Some flyers may remember Frontier as the friendly, Denver-based airline featuring various wildlife on the tails of their fleet. Frontier has now expanded its, well, frontiers, and is servicing locations both from Denver, as well as new hubs like Trenton, New Jersey. The carrier completed a transformation of its model from a more traditional airline to one positioned to compete against Allegiant, Spirit, and others as an ultra-low-cost carrier. Seasoned flyers may shudder at the idea of flying with ultra-low-cost airlines, but there’s not much to fear – and a lot of opportunity available – to those who know what to expect, and how to get the most, out of carriers known mostly for eye-poppingly low fares.
Frontier regularly advertises fares as cheap as $29 each way, with sales often taking fares even below that mark. Such cheap flights would have been unheard of even five or ten years ago on the cheapest routes, but Frontier is able to offer them due to unbundling their fares. Checked bag? Extra. Carry-on? Also extra. Want a soft drink on the flight? Pony up.
Understanding Frontier Baggage Fees
The secret to limiting these fees comes down to planning ahead. Bag charges can be as low as $30 if requested in advance, and checked bags are cheaper than carry-ons, despite larger allowances for weight and size. Of course, the dimensions and heft of your bag are two factors to keep in mind, as well: checked bags weighing more than 50 pounds will result in a $75 surcharge. Bags greater than 62 linear inches – that’s height + width + depth – will also incur a $75 upcharge, separate from any fee charged for excess weight. That’s substantially smaller than some other carriers allow; a Travelpro Maxlite 4 Expandable 29 Inch Spinner Suitcase http://amzn.to/2a1rJND, for example, is right at the line of acceptability, so you might want to pull the tape measure out if you have any doubt.
Carry-on bags may be up to 10x16x24 inches in size, larger than many other carriers allow, though they are limited to 35 pounds in weight. This is in line with the allowable dimensions on other domestic carriers, meaning any true carry-on size bags will be considered acceptable.
Interestingly, Frontier does allow for a personal item, such as a purse, briefcase, laptop bag, backpack, or camera bag, free of charge. The limits for bags of this nature are 8x14x18 inches, though, so don’t attempt to bring a rucksack on board as your personal item. Thanks to this rule, minimalist flyers on short trips might be able to stuff a few days’ worth of clothes in a backpack and avoid bag charges altogether.
The Nickels and the Dimes
The most disastrous bag fees are waiting for those who don’t plan ahead. Showing up at the airport without pre-purchased bags will result in greatly-increased fees, and those appearing at the gate with a bag larger than carry-on restrictions allow will be out up to $60 for the mistake.
Of course, bag fees are common across most carriers these days, but the more stealthy fees are the ones to be most wary of when flying on ultra-low-cost carriers. Booking by phone will cost another $10, and any changes to your itinerary will require a $99 fee, unless your ticket price includes changes.
The Extras Worth the Extra
Those who complain about ultra-low-cost airlines the most typically fall into one of two groups: those who don’t plan ahead, and those who refuse to spend any more than the minimum possible amount. However, for a few dollars more – and still a fraction of what legacy carriers would demand for the same flight – it’s possible to ride on Frontier in something resembling comfort. Frontier doesn’t offer seat selection free of charge, so unless you pay up, you’re liable to be split up from your party or worse, placed in a middle seat.
Typically, exit row seats and those near the front of the plane – branded Stretch Seating by Frontier – can be had for as little as $20 on some routes. Compare that to the average of $6 or more Frontier charges to reserve an uncomfortable middle seat, and two options become clear: either allow Frontier to assign you a seat for free, or pay up for the extra room.
Stretch seats are downright spacious compared to many legacy carrier offerings, especially to seats found on the regional planes often used at the same destinations Frontier services. Standard seats have just 28-31 inches of total space, while Stretch seats offer 5-7 more inches, depending on the aircraft and row. Stretch seats also are placed at a slightly more reclined angle and offer more padding than standard seats.
If being one of the first to board can bring you peace of mind, it’s possible to purchase priority access, placing you in the first group to board. This has always seemed silly to me; unless I’m flying business or first class, I’m normally in no rush to get to my seat, but it’s an option that appeals to some.
For many flyers, considering Frontier’s “The Works” package is worth a moment of thought. Tickets purchased with this option are refundable, can be changed for no cost, include a checked and carry-on bag, and provide access to any available seat on the plane, including Stretch and Exit Row options. The Works can add as little as $50 to the cost of some tickets, which is less than what just a checked and carry-on bag alone would cost. Some would argue these kinds of upcharges remove the value of flying on an ultra-low-cost carrier, but I would challenge them to find competing tickets from other airlines offering the same services for even twice the price on many routes.
Frontier is finally a participant in TSA Precheck, after several years of irking frequent flyers who have grown used to skipping past the tyranny of the general security line. That means that one of the best “upgrades” you can purchase is membership in either the TSA’s program, or the Global Entry program, that provides access to both Precheck and expedited immigration when returning to the United States from international flights. Global Entry costs just $99 for a five year membership, and can save countless hours of hassle at airport security and customs for regular flyers. Make certain to input your “Known Traveler” number when booking a ticket.
Status and Discounts
Frontier offers two interesting programs notable to those who may fly with them often. The first is the Discount Den, which consistently offers fares at least a few dollars – and sometimes substantially cheaper – than those offered to the public. As a member of the program, you may book up to six tickets at the Discount Den rate, so long as you are traveling. You’ll also be the first to know about offers and promotions, often including exclusives for club members. For $49.99 per year, this option might make the most sense for families and couples who often travel together.
Unlike competitor Allegiant, Frontier does offer a frequent flyer program, offering a minimum of 500 miles, and 100% of actual flight mileage, to members of its free EarlyReturns program. That Frontier continues to offer distance-based earning, rather than revenue-based earning, despite its low fares, can be a boon to frequent travelers on Frontier’s longer-haul routes. Domestic flight redemptions are possible at either 10,000 or 20,000 miles each way, depending on flight availability.
Typically, days of the week where flights are consistently more expensive between two destinations may quote at 20,000 miles, while those on off-peak days like Tuesday or Wednesday are more likely to come in at 10,000 miles. Flights to destinations in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, or Jamaica will set you back 15,000 or more each way, depending on availability. You may redeem miles online or for a $10 charge by phone.
Finally, for those who fly 20,000 or more miles – or 25 or more segments – over the course of a year, Frontier Elite status awaits. Advance seat assignments are offered free of charge, as are upgrades to Stretch seating at time of check-in, should availability remain. Elites also may bring a carry-on bag free of charge, have the reservation fee waived when calling in, may change their flights the same day for no charge, and have access to last seat availability awards, albeit at higher charges than typical award flights command.
There’s no doubt that flying ultra-low-cost carriers like Frontier present a different challenge than legacy carriers. That said, for those looking for value who don’t expect many frills, aren’t afraid to pay for a few perks strategically, and have a bit of patience, carriers like Frontier can offer unparalleled value and open up the possibility to explore parts of the country you might not otherwise visit.