Frontier Makes a Play for Business Travel


It is not often that you would expect to hear the words “Frontier” and “Business Travel” in the same sentence, but the airline has made a small but useful move into that arena. In fact, what it’s doing for the business traveler is something that even leisure travelers can benefit from.

Frontier is an airline that I think most would agree is targeting the leisure traveler. I don’t say that because of the product, exactly. After all, it does have a useful elite frequent flier program that gives helpful freebies. It also has a decent onboard product with a lot of extra legroom seating. If you aren’t getting an upgrade on another airline, Frontier wouldn’t be a bad choice… if it flies when you need it to.

The big issue for Frontier is its schedule. It flies a lot of routes, and it doesn’t fly them very often.

After all, this is an airline that — according to Cirium data — has 361 routes currently filed in June and more than half of them fly less than daily. Fewer than 13 percent of routes have at least two daily flights. That’s not great for a business traveler’s schedule. Case in point… Delta has fewer than 5 percent of flights within North America and the Caribbean that operate less than daily while just shy of half of the airline’s routes have at least three daily flights.

All that being said, Frontier has planes that are going at certain times. And while I can’t imagine any business traveler (or person who is remotely sane) taking this flight no matter how cheap it is…

… there are plenty of flights that do operate during times when normal humans would get on airplanes. And if Frontier happens to have flights going when a business traveler needs to fly, it should be trying to get them onboard.

Frontier realizes this so it has created a simpler, more business-friendly fare that corporate travelers could actually book with ease. It calls this BizFares.

BizFares can only be booked through travel agents using global distribution systems (GDS) including Amadeus, Sabre, and Travelport. Why on earth would Frontier be encouraging the use of the GDS when nobody else is? It’s not. But it knows that many business travelers need to book via agencies who use a GDS, and so it figures it might as well put something useful and money-making in that system.

Frontier does sell tickets through the GDS today, but it only sells the base fare with no ancillaries, and it sells at a slight premium over its own website. For example, if I did hate myself and wanted to buy a ticket on that flight from LA to Dallas on May 18, the base fare is $138.98 when booked direct. In Sabre, it’s $143.98.

This is meant more for the traveler searching solely on price through Expedia or other online travel agents, but once it’s purchased, it requires going on and adding on extra directly with Frontier. If you’re a business traveler, you will absolutely need to buy ancillaries, so you’re going to have to now go to two places to make it happen, and corporate travel policies don’t always make that easy to do. For that reason (and others, like reliability issues), I’ve found that most corporate agencies just tend to ignore Frontier as a viable option and don’t even think about the pricing if it shows up in the GDS.

Knowing this, Frontier figured it might as well create a bundled fare that it can sell in the GDS for the corporate traveler who then won’t need to worry about ancillaries. BizFares come with a lot of stuff:

This was constructed well. It doesn’t include a checked bag, because business travelers don’t often need that. (If they do, they can add it on after the fact, but it’s probably not going to price well enough to do it that way.) It includes the extra legroom seating (which is apparently no longer called Stretch but rather “Premium”) and it comes with early boarding. There are no change fees, and it allows for free same day confirmed or standby. Plus, you earn extra miles.

The closest I can get to this on Frontier’s own website is to buy the $138.98 base fare, add on what is now generically called “Bundle 1” with standard seating for $110 — what happend to The Works and The Perks? so boring now… — and then pay the $9 upcharge to get extra legroom seating. All-in, I’m looking at $257.98.

When I flip over to the GDS and look at BizFares, it’s a better deal. The way Frontier does this is it reserves two fare classes for BizFares, C and J. Those are the classes usually reserved for business class on other airlines, so… why not?

The C fare is low and the J fare is high. In this case, the C fare is just $223.96, saving over $30 versus booking direct AND it includes the ability to make free changes on the day of travel, something Bundle 1 does not include. While that may not be helpful in the vast majority of Frontier’s markets, there are some where it could come in handy. But it’s still $30 cheaper so it’s a good way to go all around.

If the C fare isn’t available, well, the J fare is rarely going to make sense. It is $433.96 in this market. There aren’t many times when that is going to be worth buying, but maybe if only the full coach fare is available otherwise, this could work out. That seems more like a fishing expedition where if you catch one fish, it’s worth dropping the line into the water.

Frontier is really trying to keep people on their toes with this product, however, by pricing it in strange ways. There doesn’t really seem to be any true template being followed. I went and pulled a variety of markets on a variety of dates, and the results were all over the map:

Frontier BizFares Comparison

For some reason, the Philly – Vegas market didn’t have a J fare, only C. And Phoenix – Vegas was a last minute search so C was not available.

In most markets, the BizFare option was cheaper than doing the bundle direct with Frontier. Dallas/Fort Worth – San Juan was an exception, as was Trenton – Orlando. In other markets, the difference was miniscule. In Phoenix to Cincinnati, for example, the BizFare was $3.02 cheaper. Elsewhere, the difference was huge, like in Cleveland – Punta Cana where the BizFare saved $81.

I should note, I also looked at building this directly with Frontier without a bundle and instead piecing everything together, and it was much more expensive that way across the board. The only time that makes sense is if someone doesn’t need a carry-on or care about an advance seat assignment. But even then a comparison is required.

In the end, I think what Frontier is doing here is wise. It knows there are business travelers that would fly the airline if it was easy enough. So, Frontier set aside two fare classes and just made those include all the things that a business traveler would need… and a little more.

The “more” part is probably key here, because it allows Frontier to talk up what a deal it is to buy this without having to acknowledge that you might not need everything in the bundle.

It’s still not seamless. Once this is booked, a traveler then has to go on to the Frontier website to choose a seat. But with no payment required, it takes away a huge piece of the friction that prevents business travelers from doing this today. It was quick and easy to implement something like this, and clearly the airline just wanted something in the market quickly. After all, it has had quite a revenue problem, and it needs to get that juiced.

I waited a bit after the initial rollout to see if there were promotional fares in the market that would get out, but I still do not understand the pricing at all. Its possible the airline is just trying a lot of things and seeing what sticks. Undoubtedly fares will change, and I would still recommend always comparing booking direct and booking the BizFare, but it’s a welcome addition to the market that should pay at least some dividends for Frontier.

And Frontier isn’t done. It also announced it will block middle seats in the first two rows, creating a European-style business class for those who want the room. It costs nothing to create that product, just the potential of losing 4 seats of revenue. But if Frontier is successful at attracting more business travelers, this will easily pay for itself.

Now Frontier just needs to get its operation in better shape. Once it does that, it becomes a truly viable option.

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29 comments on “Frontier Makes a Play for Business Travel

  1. Just had my F9 flight canceled yesterday an hour before departure. They are cheap, but much harder to deal with when IRROPS occur. Your ability to quickly talk to a human is limited and they arent going to give you a voucher similar to Southwest. I dont see a lot of business travelers being attracted to their product which is geared to the low cost, low service segment.

    1. To paraphrase Scott Kirby, the cost of running an unreliable operation is far more expensive than running a reliable one.

    2. Brian – agreed. I’m surprised that this isn’t more of an issue. It’s when things go wrong that you need to speak to a live person, and not having that ability with F9 is a deal-breaker for me.
      But I am also hearing from others that they would prefer to try to work things out using an (inadequate) website than speak to someone on the phone! Routine IRROPS, if there is such a thing, may be workable, but when things go REALLY wrong it will create a situation whereby you MUST speak to someone. Not having that option is a dangerous precedent, and I am hoping that it doesn’t replicate itself with other carriers!

      1. I’m normally a DIY using the website guy but I totally agree with the need to speak with an actual human re: IRROPS, even if the wait time is hours and the human in question is horrible (American, I’m looking in your general direction).

  2. Frontier isn’t my preferred airline, but it serves its purpose for many people. The more I think about this move, the more I like it, the more obvious it seems in hindsight, and the more I’m surprised it hasn’t been done earlier.

    It’s been more than a few years since the Big 3 “unbundled” fares in order to compete with ULCCs like Frontier for the value-oriented leisure traveler, especially Frontier’s competitor in Denver, United, whose Basic Economy fare doesn’t include a carryon bag. The Big 3’s fares on corporate travel agencies’ sites still include most elements in the “traditional” coach fare. It’s only fair and reasonable that the ULCCs try going the opposite direction with fares on the same sites.

    To Brett’s point, Frontier is still going to be a hard sell for many business travelers, just based on flight frequency & operational reliability (let alone the preferred/negotiated airline agreements that most larger companies have). However, offering a more bundled fare shouldn’t cannibalize Frontier’s existing revenue much, and will make it easier to capture $ from less price-sensitive business travelers. Even if this doesn’t move the needle much in the short term, it should still be a net positive and a good long term move, especially if/as more business travelers “discover” Frontier as an option for some trips.

    1. I have a few friends at Frontier who I used to work with over at big yellow… this seems to be targeted more toward small businesses than a large corporate travel department. I do know myself a few small business owners or independent consultants or attorneys who use Frontier, and their biggest frustration is the inability to change tickets without significant cost. Having a carry-on and a good seat assignment is icing on the cake after just handling that hurdle. Though Frontier does know that when things go wrong, it’s really messy.

  3. The biggest obstacles for Frontier on this endeavor is their lack of frequency on key routes (why fly them weekly/daily if a competitor is flying multiple times a day?) along with convincing people that “business class” on a ULCC is worth their while.

    1. I’m not sure frequency is an issue. They aren’t really catering to a regular business traveler who goes somewhere weekly. They are hoping that infrequent business travelers take the one-off non-stop on Frontier because it beats connection on a legacy and/or they show up cheap enough that all the Concur rules make it a viable or forced option. It isn’t so much that “business class on a ULCC is worth it” so much as “would you rather a 3 hour nonstop or a 6 hour commute with connections for this one trip?”

      For Frontier, it is a net new customer or marginal spend, that checks their box of an ancillary / marginal revenue. And the cost to file a few more tickets and manage them is marginal.

      1. As someone who has used Concur at employers in the past and who has been forced by the system to book flights/airlines that I would have preferred to avoid, you put it very well, and that’s exactly what will happen.

        This move isn’t necessarily about ATTRACTING the business traveler, it’s about making Frontier an OPTION for the business traveler (in some cases, as you mentioned, a forced option), which Frontier hasn’t been in the past.

        1. I had to use a Concur-like system to book my occasional business travel when I worked for a large employer. And they had Frontier and AirTran flights among the majors. Fortunately I was always able to avoid Frontier – even their one daily (or less) flight was cheaper than United, it was to justify the more expensive UA flight based on the inconvenient flight times. But this is exactly how I flew my one and only AirTran flight: they had a single perfectly timed flight from SFO to SNA for a day trip, so it really made sense to pay double for UA.

  4. I just went to the Frontier website and checked the route ONT-DTW and was given two choices: thru PHX with an 8 hour layover or thru DEN with a 19 1/2 hour layover. To me, in comparison that 3:40 am arrival into DFW isn’t quite so bad……at least you get there in a reasonable amount of time

  5. The Biz fare looks great, and not one to worry about booking with a non ULCC that has fewer frequencies than the competition if the times for the frequencies they do offer work for me, but I would be hesitant to nook with F9. Without a real hub network F9 delays and cancelations can have catastrophic effects. I don’t suppose they kept any of their interline agreements when they went ULCC, did they?

    1. No interline, but they did reset their network to be more out-and-back to avoid the kinds of cascading failures that broke things badly for Southwest a meltdown or two ago.

    2. Aliqiout – I don’t think any of those are still around. I do believe they will buy tickets on other airlines in extreme situations, but this is definitely the biggest issue in getting a business traveler to book.

      1. I wonder if that might be an interesting feature to include in BizFares: A guarantee that if a flight is cancelled within X hours of departure or delayed more than Y hours, they’ll rebook you on another airline.

        1. That would definitely be a great feature for Frontier to add to the business fares, and would alleviate a lot of concerns.

          I could see that feature backfiring, however, as the media might take that and focus on highlighting how necessary it is by highlightling how poorly Frontier does in IRROPS, and how Frontier sometimes fails to get pax to their destinations within even a few days of schedule.

          The schedule reliability/IRROPS is the biggest reason that I personally try to avoid Allegiant & Frontier. More than once, I’ve had a friend or relative get a flight flying to visit family have their ULCC flight cancelled at the last minute, with the next flight days away, to the point that attempting to continue the trip was pointless. If the person had been going on a true vacation (as opposed to flying to spend time with family), their entire vacation would have been ruined and they would have been out all the non-refundable fees/deposits/event tickets associated with other elements of the trip. Alternatively, if their return flight had been cancelled, the person would have been in big trouble at work for not getting back from vacation on time.

          1. It could also backfire if someone on a regular fare realizes they’re stuck waiting while the person next to them on a BizFare gets put on another airline. One way to do that would be to fix their operation first, then put it out there as a way to give people more confidence to try them. Along the lines of what Hyundai did when they introduced the 10 year, 100,000 mile warranty.

  6. Not the point of the article, but as for the partial red-eye scheduling… pre-COVID American had (maybe still has?) a bank of eastbound partial-red-eyes that left DFW around 11pm and arrived at DCA/JFK/BOS/PHL, etc. around 3:30am.

    As someone who had to regularly commute between ELP/ABQ and DCA, I didn’t hate it… I was gonna end up taking red-eyes anyway to avoid losing a full day to eastbound travel, and those spared me from having to go several hours the wrong direction for a connection through PHX or LAX in order to catch one.

    I’m fully aware this makes me a total freak. Please don’t judge me.

    1. How far pre-covid are you referring to? I pulled Diio data from July 2019 and could find no such bank at DFW. Additionally, I did a search between 2017 and 2019 and found only 13 total instances of airlines operating between the hours of 0100-0459, and each of these were holiday adds. That would make it impossible for you to have arrived at DCA at 0330.

      1. Why would you think I would make that up? Checked back through my email and the last time if flew that route was March 2017.

        AA2550 on 3/19/17. Departed DFW 11:55pm, arrived DCA 3:39am+1

        1. Those midnight banks of flights are one off at holidays. They would often add a bank of flights leaving at midnight on days like the Sunday after Thanksgiving. That date in 2017 was a similar day during Spring Break.

          They don’t normally run flights that late, especially heading east. The latest flights going east all land generally before midnight local.

          1. Well that would make sense – I was typically flying east on Sunday evenings to be in DC Monday morning. Still found it preferable to the alternatives which involved leaving much earlier Sunday to catch one of those pre-midnight arrivals or having to go west first to catch a true red-eye from PHX or LAX. I was also in my 20s so I was much more made of rubber back then.

  7. I used to fly F9 all the time after their status match; the fee waivers made the experience bearable for the price. But I tell you once they went chat-only, that was it for me. They’ve had all outsourced agents in the Philippines that mean well, but were always powerless to do the most basic things over the phone. So take those same agents and make the interaction via chat only, and it’s just a laughable nightmare. It takes at least an hour to do the simplest tasks now.

    Putting everything else aside concerning schedules and IROPs, I still don’t see how they will get a *repeat* business customer until they address getting ahold of someone to get things accomplished on a booking.

  8. I think one attraction of these fares, especially the J fare, will be for people booking last minute tickets on Frontier when other airlines have irrops or are full. The J prices don’t seem unreasonable when compared to a last-minute ticket on other airlines.

    Suppose you find out that your afternoon (or midnight) LAX-DFW on AA is cancelled with a few hours notice. All the other AA flights have filled up and you just want or need to get to Dallas as soon as possible. Now you can book the 10:30 pm Frontier flight through a GDS and know what to expect, even if the product (and schedule) isn’t ideal.

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