Finding the carrot ineffective, Frontier wields the stick with their customers

Airlines are looking to cut costs in just about every way imaginable. For Frontier airlines a major focus on that front has been encouraging customers to book on their website rather than through 3rd party sites (OTAs). The OTA bookings cost the airlines a lot of money and saving those margins can be significant, particularly for a smaller airline which is struggling as it is.

Last September Frontier cut mileage earning on OTA tickets to 50%. At that time they also increased most fees by $50 for fares not booked directly. It was hoped that would help increase direct bookings. In March of this year Frontier pulled their inventory from Expedia, cutting distribution costs but also reducing the potential bookings. And, this week, they’ve taken this a step further, announcing that they have "Enhance[d] Services for Customers Using" Yes, they used the word "enhance" in the ironic form.

The latest changes see more cuts for customers booking OTA-issued tickets. Carry-on bags will now come with a fee – up to $100 at the gate – for the cheapest fares booked through 3rd party sites. "With this change, we are ensuring that our most loyal customers – Ascent and Summit level members of EarlyReturns®, those who book Economy, Classic and Classic Plus tickets, including all customers who book through, will have more space onboard the aircraft for their carry-on bags,” said David Siegel, Frontier’s chief executive officer. The effective date for the carry-on charges has not yet been set.

Charges are also coming for in-flight beverages. Effective July 1, 2013, customers who purchase Economy or Basic fares will be charged $1.99 for coffee, tea, soda and juice. On the plus side, that $2 will entitle customers to the whole can of soda or to unlimited refills on coffee. No word on if they’ll charge again if you want more hot water for your tea. Customers who purchase a higher fare or who have elite status will need to show their boarding pass or elite card to have the beverage fees waived.

And, on the mileage front, the fares which were earning only 50% when purchased through an OTA will see that number further reduced, down to 25%.

There’s a whole lot of hurt in this latest round of changes. It is hard to believe that things will end well for Frontier out of these moves. Maybe it will shift the consumer behavior but I get the feeling more customers are going to buy their tickets through an OTA, get annoyed at the lower service levels and then choose a different carrier on the OTA rather than change their buying habits. I suppose we’ll see soon enough.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Any inkling I had to every try Frontier is definitely now gone. Of course they’ve pulled out of my home airport now anyway.

    Imagine all the infrequent leisure travelers who show up at the airport/gate surprised by these fees. But hey, enhancements all around!

  2. Guess it’s time to start weighing passengers too…

    I’ve stayed away from Frontier for a long time now, outside the short hop from SLC – DEN it’s a big pain and just not worth it to build miles in a program I haven’t ever liked. Now that big stick will keep me further away!

  3. ryan air charges for water and boarding passes printed at airport. maybe Frontier will start selling tkt for $1 too?

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