR FLEET. The different and disorganized customer experience is ultimately going to harm the Frontier brand, the only strong one they have right now. I appreciate that Republic has at least come out and said recently than they realize operating Midwest, Frontier and Republic as separate brands hasn’t gone as smoothly as they’d hope and a unified brand strategy and flight experience is coming later this year. Let’s hope Frontier’s approach wins out.

  12. Jon says:

    I’ve only flown Frontier once, but I do like the way they do things. I flew ATL-DEN-ANC back in September. On trips beginning or terminating in ANC, 1 checked bag is free. (I didn’t see that fact publicized anywhere on their website, but I knew from speaking with others. Felt bad for those who booked a higher fare level for bags.)

    DirecTV is also free on segments to ANC, as it doesn’t work over Canada anyway.

    The pitch on their 319s is also about 1-2 inches better than most. Not sure if that has changed since they started adding Stretch up front…

  13. Craig says:

    Frontier’s fare categories offer some great values, but there’s one major problem – they could be costing Frontier business when passengers who aren’t familiar with them search for fares.

    I just ran a search on Kayak for LGA-DEN, flying out Apr 2 and returning Apr 6. Kayak shows the cheapest fare as $256 (Midwest, with MCI-DEN segment on the outbound and nonstop return on Frontier metal), Frontier comes back as lowest available being $307, non-stop both ways. Cheapest fully non-stop combos are $294 (Frontier out, United back), or $304 on United. Frontier fares are identified on Kayak as coming from Frontier’s website.

    But if you go to Frontier’s website, the exact same non-stop flights that price out as $307 on Kayak show up as $287 in “Saver” or $338 in “Classic”.

    So if a flier unfamiliar with Frontier looked on Kayak, he’s come away thinking Frontier is more expensive than it actually is if you compare non-stop “Saver” level service – he should see $287 vs UA’s $304. Instead, he’s seeing F9 and UA coming out within two bucks of each other.

    If you click through from Kayak to Frontier, you get the “Saver” fare and see all the options, and if you click through to Orbitz it says “we found a lower fare!” and shows Saver. But a lot of potential Frontier customers aren’t going to bother to do that, especially if they’re Star Alliance FF program members…instead of giving Frontier a try – and seeing the value of “Classic” and perhaps giving that a spin as well, they’ll just take UA and the miles on their US or CO account.

    Admittedly, in this case the “spread” between Kayak’s result and “Saver” on Frontier’s own website was fairly small, but I’ve seen it at over a hundred bucks before. I actually have no idea what data Kayak is retrieving, it doesn’t tie back to “Saver” or “Classic”.

    There’s also the problem, from a marketing perspective, with the whole “Airbuses have TV, Embraers don’t” issue, but in the short run at least that’s probably not that big an issue – lots of airlines are a crap shoot as to what combination of IFE and Internet you’ll get on domestic flights right now. But for the “little guys”, offering a consistently better experience is a major marketing advantage, and Frontier has lost that for the moment.

  14. Ed Casper says:

    Andrew wrote: Allow me: REPUBLIC, FIGURE OUT YOUR FLEET. The different and disorganized customer experience is ultimately going to harm the Frontier brand, the only strong one they have right now. I appreciate that Republic has at least come out and said recently than they realize operating Midwest, Frontier and Republic as separate brands hasn’t gone as smoothly as they’d hope and a unified brand strategy and flight experience is coming later this year. Let’s hope Frontier’s approach wins out.

    Excuse me, but it seems that an awful lot of people, here and on other airline blogs, are under the impression an airline can simply “snap its corporate fingers” and voila! their merged fleet is completely compatible. Under even the best of circumstances, these things take time. As for the various brands, it hasn’t hurt Alaska and Horizon – or Lufthansa. These things don’t happen overnight either.

  15. Loyal Delta Flier says:

    Um… Delta has free live TV on more and more of it’s flights. Use your own headphones or buy for $2 if you didn’t bring any. Plus they have pay internet service.

  16. CF says:

    Loyal Delta Flier wrote:

    Um… Delta has free live TV on more and more of it’s flights. Use your own headphones or buy for $2 if you didn’t bring any. Plus they have pay internet service.

    Not on these flights. It’s an Airbus from Indy to Salt Lake so there’s nothing on it yet. Eventually we’ll see internet, but not yet. And from Salt Lake it’s a CRJ-900 so there’s nothing there either.

  17. David SFeastbay says:

    Thanks Ken and Andrew, it’s good to know the type fare you purchase prints on the boarding pass and that the F/A’s are on the ball and come looking for you so set you up with the LiveTV.

  18. Alex says:

    Cranky I’m interested if you think it would be possible/profitable for airlines to introduce an even cheaper economy “fare product’ that limited the seating options even more. Using your example of Frontier, what if there was a $99 option but you were only guaranteed a middle seat.

    In economy the only thing that really makes a difference for me is the seat, as long as i can get an aisle seat I’m happy. I’ll take the cheapest ticket. Thats about the only thing I would pay a serious premium for at the time of booking. Food, flexibility, entertainment and checked baggage I can do without.

    It seems in recent years the airlines have worked out that exit row and bulkhead seats can yield a decent premium. How long until someone figures out that many passengers would consider paying not to sit in a middle seat?

  19. Joe says:

    I’m with you, Andrew. The thing that matters to me above all is where I sit on the plane (in my case, a window seat not over the wing).

    I’m amazed by (and admiring of) people who don’t care where they sit on a plane. I avoid Southwest precisely because of their no-seat-assignment policy. Since they’re the current fave-rave airline of tons of people, I guess that makes you and I the outliers.

  20. Lane says:

    @ CF:

    You will have the word Classic on your boarding pass and a list is printed for the FA’s with your seat assignment so they can swipe their card and get you the free TV.

  21. rdrtkd says:

    agreed

  22. million miler says:

    forgive me, this is turning into my favorite rant

    The “menu” is nice, but why are they not showing the cost to check a bag? For that matter what is the value of the DirecTV, drink and snack if you choose the Classic Plus? Is it clear to the average Joe which flight is an Airbus to make sure you get the DirecTV? If they don’t tell me how can I make a decision…

    Like the bundle idea, but they are only half way there.

  23. CF says:

    Alex wrote:

    Cranky I’m interested if you think it would be possible/profitable for airlines to introduce an even cheaper economy “fare product’ that limited the seating options even more. Using your example of Frontier, what if there was a $99 option but you were only guaranteed a middle seat.

    Yeah sure, I mean, that’s what they’ve done here. The Classic fare used to be the base fare, but then they took away seat assignments and checked bags and lowered the fare. I don’t see why they couldn’t do it again, but if it gets too skimpy, then people will balk.

  24. chris says:

    not to mention when you get on that embraer flown by republic pilots you are being flown by pilots who most likely dont have nearly the time and experience that pilots at a major airlines have. (I am excluding the Frontier flight because those are not republic pilots.)

    remember. you get what you pay for.

  25. scott says:

    chris wrote:

    not to mention when you get on that embraer flown by republic pilots you are being flown by pilots who most likely dont have nearly the time and experience that pilots at a major airlines have. (I am excluding the Frontier flight because those are not republic pilots.)
    remember. you get what you pay for.

    Im sorry, but you base that on what? Especially considering that Republic (via the original company Chautauqua) has been around longer than Frontier???

    Im not trying to cast the Frontier folks in a less favorable light, but this seems like a completely unfounded statement. I have flown several of Republic’s companies- including Frontier, and have never felt their crews were unsafe or lacked experience on any of them.

  26. Wes says:

    @Joe: I care about where I sit on an airplane, and I only fly WN. It’s pretty simple, 24 hours prior to departure, check-in online and ensure an A boarding pass. With an A boarding pass, a person is guaranteed a window seat somewhere on the airplane if that is what they so desire.

    Are there people who haven’t flown WN who seriously think that 130 passengers all try to board the aircraft at the exact same time?

  27. SAN Greg says:

    I’ll have to add to the chorus that I like this pricing structure. Although bumpy at first, identifying “Classic Plus” pax who have bennies coming (DirecTV free snack, premium bev) probably is easier now. I have already purchased tickets to go to MSN the first week service start as I’ve never been a fan of the CRJ’s Skywest operates to DEN from there, and I try to avoid ORD. I’m with you that it’s important to “use it or lose it”.

  28. chris says:

    scott wrote:

    chris wrote:
    not to mention when you get on that embraer flown by republic pilots you are being flown by pilots who most likely dont have nearly the time and experience that pilots at a major airlines have. (I am excluding the Frontier flight because those are not republic pilots.)
    remember. you get what you pay for.
    Im sorry, but you base that on what? Especially considering that Republic (via the original company Chautauqua) has been around longer than Frontier???
    Im not trying to cast the Frontier folks in a less favorable light, but this seems like a completely unfounded statement. I have flown several of Republic’s companies- including Frontier, and have never felt their crews were unsafe or lacked experience on any of them.

    It is a FACT that regional airlines on average have much less experience than the majors. Frontier themselves are not a regional and nor are the Frontier pilots. Let me enlighten you;

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/flyingcheap/view/

    And I am a pilot for a major airlines.

  29. CF says:

    chris wrote:

    not to mention when you get on that embraer flown by republic pilots you are being flown by pilots who most likely dont have nearly the time and experience that pilots at a major airlines have. (I am excluding the Frontier flight because those are not republic pilots.)
    remember. you get what you pay for.

    Oh please. If I flew “Delta” from Indy to Long Beach, I’d end up on SkyWest for one of the legs. It’s very hard to avoid flying on regionals these days.

  30. chris says:

    1. not all majors farm out flying to regionals.

    2. fly on whoever the heck you want. I dont take lightly the experience of the flight crew when I put my family on an airplane.

  31. CF says:

    chris wrote:

    1. not all majors farm out flying to regionals.

    Every major farms out flying with the exception of Southwest and JetBlue.

    While there clearly have been some high profile accidents in the last few years, the chance of anything happening is still remarkably tiny. These guys and gals fly through the worst weather multiple times a day and they get you there safely nearly 100% of the time. It’s always nice to have a pilot with more experience under his or her belt, but that doesn’t mean they won’t get you there safely if they don’t have it. Everyone has to start somewhere.

  32. chris says:

    Ill take southwest where I know the FO is not right out of flight school.

  33. scott says:

    chris wrote:

    Ill take southwest where I know the FO is not right out of flight school.

    Do whatever you think is right for you- but I think casting a broad net that accusing an entire industry of being inexperienced is a bit much.

    I hope that you take more time in determining “fact” in the future as opposed to relying on TV sensationalism.

    I stand by my original comment. I have yet to have a Republic crew overfly my destination or land on a taxiway… I guess I’ve just been lucky…

  34. chris says:

    @ scott:

    overfly a destination of land on a taxiway???

    how about a perfectly good Q400 falling out of the sky in buffalo

  35. Craig wrote:

    Frontier’s fare categories offer some great values, but there’s one major problem – they could be costing Frontier business when passengers who aren’t familiar with them search for fares.
    I just ran a search on Kayak for LGA-DEN, flying out Apr 2 and returning Apr 6. Kayak shows the cheapest fare as $256 (Midwest, with MCI-DEN segment on the outbound and nonstop return on Frontier metal), Frontier comes back as lowest available being $307, non-stop both ways. Cheapest fully non-stop combos are $294 (Frontier out, United back), or $304 on United. Frontier fares are identified on Kayak as coming from Frontier’s website.
    But if you go to Frontier’s website, the exact same non-stop flights that price out as $307 on Kayak show up as $287 in “Saver” or $338 in “Classic”.
    So if a flier unfamiliar with Frontier looked on Kayak, he’s come away thinking Frontier is more expensive than it actually is if you compare non-stop “Saver” level service – he should see $287 vs UA’s $304. Instead, he’s seeing F9 and UA coming out within two bucks of each other.

    Hrm, Frontier’s IT department should fix this and put a Kayak/other comparison engine entry page together and display the fares in the same way that they’re shown on Kayak/other comparison engine. At the bare minimum they could put some coding in showing “Hey we saw you came from Kayak, we’ve included the taxes and fees here, so this is your all in price, not the before prices that the other guys give..”

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