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Frontier Airlines announced today that will begin charging $20+ to bring a carry on bag onto its flights. Personal items that fit under the seat in front of you will remain free.

Frontier, predictably, is spinning this new fee as a good thing the way that airlines always justify new fees: “only pay for what you use and get a lower base fare.”

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This change is bad for folks flying on award tickets. It’s a tiny bit bad for folks on paid tickets, but overall it isn’t a big deal.

  • Under what circumstances must you pay for a carry on on a Frontier flights?
  • What are the new fees?
  • How can you avoid them?
  • Why is this not a big deal?

Frontier set up this page to explain the new fee, which is effective for tickets purchased today. (Tickets purchased yesterday are governed by the rules at the time of purchase, and all of those tickets included a free carry on.)

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Frontier will continue to sell two types of fares: Economy and Classic Plus.

Economy fares get you a boarding pass and a the right to bring a personal item on board that fits under your seat. Everything else including bringing on a carry on, checking a bag, getting a seat assignment, food, and drinks cost extra.

Classic Plus fares are fully refundable. They get you a boarding pass, a personal item, a carry on, a checked bag, an advanced seat assignment in the extra legroom section, priority boarding, priority security, priority check in, and more. Classic Plus fares don’t include refreshments.

I priced out a weekend trip from Los Angeles to Denver, Frontier’s hub, for this summer. Classic Plus fares were $75 extra each way.

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Whether that $75 price difference is a good deal depends on how many of the included options of the Classic Plus fare you value and how much you value them. Carefully price out the a la carte option of an Economy fare plus the services you want versus a Classic Plus fare bundle.

Frontier’s Discount Den

Frontier launched something new today called the Frontier Discount Den. I don’t understand its purpose since all EarlyReturns members are automatically enrolled. (I can only assume that in the future, Frontier will want to charge money to be in the Discount Den.)

The cheapest checked bag and carry on bag fees are for Frontier’s Discount Den members. All the prices quoted in this post for checked bag and carry on bag fees are the prices for Discount Den members at the time of ticketing. Fees are higher later and for non-members.

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Who Gets the Shaft and Why This Isn’t That Big of a Deal

I don’t think Frontier adding a carry on bag fee is that big of a deal.

I’ve paid a fee for a carry on bag before on Wizz Air in Europe, and the flight was still the cheapest by far on the route I was flying. I just paid a carry on bag fee on Allegiant, but I still paid under $300 all in for a first-class sized seat to Hawaii.

Not to get too deep into economic theory, but Frontier operates in a competitive marketplace. It competes against several airlines at its own hub (United, Southwest) and on routes across the country. It also competes with other transportation options and other uses of your leisure dollars besides travel.

All that is to say that Frontier doesn’t have a license to print money. Because of this fee, I expect Frontier’s base fare to be lower and for savvy and frugal travelers to come out ahead or at least not too far behind. Since I consider myself savvy and frugal, the fee is no big deal for me. I can occasionally travel with only a personal item, and I basically never travel with more than one carry on sized bag, which I could check to save $5 over the carry on fee.

The fee does make more steps in the mental equation to figure out the best fare for your upcoming trips. As usual, to get the answer right you have to take into account all fees and benefits of each airline and your preferences.

The one group that is unambiguously hurt by this new fee is award travelers. Right now The Frontier Airlines World MasterCard® is offering 40,000 bonus miles after spending only $500 in the first 90 days.

That’s enough for two roundtrips anywhere that Frontier flies in the United States including Alaska. Or it’s enough for one roundtrip to Costa Rica, Mexico, or the Caribbean with enough miles left over for a domestic one way award.

But those awards will be booked as Economy fares, which now include less than they used to. I still think the card is a great card for folks who want to fly where Frontier flies, but it’s now not quite as good.

Your Take

I’m expecting most people to react to this fee differently than I have. Leave your take in the comments.

(Hat Tip to Ben S.)

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