There has been plenty of news coverage about Frontier’s new GoWild! (exclamation point included at no extra charge) all-you-can-fly pass. That’s exactly what Frontier was hoping would happen, and I imagine this can already be considered a success. To me, the real victory is in the architecture of this pass product. The chance of it cannibalizing anything is low, and it will allow the airline to fill seats while making gravy in ancillaries. If only it could have stopped there….
Here is the basic plan:
- Buy a pass that allows for unlimited travel for 1 year beginning May 2, 2023
- Bookings for domestic travel can be made no more than 1 day in advance of travel while international travel can be booked up to 10 days in advance
- If you have the pass, you will pay 1 cent in airfare plus all applicable taxes and fees
- No ancillary products are included, so you will pay for a carry-on, checked bag, seat assignment, etc… if needed
- Peak days around holidays and heavy travel periods are blacked out (there are 57 blackout dates for the first program year)
- Pass travel does not earn miles
When the pass was first launched, it was going for “only” $599 which sounds like a great deal if you’re planning on doing even semi-regular travel. After a couple days, the price was raised to $799, but that was done at the same time international travel was added to the program. I wonder if this was the plan the entire time. Add value, raise the price, and make people think there’s scarcity here to get more people to pay up before the price rises again.
At the time of writing, Frontier said this was valid for purchase through the end of the day today, Tuesday, November 22. I do wonder if we’ll see it morph again after that time into something else with a different pricepoint. I suppose it’ll depend upon how much they’ve sold so far.
Why do I like this program? I find this to be a great fit for the ultra-low cost carrier (ULCC) model. For ULCCs, the fare is an appetizer while the ancillary fees are the main dish. This has been increasingly true in recent times as ancillary fees have skyrocketed. Let me give you an example:
Looking out a couple of weeks, I found a ticket that would break down as follows:
- Base Fare + Airline Fees: $14.07
- Taxes/Airport Fees: $14.91
- Cheapest Seat Assignment: $16
- Carry-On Bag: $53
In this case, if someone had the GoWild! pass, they’d pay $0.01 in base fare and taxes and fees would be reduced to $14.60. Seat and bag fees are the same. So basically, Frontier would collect $14.06 less on the transaction than if someone bought the ticket outright because those ancillary fees are so high.
This is admittedly an extreme example. There are obviously many instances where the fares could be much, much higher. But remember, if Frontier only allows the traveler to book 1 day in advance, it knows if the seats will be empty or not. And if they are, Frontier is way better off taking the 1 cent fare and capturing all the ancillaries it can generate. It’ll easily cover the cost of fuel and more. If that traveler really needed to take the trip, they wouldn’t have waited until 1 day prior anyway.
Internationally, the 10-day window has some elegance in its own right. Yes, there’s more risk to Frontier, but international travel tends to get booked further in advance. Frequency is lower, so travelers need more certainty, and they need to know they’ll be able to get back into the country on a guaranteed booking. This solves that issue, assuming they aren’t going for more than 10 days.
Overall, this looks like an excellent program to get money in the door and generate a ton of free press without diluting existing travel. But Frontier may have gotten too greedy. Specifically, some of the terms are problematic.
1) I think people are interpreting this program to effectively say, “hey, if we have an empty seat onboard, it’s all yours.” That is very clearly not what’s happening. The terms say “Flights and seats are subject to availability; last seat availability is not guaranteed.” This is VERY nebulous, and while I assume Frontier is saying this so it can sparingly block travel on random peak flights, it’s entirely possible that Frontier could get too aggressive with the capacity controls. That would generate far more bad press if that happens. Hopefully the airline doesn’t play that game, but it’s cause for concern.
2) This is an auto-renewing program, and it renews at the retail price effective at the time of renewal. As of now, that price is set at the low, low rate of $1,999. Let’s buy two! How many people do you think will forget to cancel and get stuck paying that price? This is exactly what Frontier is betting on. This piece of the puzzle just feels cheap and dirty, and I don’t like it.
3) Once you book a flight, then the regular Frontier change/cancel fees apply. So if I booked a flight for tomorrow and then something happpens and I have to cancel, I will lose all value since Frontier’s fee is going to be higher than the value of the credit in most cases. This includes government taxes/fees which Frontier will just pocket.
4) As noted in section 12 e) 1, “Other than the Renewal Price, Frontier may modify the terms and conditions of the GoWild! Pass™ at any time without notice.” That’s, uh… come on. With this wording, it would suggest that Frontier can do basically whatever it wants and keep the amount paid for the pass since that is due up front.
Of course, number 2 above can be avoided with basic diligence, and number 4 is entirely theoretical. On number 3, considering bookings happen only 1 day prior to travel — at least for domestic — this shouldn’t be a huge problem. I think I’d be more concerned with number 1 than anything, but we just don’t know.
I don’t want to overstate the negative points, because I think there’s still good value to be had here for the right traveler. If Frontier doesn’t try to get too stingy, it will come out of this smelling like roses for offering something fun and unique while generating a bunch of extra revenue on seats that will almost certainly otherwise go unsold.