As Frontier continues its shift towards the ULCC model the tweaks to their loyalty scheme, EarlyReturns, continue to roll out. The latest set of announcements simplifies the program in many ways, but it also removes value for lots and lots of passengers. Oh, and there’s an awesome™ new fee coming, too.
So, the good news is that reaching the top tier in the new EarlyReturns Elite program is getting easier. It will require only 20,000 miles or 25 segments to qualify, down from the current 25k/30 numbers. The bad news is that there is now only one level so the lowest level is the same 20k/25, up from 15k/20. Oh, and benefit cuts, too. Many of the same benefits remain but there are a couple key items which I noticed have been dropped:
- No more free STRETCH seating for top-tier at time of booking (still available for free at the check-in window)
- No more free alcoholic drink on board
So that sucks a little bit. On the plus side, unaccompanied minors flying enough to hit EarlyReturns Elite can have the UM fee waived, a new benefit and a pretty nice one, though I don’t expect too many will be able to take advantage of it. The other benefits are basically the same as what is offered today for the Ascent tier (lower of the two) but harder to reach now thanks to the increased qualification requirement.
The new tier takes effect on 20 February 2015 based on qualification in the 2014 calendar year.
Award Redemption Fee Waived
Oh yeah, about that new fee. Starting on 31 October 2014 Frontier EarlyReturns members will be charged a redemption fee for tickets booked close to the date of departure. This is relatively common amongst the legacy airline programs so the concept of the fee is not particularly egregious (other than the fact that there is no real difference in cost to the airlines to unload distressed inventory 21 or 22 days out). What is egregious, however, is that Frontier will be charging this fee for any award booked later than 180 days prior to departure. Yup…if you haven’t figured out your award booked SIX MONTHS in advance then you’ll be paying to redeem your EarlyRetuns points for that trip. It is not clear what the fee is, unfortunately.
A call to the airline for additional details was not returned. Turns out that’s because the company doesn’t know either:
@WanderngAramean That information isn't avail just yet. When it is, we'll let our EarlyReturns members know.^CB
— Frontier Airlines (@FrontierCare) August 11, 2014
So, yes, there are a couple tiny theoretical improvements to the program. And a whole lot of negative changes going on. That shouldn’t be too surprising as the company evolves into the ULCC model, but it sure is disappointing for the people who have collected status so far this year or who have a longer relationship history with them. As for me, I’ll still use them opportunistically – the STRETCH seats are plenty comfy and they have some fun routes that work for me occasionally – but I certainly won’t be worrying about the EarlyReturns program when making that decision. I know that’s a bad deal.
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Do you think they will even keep an “elite” program for that much longer, as they devolve further down the ULCC path?
Despite the ULCC shift they are still trying to hold on to some semblance of their business customer appeal. And this more or less lets them do that with very low costs. I doubt it will ever get much better than this, but no need to drop it completely if it can drive a bit of extra revenue with de minimis costs.
Can’t help but think they should rename their program MeagerReturns or perhaps LaterReturns.
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