How Does An Airline Make Money If They Won’t Sell Tickets?

Want to fly to Mexico for a late fall getaway? Frontier won’t take your money.

Ready to book travel to visit Grandma in Detroit for Thanksgiving? Frontier would rather you flew Spirit.

I’m not an aviation analyst, but it seems to me that in order for an airline to make money they’ve got to sell tickets. Yet it seems that Frontier can barely be bothered right now.

FrontierPlane

Frontier Is Only Selling Tickets Through October 20

A friend of mine recently pointed out that Frontier is only selling tickets for travel through October 20th. That’s only about 4 months out.

FrontierBookingWindow

To put this in comparison, the standard in the industry is generally 330 days, or 11 months. A few airlines even go a full year. Now you might say that Frontier doesn’t compete with the legacies and I’d mostly agree. So let’s compare them to the low cost carriers instead. (Let’s save the debate about whether some of these are really low cost for another day – this particular list came from Wikipedia, that fine data source.)

AirlineEnd of Reservation Window
FrontierOctober 20, 2015
SouthwestJanuary 4, 2016
Sun CountryJanuary 4, 2016
JetBlueFebruary 10, 2016
AllegiantFebruary 16, 2016
SpiritMarch 31, 2016
Virgin AmericaMay 18, 2016

All of the other LCC’s are accepting reservations through at least January 4th, 2016, which of course includes the busy, and presumably lucrative, holiday travel season. 

We do a lot of advanced planning in my family. It’s not uncommon for us to book trips clear out to the end of the booking window, especially for mistake fares. And it really really pains me to give anyone an interest-free loan for a year, much less the airlines. I realize that not everyone is like us, but I do have to think that a lot of leisure travelers are thinking at least four months into the future…

Hey, maybe Frontier sees themselves as the airline of business travelers who never book more than two weeks in advance. Of course, that must be it. 

What About Award Tickets?

Clearly if the schedule isn’t loaded beyond October 20th, you can’t book a ticket — it doesn’t matter if it’s revenue or award. So you’re not going to be booking award tickets for holiday travel right now.

But it gets better.

Frontier has a policy whereby they charge a progressively more expensive booking fee for award tickets booked close to departure. I don’t like it even if other airlines do it too. United, for example, charges general members $75 for award tickets booked within 21 days of departure.

Well, Frontier defines “close to departure” as within 180 days. That means that the first date for which you can book an award ticket without paying the fee is December 22.  Oh right, the booking window currently only extends to October 20th. Well, shoot, I guess you’ll be paying the fee one way or the other. Call me a cynic, but I have a feeling this is by design.

FrontierAwardFee

What’s The Logic?

I really am curious as to why Frontier has such a short duration window for which they are accepting bookings. The best (only?) explanation I’ve seen is that they want to preserve flexibility on their “experimental” routes. In other words, if a route is sucking, they want to be able to pack up and leave town at a moment’s notice. Compare that to United which wants to claim they lost money flying JFK-LAX over the past 7 years, but is just now getting around to cutting the route.

And apparently every Frontier route is experimental… because, hey, who needs a long term relationship anyway?

Bottom Line

Frontier currently has a booking window that is only 4 months long, about half as much as the next shortest among low cost carriers. If you’re anything close to an advance planner, Frontier doesn’t want your money.

About Travis

Travis has been playing in the world of miles and points for over a decade. At one time or another he has held status on just about every major domestic airline and hotel program. He has visited all 50 US states and over 50 countries. Nowadays he travels almost exclusively with his wife and three young children.

More articles by Travis »

Comments

  1. On the other hand Megabus’s schedule only goes to September 8 so there’s that. That must be Frontier’s competition. (Greyhound, Bolt, and Amtrak go at least nine months out.)

  2. I personally think frontier are going to fold or get bought out. It might be there are releasing short availability in order to process less refunds if they fold. Or they are working on present day fuel prices or some mad like that.

    They are an airline I have never flown and don’t really want to either, I would personally rather fly Spirit over Frontier.

  3. all I can say is, to all bloggers constantly posting Frontier headlines every time they have a Sale.

  4. On Oct 21st, Frontier get’s acquired by Delta for $73. The old Frontier routes and planes will be used for Delta’s “Basic Economy” fares. While Diamond, Platinum and Gold medallion fliers will not be allowed to fly these routes, Silver medallion fliers will be afforded zone 3 boarding and will receive one free carry on (no larger than a Scooby Doo lunch box),

    Upgraded (for purchase) F&B will include Blatz beer, 7-11 Burritos and American airlines now discontinued first class cookies!

  5. As for not being able to book award travel on Frontier Airlines more than six months in advance, I would strongly suggest that you file a written formal complaint with the United States Department of Transportation (U.S.D.O.T.) . Include the screen shots from the reservation page where you attempted to book award travel and the error message that bookings beyond October 20, 2015 are not being accepted.

    Send your complaint to the attention of: Norman Strickman, Director, Aviation Consumer Protection Division – Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings

    –However–

    I also suggest that you call Frontier Airlines reservations first and ask if the reservations agent will book award travel for you over the telephone – and without a fee and/or charge.

    If so, book your award travel over the telephone.

    If you are not able to book your award travel over the telephone 6 months or more in advance and without a fee and/or charge then include those details within your formal complaint to the D.O.T.

    Keep us informed as to the final outcome.

    SO_CAL_RETAIL_SLUT

  6. I have some leftover miles with them that are expiring soon, so I’ve been keeping an on their booking window for the past couple months. Until sometime around the first week of May (iirc) their booking window was for travel until August 20, which is completely absurd. My dates might be off a bit, but if they aren’t, they aren’t allowing any award bookings <180 days out.

    Also I'm not sure their new seats that they have recently started installing have gotten the publicity they deserve. They're the same seats Ohana by Hawaiian put into their ATRs..

  7. This site I used to like to read but with all these guest bloggers this starting to look like the sellout TPG site.

  8. They’re absolutely doing it to generate fees/ discourage award redemption. I live in their home city and flew them exclusively until they started nickel and diming passengers like Spirit. This is a cynical attempt to generate fees. Post bankruptcy, that’s their model. Credit card swipers on the lavatory doors probably aren’t far off for them.

  9. @SO_CAL_RETAIL, and all other curious readers:

    I just got off the phone with Frontier. I’m not exactly an advance planner. It’s November 28, and I’d like to book my holiday/new years travel … and the latest date I can book my return with Frontier is January 3, 2017. This means that Frontier’s booking window is currently FIVE WEEKS (even though they claim to be booking through April). The agent I spoke to on the phone told me that “the flights beyond that date are not yet approved,” so they can’t be put up for sale on the site. When I asked what that meant, or by whom they were not yet approved, she just repeated the same thing. Y’know, like when you keep hitting zero on the keypad and you get one of those terrible phone systems that says “I’m sorry, I couldn’t understand your preference,” and then eventually hangs up on you. Because I would like to believe the best about this individual, I’m going to assume that she has been instructed by her higher-ups not to reveal any useful information about how one can actually make plans with Frontier.

    Has anyone made any useful discoveries in the last year and a half?

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