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.
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.
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.