Frontier Tries to Make It Easier for Travelers to Part With (Less of) Their Money


Frontier made a splash last week by saying is is now “The New Frontier” with “Transparent Pricing, No Change/Cancel Fees, and Enhanced Customer Benefits and Support.” That all sounds impressive, but it’s really just a facelift meant to make it easier for travelers to spend their money. For now, it’s also a whole lot cheaper, so people should be happy to take advantage.

The original ultra low cost carrier (ULCC) model was created to have the lowest possible base fares with an extra fee for everything under the sun. Operational integrity? Pfftt, that didn’t matter. People would deal with anything for a cheap flight. This model worked for ULCCs in the beginning, but most importantly, it provided fodder for late night comedians for years.

The model first took a hit before the pandemic when Spirit discovered that it had to actually run a decent operation. Frontier seems to have come to that conclusion later in life, and it never quite had the same commitment to it. But the commercial model, that was solid. After all, who doesn’t like a cheap fare, even if they end up hating the fees later? And those ancillary fees… those didn’t have the same 7.5 percent excise tax applied. This was a goldmine.

The legacy carriers responded by creating Basic Economy, a stripped down fare that could match this low base price that ULCCs put out. The difference, however, was that if you bought Basic Economy you couldn’t add on attributes. If you wanted to have the ability to change, select a seat, or in some cases bring a carry-on bag, you had to buy the higher regular economy fare.

Now, Frontier is admitting that this idea of having tiers of fares really works well, so it is adopting the legacy model. Sort of. The airline has now created four different fare products with different attributes that you see right up front during the search.

The original Frontier fare still exists as a Basic Fare, adopting the legacy airline nomenclature to make it easy for travelers to compare.

The Economy Bundle then perfectly matches the regular economy offering that legacy carriers put out, with a carry-on bag and standard seat selection. Oh, and change fees are gone — something Spirit has already matched across the board — while credits have been extended from being valid for 3 months to 1 year, also now industry standard.

The Premium Bundle includes all of that, but it also has early boarding and extra legroom seating (which the airline used to call Stretch but now calls Premium). Lastly, the Business Bundle adds two checked bags and seating in that UpFront Plus section.

Why would Frontier do this? Is it voluntarily going to pay the excise tax by putting all this in the fare? Of course not. It’s just finding a new way to offer bundles to get people to pay up earlier in the process.

Frontier is moving these bundles into the original fare shopping process. Previously, you just picked a fare and added on a bundle later. Now, you pick the bundle right up front. The airline is pricing these bundles to ensure that people would just about never want to build their own package. Just look at this random day in the middle of June from Denver to Phoenix for an example:

If you select that $29 fare, the lowest of the low, then unlike with the legacy carriers, Frontier will allow you to piece this together individually as it used to be. The airline still offers the old bundle options but the prices are wildly stupid. Note that these are on top of the $29 base fare:

If you pick one of these, you’re an idiot. It’s just as silly if you try to piece together one attribute at a time. The cheapest seat assignment on the plane is $18, a carry-on is $58 (or $68.99 with early boarding), and a checked bag is $58.

This is being priced so that everyone will buy a bundle and ancillaries will plummet. Or will they? Technically, these are still ancillaries.

If we select the $104 Business Bundle — or any bundle — it’s the same base fare with different add-ons. Here’s how everything breaks down on that Business Bundle above:

  • $3.61 base fare
  • $0.27 US excise tax
  • $5.00 US flight segment tax
  • $5.60 US passenger security fee
  • $10.00 bullcrap “carrier interface charge”
  • $4.50 Denver passenger facility charge
  • $75.00 Business Bundle

In other words, nothing has really changed behind the scenes. What has changed is the different types of bundles being offered and where they are being shown to customers.

Yes, the prices for these bundles are WAY lower than what the airline used to have, but prices can always change. I imagine Frontier’s plan here is to start with cheap upsells to encourage people to book. Then it will slowly but surely increase the upsell amounts to see just how far it can push it before people stop buying.

I’m actually pretty surprised at how low the buy-ups are now. I imagine that Frontier is going to take a real hit on ancillaries in the near term. The idea must be that Frontier thinks it can push people into buying higher bundles with such slim upsell charges. Think about it this way. Even though there are so few UpFront Plus seats on an airplane, people should still buy the Business Bundle if they have a checked bag and want a carry-on or seat assignment, because it’ll be cheaper.

I struggle with the math as it is today, but I know that Frontier just wants to make a splash as a kinder, gentler airline. This is like a reset, a marketing exercise that says it is doing things differently than it did before. It’s a study in human behavior, I suppose. The underlying numbers can always change, and you can be sure they will, but in the meantime, Frontier just wants to make it easier for you to spend that money.

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22 comments on “Frontier Tries to Make It Easier for Travelers to Part With (Less of) Their Money

      1. But “some airports do not have airport agents daily availble to purchase tickets” and online forums are full of people who were turned away at the aiport because they didn’t want to sell tickets.

        1. The less-than-daily availability doesn’t matter to the “optional” status. As for being turned away, unless they file some sort of legal action or complaint with DOT, the airline has no incentive to change the practice. Personally, I can’t imagine driving to the airport to save ten bucks (even though I like visiting the airport!), but that doesn’t make it not optional.

  1. Why do you present them as low ?
    I’m pretty sure that they have researched extensively what people were buying today (probably only either a checked bag or a cabin bag and seat assignment) and that very few will actually save !!!

    1. Because they *are* actually quite low. The economy bundle costs less than a carry;on does, by a lot. The premium bundle costs less than a carry-on plus a better seat, which is usually the comparison I drew with legacies when I price shopped back when I hadn’t bought Frontier elite status yet (now I can just buy Basic).

      These fares are actually inexpensive compared to unbundled; I spot-checked a few fares a day or two ago, and Economy is less AUS-DEN than Southwest wants, which generally wasn’t the case for fare + carry-on previously.

      Sure, they’ll absolutely raise bundle prices later but if they can get folks buying up to Economy most of the time that should help them lose less money, and this strategy should work better with their new route map where folks aren’t necessarily pricy to how ULCCa work.

  2. The average ancillary fee charged by the profitable and operationally reliable Ryanir was €22.80 Euros, or about $24.80 USD.

  3. This continues the trend of Frontier giving you a headache every time you try to figure out how to price a trip.

  4. When I read anything about F9, it always surprises me that there are not more negative comments about their lack of phone service. For 95% of the time, you don’t need it – I get that – but when things go bad, and the drop-down menu items don’t cover anything like your specific problem and you need to physically speak to someone – you can’t!
    For me, I wouldn’t even consider using them with that policy!
    Interesting that I have not seen any negative comments about this – anywhere!

    1. Part of this refresh is adding back phone service, I believe. I think it is only available for flights less than a week out if I remember correctly.

      1. Thank you Jim – I stand corrected!
        I checked, and found this info: Passengers who are Elite loyalty members or customers that have either upcoming travel within 24 hours or recently completed travel within 24 hours can call us at 801-401-9000 for assistance.
        So, perhaps there was a backlash, after all!
        Thanks again

  5. Something that really bugs me with these ULCC bundles is how difficult it is to price-compare the bundles with its components if priced a-la-carte. I honestly think it should be regulated more harshly (maybe it is by the new Biden Admin rules?).

    On Breeze and Avelo (I’m sure others too), for example, you have to enter a substantial amount of info (passenger details, etc.) before you can see how much ancillaries (seat assignment, carry-on, etc.) will cost on a particular flight, and thus you don’t know if the up-front bundle is a good deal or not until deep into the booking process. Feels like an almost criminal lack of transparency – if it isn’t technically that yet, it should be.

  6. So is F9 going to sit on this for a while and see how much upward pressure on fares they can push or is this a step towards something else down the road?
    The upfront cabins/business fares seem to be appealing esp to VFR customers who are looking for room and not a meal. Let’s face it, the legacy 3 have so degraded the domestic first class experience soft product that there is little to differentiate on a flight less than 2 1/2 hours.

    Premium VFR travel is a ‘thing’ now.

  7. I’m actually not surprised it’s $30 because that’s about what the legacies charge to move from basic to regular economy. Spirit used to say it competes with the couch and not other airlines, but that’s no longer the case. As Cranky mentioned, the legacies are competing and winning. People are doing the math and with most legacies offering a free carry-on bag and a more reliable operation it’s easy to see why one would choose American/Delta over Frontier/Spirit.
    Side note: I really wish United would allow carry-ons for BE, but that’s another story.

    1. > Side note: I really wish United would allow carry-ons for BE, but that’s another story.

      Agreed. UA rarely flies the routes that I travel on, but when they do, the cost for a carryon bag (or the premium to buy up from basic economy to regular economy) tends to make them uncompetitive with the DL/AA/WN.

  8. The original ULCC business model has always included operational integrity – love them or loathe them, Ryanair has excellent operational integrity.

    The issue is that Indigo never brought that aspect to the US. And, back in the day, Allegiant’s operational integrity was dog-do. So, in the US, ULCCs didn’t have operational integrity.

    But something funny happened – Allegiant’s operational integrity is now pretty good (as it always should have been – it has the same out-and-back base model as Ryanair, and Allegiant too has always rejected connections – Ryanair now has a few connections is my understanding, but for most of its existence, it did not sell connections). And now, Frontier appears to have gotten some of that same kind of religion, at least on the base side.

    So, crappy operational integrity is not synonymous with ULCC, it’s more synonymous with US ULCC, and, in the last five years or so, most synonymous with Indigo ULCC.

  9. From personal experience (as a status matched Diamond member), Frontier is a bad airline that nobody should fly unless you have travel flexibility and are paying next to nothing for your ticket. Just this week, right after they launched these “improvements,” I tried to buy a ticket on them to fly to Denver. The fare is $39 for a 1500 mile flight and, due to my status, I get everything included. Obviously, they lose money on my purchase. But their IT is so bad that even making that purchase was difficult. The new fare structure wasn’t properly supported by the website, so the transaction kept crapping out. I then went to their app, but I couldn’t buy my ticket there because that system wouldn’t recognize my frequent flyer number (which I’ve had go more than a decade). I tried calling their new elite phone number for help, but the first few times their agents in the Philippines couldn’t hear me. When I finally got through to someone who could hear me, they couldn’t help me with a “technical problem.” I was going to give up, but I saw a promo where they would give me 5000 extra frequent flyer miles for “trying the new Frontier.” So I waited a couple days to see if the website would work. After a couple of times, I got it to take my booking.

    Obviously, the airline industry is a hard business, and these guys aren’t very good at it. They will almost certainly fail.

    1. By throwing you 5000 points, they got you to buy their product and put up with a lousy experience. No one flies F9 for the comfort. They get you.from point A to B cheaply, that’s it.

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