Frontier Moves Toward Being a Three Cabin Airline (With No Cookies)

When you think of three cabin airlines, you think of some of the world’s finest with their First, Business, and coach classes. But Frontier has quietly been moving toward a very different kind of three cabin operation. I don’t imagine anyone is actually thinking of these distinctions as separate cabins right now, but that’s kind of how it’s playing out. And I imagine we’ll see a lot more of this type of thing around the industry.

Frontier Fare Options

What you see above is Frontier’s latest fare bundle chart. It’s true that these aren’t really separate cabins in a traditional sense, but as the fare bundles get stronger, the product differentiation gets bigger and bigger. In reality, these act like separate cabins do on many traditional airlines today.

The biggest leap came recently when Frontier rolled out Select seating. That gave the airline three different seating options to match with each bundle. If you purchase an Economy ticket, you get something very basic called Standard seating. You’ll get a seat behind the exit row, and there will be fees for most everything you’ll want along the way.

Until recently, you could still get a warm cookie that was the last holdover from the old Midwest days, but Frontier announced the cookie is now dead. In its place, it will stick with an animal theme to match its tails: Goldfish and animal crackers.

(This move, by the way, makes a lot of sense. Midwest’s soul died many, many years ago and the cookie really had no place with Frontier. Nobody was flying Frontier because it had a cookie and there wasn’t a strong association with the brand either. It was simply a nice little frill that doesn’t match Frontier’s new ultra low cost carrier persona. But let’s get back to the point.)

The new snacks, besides not being perishable, will also not be free for those in Economy. So effectively, you have the bare bones folks sitting behind the exit rows paying for everything along the way, including a snack.

The Classic people get more for what seems to be about $20 to $30 more than Economy each way. They can sit in what’s now called Select seating. Those are seats just like those in the back, but they happen to be in front of the exit rows. With that comes priority boarding as well, and oh yes, free Goldfish and animal crackers. Passengers will get two checked bags included in the fare and will be able to do same day standby without additional charge. There is no change fee and travelers get a mileage bonus.

Classic Plus passengers get the best treatment on the airplane for about $25 to $60 over the Classic fare each way. They get seated in Stretch seating at the front of the airplane which is like Economy Plus on United with extra legroom. In addition, they get priority check in, security, and boarding (ahead of the Classic people, I assume). The fares are fully refundable, they come with free booze, and they offer an even bigger mileage bonus.

In other words, it’s like First Class without a bigger seat.

So why aren’t these considered separate cabins? Maybe it’s because they’re more fluid. You can buy the bits and pieces you like individually if you want. Want Stretch seating from an Economy fare? You can do that starting at $15 a segment. Want to check a bag? That’s $20.

But come to think of it, that’s not really much different than the traditional airlines these days, at least not in the US where you can buy almost any amenity you want a la carte except for the First Class seat itself.

Frontier Fare Display

I really like the way Frontier is approaching this. Let’s say I’m flying from LA to Indianapolis. Without these bundles, if I need to check a bag it’s $20. But now if I see the bundle, I’ll see that it’s only $30 to get Classic and all that comes with it, including the bag. I might not have bought those other pieces on their own, but the way the bundle is pitched makes me want to pay up a little more to get the package.

Gary Leff explained why he thinks bag fees will disappear recently in favor of either bundles or all-in pricing, but I only partially agree.

You won’t see a one-size-fits-all fare again. Bag fees will stay, but if airlines offer bundles correctly, they’ll be able to push more people to pay more for a grouping of services at the time of ticket purchase. That, however, requires online travel agents and Global Distribution Systems (GDSes) to start selling flights in a manner that makes sense.

If I go to FrontierAirlines.com, I see my three options in front of me and I can pick what I want. I don’t see that on online travel agent sites – instead I just see the lowest fare without any sense that there are additional purchase options. And in the GDSes, it’s a big mess. We recently sold a Classic Plus fare to a Cranky Concierge client but could only do so by sifting through the fares to find which one was Classic Plus. Then I had to force the flights to price at that fare in order to ticket. Then I couldn’t even assign a seat – had to call Frontier to get the Stretch seat that came with the bundle. That sucks.

Once that hurdle is gone, bundling will become easier for more airlines to roll out broadly beyond their own websites. But that shouldn’t stop them from offering this kind of thing now. I hope we see more of what Frontier is doing here.


51 Responses to Frontier Moves Toward Being a Three Cabin Airline (With No Cookies)

  1. Gary Leff says:

    Brett, for what it’s worth I argue that bag fees won’t go away soon, I’m claiming that first bag fees likely will disappear in 10 years, see my post for the analysis. But I certainly don’t claim that we’ll see one-size-fits-all fares again, on the contrary we’ll see even more disaggregation than we do today.

  2. Kilroy says:

    Brett,

    I actually really like the price points and value on this set up. I think that IF Frontier can do a strong job of communicating this to fliers, it could get a good portion of customers trading up.

    For example, if you’re going to be checking a bag anyhow, you can get a bit more for another ~$20 R/T. I certainly hope that Frontier is trying to upsell people on their web site who try to pay for a checked bag in advance- “For only $20 more than checking a bag would cost you, you get all this…!”

    By the same token, doesn’t this effectively place a ceiling on the max bag fees? Looks like if you are checking 2 or more bags, you can save money by moving to the Classic class. I suspect that the portion of fliers who check 2+ bags is very small, however…

    • CF says:

      Kilroy – The current structure would place a ceiling on bags fees, but Frontier knows what kind of revenue it’s getting. If it thought it was leaving money on the table, then it would up the add-on price for the bundle, I would assume.

  3. Oliver says:

    “But come to think of it, that?s not really much different than the traditional airlines these days, at least not in the US where you can buy almost any amenity you want a la carte except for the First Class seat itself.”

    Some carriers (UA/CO come to mind) offer upsells to First for a “small fee” at check-in time. Of course, you can’t necessarily count on it when you book.

    • CF says:

      Oliver – Yeah, but what I meant was you can buy all the other pieces a la carte, but you can’t buy the seat a la carte. In other words, what if I just want a big First Class seat, but I don’t want the free drinks, the free bags, the priority check in and boarding, etc. You can’t do that as a standalone except on Spirit with its Big Front Seat.

  4. I agree completely. Frontier is unbundling the right way.

  5. Ron says:

    The “mileage bonus” is only for Elite Qualification Miles, right? Which means the higher fares don’t give you more miles, but allow you to reach status faster. This is different from most other airlines, which do have a class of service mileage bonus (and sometimes a reduction for the cheaper fare buckets, common especially on European carriers). The interaction with elite perks is another complexity of the Frontier system which does not show up in the table — many of the amenities that come with the higher fares are already free for elites; the only benefits of a Classic Plus fare which are not already complimentary for the top elite tier (Summit) are full refund, name change, and EQM bonus.

  6. Jon says:

    Does Frontier still have DirecTV? Or have they ditched that in their quest to go ULCC? I know that used to be included in the Classic Fares? I think it was $6 per segment otherwise…

    • Jim M says:

      They sure do have DirectTV, and its $5 or like $8 for a movie.

      I fly Frontier a few times a year. Never upgrade, but the standby thing is a good deal. I find them to be OK and will in fact miss the cookie. As for the “animnal crackers and goldfish” I am not 7 years old. Is that supposed to be a perk for adults???

    • CF says:

      Jon – as Jim M says, there are still TVs but only on the Airbus fleet. They’re also pretty small TVs compared to what others have but hey, they’re TVs.

      And Jim M – I love Goldfish. ;)

  7. FRANK says:

    What a nightmare this is for flight attendants. Overhead bins. The coach passengers feel it’s their right to use any and all overheads. Someone getting something for free doesnt go over well either. Passing out snacks to one class of service while another gets nothing is often viewed as UNFAIR. Seats, passengers see empty seats and think they can rightfully move right in. Again, those surly flight attendants get blamed for enforcing company policy. It’s the division of classes which collides with the sense of entitlement.

    • Frank, I realize you’re a flight attendant, but are you with Frontier?

      I have the same concerns, but I think they may have addressed them by segmenting the rows by fare class.

      If a Frontier FA thinks its a pain in the ass, then okay, but I get the impression that Frontier actually cares about streamlining and optimizing these sorts of things.

    • A says:

      I agree with Frank, in a single cabin w/out bulkhead separating classes this is going to be a mess. And what if they dont sell enough Classic Plus seats, can I get in that expanded legroom seat for the economy price? Will the FA’s have to check boarding passes to see who gets free goldfish and who doesn’t?

      Another issue I have with all these bundles is on corporate travel my travel agents search on lowest fares. Whatever the travel expenses come in at has to get approved by the client. While a baggage fee would be covered, expanded legroom and premium drinks are not, even if that price included my checked bag and was a wash in total dollars. The accountants see it as an unnecessary expense. So, we have to either educate them, or bundle differently. The leisure traveler has time to figure out the better deal, the business traveler does not.

      • Joe says:

        How does that differ from what Jetblue and airlines do with their Economy (+) seats w/ more legroom? I’ve been on Jetblue flights where the flight attendant has stopped people from moving from the back of the plane to an empty seat up front w/ extra legroom. They know which seats up front are not supposed to be filled and stop people who don’t pay for them from getting the service for free.

      • FRANK says:

        thanks, “A” poster. And, Nic, it goes beyond seats. Care to watch the person in the row ahead of you get FREE drinks. Yet, when they get to your row, a credit card is demanded. Or at your row, you request those animal crackers you see everyone munching on, but, due to fare restrictions, NO, you dont get them. I dont see that on Jetblue, they serve everyone Munchies! I’ve watched them strolling up and down the aisle, multiple times with a basket offering everyone snacks.

    • davywavy says:

      Within my experience, low end LCC pax on unbundled fares very aware of what they have paid and equally aware that they declined the goodies.

      On a recent Virgin Australia flight, in basic Y, a few pax were served trays of hot food immediately, before anyone else, without ordering it. The rest of us had to order and buy whatever we wanted, as the carts came around.

      The reason was simple – those few pax were international connections. Everyone else understood that somehow they had paid for more and no one took it amiss.

      • FRANK says:

        they may be aware of what they paid, but NOT what they expect to get onboard. There was a first class CURTAIN you couldnt see through for decades, for good reason. The have-nots, wanting what they cant have. Watch the Movie: Titantic. Classic separation of classes and services.
        Heck, I’ve had passengers question me about my CREW MEAL. I know co-workers who have stepped into the lavatory to wash up, to come out and observe someone eating their food!! I’ve walked down the aisle with my newspaper under my arm, only to have someone GRAB IT as I walked by. I said, I BOUGHT THAT. There is definitely a mentality of, my ticket price should include everything.

        • davywavy says:

          I’m sure everyone has horror stories.

          In a very long lifetime of flying (I started on Short Sunderlands) I have seen numerous examples of “bad behavior” – and some of the worst examples I have seen were in First Class.

          Each to their own, always, but – generally, within my experience – most people behave quite well.

    • CF says:

      Frank – I know you’re negative on a lot of things, but the flight attendants simply are going to have to deal with it because it’s good for the company. If they don’t like it, then they can find a new job. (And for what it’s worth, I haven’t heard anyone complaining about it yet who actually works there.) If Frontier didn’t try to do all this upselling, they’d be finding a new job anyway because the company would be out of business.

      If people get angry because they don’t get a free drink while somebody else does, then that’s a great opportunity for them to learn that they can buy that bundle on their next flight. And if you say there won’t be a next flight because they didn’t get a free drink, I don’t believe it. If Frontier is cheap, there will be a next flight. After all, if they bought the basic package and didn’t buy up, then they’re probably looking for the lowest fare anyway.

      Besides, it’s a lot easier to explain a situation like that than it is to sit next to someone getting identical service and finding out that they paid half what you paid. This one is easy. “I’m sorry sir, but that gentleman paid extra for his ticket so he gets drinks included. I’d be happy to tell you more about how you can get a Classic fare next time and get the same benefits.”

      • FRANK says:

        NOT negative. Funny YOU should say that. Hence your website name!!!
        I simply defend an occupation that continually gets a negative image online.
        If I dont like it, I can find a new job is exactly what I’m talking about. YOU post an article about different classes of service and I respond with a different point of view and because I say there can be issues with it, I should go to the unemployment line? Laughable.
        And, your last paragraph, nice response, but ya know. I’ve been doing my job for almost THIRTY YEARS, but thanks anyway, I can handle it.

  8. David says:

    Aer Lingus are also doing something very similar for ?20 per segment. Bag, FF miles etc. A clever way of increasing revenues.

  9. So are the GDSes ever going to start selling flights in a way that makes sense? They’ve had five or so years to do it, but they’ve gotten no closer as far as I can see.

    Isn’t this why AA was pushing direct connect?

    • Sanjeev M says:

      Agreed. GDS or whatever latest online distribution technology needs to pick up these ancillaries and bundling. This can’t happen soon enough.

      Also, regarding unbundling, I always wonder why the seat is tied into the class of service. Why can’t I get a business class flatbed with barebones service? Or an economy seat with full First Class pampering and lounge access? I would think there should be 9 classes (3 types of seats x 3 types of service). Now that would be true differentiation (could be hard to implement in practice though).

      • Sanjeev, I figure if it hasn’t happened by this point, its not going to happen. GDSes don’t seem to add much value on the domestic market. I wouldn’t be surprised if in three years all the agencies have direct connections to the airlines, and bypass the GDSes completely.

  10. So you can buy the highest Classic Plus price and be in the front of the plane in a middle seat, while someone buys the cheapest fare and sits behind the emergency exit in an aisle seat? I wonder how many people will buy a cheap seat for a chance of an aisle seat instead of paying more to be stuck in the middle.

    • CF says:

      David – Sure, that can happen. But you still get extra legroom up there. So if people are tall, that might still be worth it. Of course, you can look at the seat map during the booking process before you click the button to purchase.

    • Ron says:

      David — from a tiny sample on the Frontier web site, this appears to be a non-issue. The few flights I checked have the back of the bus packed (just a few middles remaining), with the front wide open. So the masses appear to be going for cheap (despite the fact that the the website keeps suggesting that classic is the best value).

      They do show a seat map before selecting the fare bundle, but that’s just a non-actionable image. Seat selection happens only after you fill in the passenger info (before payment, fortunately). So you could get to a point where you booked a bundle with a specific seat in mind, only to find it gone when you get to purchase. It might make sense to do it the opposite way — select your seat, and when you get to the payment option you can choose the bundle that goes with it.

    • Ron says:

      On second thought, I wonder if it might make sense, when buying economy, to NOT select a seat. If indeed standard and select seating fill up first on most flights, then they must have quite a number of operational upgrades. Elites already get select or stretch seating for free (depending on status level), so many of these op-ups would go to non-elites. I wonder how these are processed, whether there’s a formal queue and what the specific criteria are. I wouldn’t be surprised if those with a gate pass end up getting to sit upfront more often.

  11. Sean S. says:

    I’m not seeing whats new here. They are selling refundable fares, which are typical to mainline airlines, as well as the same kind of amenities that many people who would buy those sorts of fares would receive anyways. The market for the highest fare are the kinds of people who would be people stuffed to the gills with frequent flyer miles and earned status in a program allowing them, again, the same sort of perks included here.

    • JM says:

      I get your point, but what I find “new” is the straightforward way things are presented on Frontier’s website with the three fare classes and amenities clearly spelled out.

      It feels like a true a la carte system, rather than the list of “NOs” and fine print you get from some other carriers.

      Honestly, I think they are doing a pretty good job of upselling here. That could mean more revenue for Frontier and happier customers.

    • CF says:

      Refundable fares on mainline airlines don’t come with any special perks on their own. They’re also usually far more expensive than the standard fare. So instead of trying to encourage people to buy up to a higher fare, the mainline airlines are really trying to just segment the group of people who are willing to pay that much.

      What Frontier is doing is offering a clear tradeoff – money for better perks. And they’re making it accessible to those buying the cheap tickets – it’s more of an upsell product where people are encouraged to buy up instead of just being forced to by revenue management techniques.

      • Sean S. says:

        True. I guess my point was that the people who would buy the most expensive fare are ipso facto going to be the people who are going to get those perks anyways, by virtue of status. I can see where this sort of, to a certain extent, allows someone to “buy in” to these perks on a one flight basis, but I just don’t see where that would be relevant for most passengers.

        To a certain extent the perks for frequent fliers and their use of expensive, refundable fares is due to the nature of their flying. This fare break down kind of presumes the only thing stopping the general flying population from taking these options is that Bob and Fran can’t buy them for their annual family reunion flight every year. I just don’t think thats true. Of course Frontier doesn’t LOSE anything by offering these options, as its not a true seperation in the cabin, but it just seems confusing.

  12. The one thing most people are interested in, extra legroom, is conspicuously absent from the chart Frontier made above. Why on earth would that be?

    There is no mention of “stretch” seating anywhere, only “standard,” “select,” and “full cabin.” None of which are remotely descriptive. Big dropped ball if they don’t fix this because otherwise it is pretty straightforward.

  13. CP says:

    People have made really interesting points about how this gets implemented on the airplane and whether or not this works for how business travelers purchase tickets. (I’m not sure Frontier targets the business traveler, however — Cranky, do you have a sense of the % of tickets Frontiers sells via GDS versus its own portal, and how that compares to other airlines?)

    The one thing I think is really valuable is the lack of change fee at the “classic” level. If your plans are subject to ANY flexibility, it makes complete sense to pay the upgrade charge to avoid the change fee. The $150 change fee on network carriers drives me bonkers, although I imagine it’s a cash cow for them. I even think the $50 fee at the economy level is reasonable. I get that there is some ‘cost’ to airlines when you change your flight plans, so it’s reasonable to charge something. But $150 always makes me crazy.

    (I assume, Cranky, that it is a $50 change fee PLUS increase in fare?)

    • CF says:

      CP – I don’t know Frontier’s numbers, but I have to think that it’s a much higher percentage of leisure than usual and that’s going to grow as the airline shifts its network into more sun destinations and more infrequent flights to smaller destinations.

      And yes, it’s $50 change fee plus the fare difference.

  14. oldiesfan6479 says:

    So who gets to sit in the exit row?

  15. Pingback: Who cares about ‘women’s issues?’ (5×8 – 4/5/12) | medicine advice

  16. SubwayNut says:

    As an occasional Frontier Airlines flyer I have taken advantage of Air Fairs (at least their original marketing name) about four times since they were debuted back in 2009 (I think that’s the right year) and joke that because of them (and flying JetBlue and Southwest on other occasions) I have never paid a bag fee, upgrading to a Classic ticket on those occasions when I wanted to check bags, three times checking two bags (once this included my bike in a box, the only airline not to charge outrageous fees for transporting a bike). When I know I’ll be traveling light I have purchased an Economy ticket when Frontier was price competitive or chosen any other airline based on price.

    In terms of the comments on different classes of service on the same part of the plane it was never really an issue. The flight attendants right after take-off would simply come through, a manifest in there hands listing the seat locations of those in Classic or Classic Plus (also for there free meal and beverage), and Ascent or Summit Members and swipe those televisions to give them their free TV. I believe this perk has been discontinued.

    Once I was traveling with someone else and knew we would want to check two bags between us but not more than two, so we made two reservations: one a Classic ticket (me so I could get the milage bonus), and the other an economy ticket. This was when economy tickets could only choose seats at check-in so I chose one for my Classic ticket towards the back of the plane and when checking in on-line added my travel companion to be next to me. The flight attendant still came by and activated the one TV for us.

  17. Great post. I live in Bellingham, WA where Frontier is commencing service in late May (BLI-DEN). They are running radio ads locally that insinuate there are actually three cabins on the plane. The commercials brag about how Frontier offers a choice of three levels of service. I was halfway under the impression there were going to be three actual cabins (never flown them before, I’m an AS/QX guy mostly). Anyway, this clears it up. Thanks Cranky!

  18. Steve says:

    Frontier sucks. They keep changing their schedules, selling tickets to destinations they are planning to cancel and doing everything to save every single penny without any consideration of passengers. Bryan Bedford doesn’t seem to get that customers ARE the money. Also I have heard that Republic is trying to sell off Frontier to become Allegiant like… which means my 250,000 frequent flier miles will probably be worthless. So much for the promises to Milwaukee. The Frontier Center name should be changed to the Liar Center. Oh well… thats my opinion as a FORMER Frontier MKE customer.

    • The MKE folks shouldn’t have fought so hard against the logical FL acquisition. Interestingly, a combined FL/YX may not have been purchased by WN and there would be a lot more flying at MKE. But people had to “save that cookie” so that a standalone YX withered to the point it was so devalued that it was picked up off the scrap heap by a regional airline that, predictably, had no idea what the heck to do with it. I bet an AirTran hub in MKE, sans cookies, looks awfully appealing now.

    • davywavy says:

      For the record, Mr. Bedford is no longer the CEO of Frontier airlines.

      I have never understood why Milwaukee regards Republic/Frontier as “the Midwest Killer.”

      The role of Mr, Hoeksma in this is totally ignored, as is the role of Airtran, who determined to conquer Milwaukee once the merger with Midwest was declined.

      TPG lost over $400 million trying to salvage Midwest, and Republic lost tens of millions trying to do the same.

      Milwaukee didn’t care. It paid loud lip service to the idea of Midwest but voted with its wallets – low fares rule.

  19. Ian L says:

    Count me in with the folks who like the new revision of AirFairs. I can pick exactly the features I want rolled into (or bough a la carte alongside) my ticket, and honestly everything is priced very reasonably ($20 for a checked bag, $25 or so for better-than-E+ seating, $6 for TV), particularly if I upgrade fare classes and get whatever I need included. Heck, even change fees, which tend to be the bane of your existence on everyone other than Southwest, are reasonable.

    I realize that there’s deep-seated harted for Frontier in MKE now that they’re pulling out of there, and I’ll miss the cookie. But think about it…what MKE-sized city has a hub for an airline, let alone two airlines? Charlotte is bigger and has only one airline…and Charlotte doesn’t have two major airports (ORD and MDW) nearby.

  20. Crissy says:

    Wow, I actually really like this. Some flights it’s a short hop with little luggage – I can get the cheapest fare. Another flight the classic might appeal to me. I can purchase the fare class that fits with the flight, no more doing the math in my head if I have to add a checked bag to see how the price compares to another airline. Then after I buy my ticket I don’t feel nickel and dimed.

    The hardest part of this for the airlines will be informing the passengers of what it included in each at the time of booking. People who don’t travel much are confused enough as it is, they will have trouble with this.

  21. Pingback: Frontier’s Clever But Risky Move to Encourage People to Book Direct - >> The Cranky Flier

Join the Conversation

*