Avoid The Frontier Award Fee With One Simple Trick

Yes, I know, this is my third post about Frontier Early Returns this week. And that’s a lot for what is easily one of the worst frequent flyer programs in the industry. But hey, it’s been five days since United last stranded a planeload of passengers.

For those that need to catch up, here are the other posts in this accidental series.

In this post, I’ll discuss an ingenious method for avoiding the $15 “close-in” ticketing fee that I’ve been grumbling about all week.

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Close-In Ticketing Fees

The so-called close-in ticketing fee is a fee that some airlines charge when you redeem miles for a trip that is close to departure. Both United and American charge a fee of $75 for any award trip booked within 21 days of departure. (The fee is waived or reduced for elites.) Delta does not charge it.

The best explanation I’ve heard for why airlines charge these fees is that award tickets for trips departing soon are theoretically worth more.

If you want to buy a ticket to fly from New York to San Francisco leaving tomorrow, you will almost certainly pay more for it than if you buy the same ticket for August. Since booking a last-minute award essentially displaces buying an expensive last-minute ticket, the airlines reason that they should charge something for the privilege. Or so the story goes.

Oh heck, let’s forget economic theory — airlines charge these onerous fees because they can.

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Frontier’s Close-In Ticketing Fee

Frontier actually has a tiered approach to close-in ticketing fees, which they sneakily refer to as redemption fees.

They charge $50 for tickets booked from 7 – 20 days before departure, and then $75 for tickets that depart within 6 days or less. That’s actually either cheaper or the same as United and American, which is pretty cool. 

Too bad that’s not all.

Frontier also charges $15 for award tickets issued between 21 and 179 days prior to departure. That’s right, Frontier essentially defines “close-in” as anytime within the next six months. Because clearly, deciding now to go to Salt Lake City in November is an impulse trip.

FrontierAwardFee

The real problem, as I explained previously, is that Frontier’s reservation window typically doesn’t even extend beyond 180 days, meaning that it’s simply not possible to avoid the $15 fee.

There is no flight in their entire reservations system that you could possibly book without paying at least a $15 redemption fee. That stinks.

The Loophole

As reader Joseph pointed out in the comments yesterday, there is a loophole for avoiding the $15 fee. And it’s perfectly legit. The downside is that the loophole only opens for a couple of weeks every three months.

But this is one of those magical weeks!

The key is that Frontier allows free changes to award tickets as long as the same fare class exists and the flight is 8 days or more prior to departure.

Step 1: Book an award flight for the route you want that is more than 180 days out. (No booking fee.)

Step 2: Change the flight to the date that you actually want. (No change fee.)

It’s really ingenious. 

Frontier award ticket change policy

An Example

Imagine that I want to fly from Denver to Phoenix on October 14. I find that there is low-level award availability that day, so it will cost me 10,000 miles + $5.60. But since the flight is within 180 days of departure, I’m also charged the “close-in” ticketing fee of $15.

This is the award ticket I want. But it comes with a $15 "close-in" ticketing fee.
This is the award ticket I want. But it comes with a $15 “close-in” ticketing fee.

Now I look for Denver to Phoenix on January 2 which is more than 180 days from now. Sure enough, there is also low-level saver award inventory.

That ticket will cost 10,000 miles + $5.60. Since the trip is more than 180 days away, I’m not charged the “close-in” fee. 

This award ticket avoids the $15 fee. Let's book it instead.
This award ticket avoids the $15 fee. Let’s book it instead.

Then since the rules allow free changes to award tickets so long as the routing and fare class remain the same, I simply change the January 2 ticket to October 14.

Voila, I now have the same Denver to Phoenix ticket that I wanted, and I also have $15 in my pocket. (Which I could then use to pay for the privilege of selecting a decent seat…<sigh>)

Limited Time Opportunity

For most of the year, the Frontier booking window does not extend beyond 180 days. Therefore there are no flights that can be booked without paying some form of the “close-in” award redemption fee.

Based on what I’ve observed and read, Frontier tends to extend their schedule roughly every 3 months, at which point they extend it for an additional three months. That means the opportunity exists now and will continue to exist until about July 8th, at which point the loophole will close. It probably won’t reappear until some time in October.

(If my math is correct, on July 8th there will only be one day — January 4th, 2016 — for which award tickets can be booked without the fee. If you don’t find availability on that day, you’re out of luck. So don’t wait.)

Bottom Line

This is a nifty little trick for avoiding the $15 award redemption fee on Frontier. It will only save you $15, but hey, if you’re a family of four, that could add up.

There are similar concepts that apply to other airlines, but the upside of this one is that it seems to fall within Frontier’s policies. In other words, it should just work, and not be a situation of YMMV or HUCA. The downside is that there are only a few weeks every year for which it will work.

Thanks again to Joseph for sharing the tip.


Have you taken advantage of this loophole to avoid a close-in ticketing fee?

Comments

  1. So, since we know there’s a pretty decent chance the president of Frontier reads this blog, I say this trick is now on borrowed time. Sure, it’s right there in the terms, but this is clearly outside it’s intention.

  2. AJK: Actually, I doubt they care that much. It’s a trick that exists for a limited number of days each year.

    And it’s not like they are making HUGE money from it either.

    But if it goes away tomorrow, you can come back and blame me.

  3. Travis: What about it goes away in the next 3-6 months? 🙂 This is a big company we’re talking about; it takes time for such companies to make changes like this, especially if they’re respectable and provide any sort of lead time to their consumers.

    A $15 expedite fee, like a $15 seat assignment charge, or a $25 carry-on baggage fee (or whatever the costs), while not “huge” money in the specific instance, adds significantly in the aggregate to the bottom line of airlines employing this type cost structure. More so than, say, the legacies. So I’d disagree with your assertion that don’t care very much.

    But I guess time will tell, eh?

  4. What is the use of F9 miles? You use up a Barclaycard slot and have to wait 6 months for another card and F9 flights are generally pretty cheap to begin with so the opportunity cost of spending on this card is relatively high.

  5. AJK:

    I’m not saying the $15 doesn’t contribute to their bottom line — it clearly does.

    I’m saying I don’t think they care about whether the trick is published. Because it literally only works for a week or so each quarter. 90% of the year, there is no way to use the trick. So why bother worrying about whether people know about it?

    But we’ll see. And I’m sure that if the loophole gets closed 5 years from now, you’ll come back to say I told you so. 🙂

  6. Create Clickbait Headlines That Intrigue Some While Aggravating Others With One Simple Trick

  7. Kirby —

    I’m interested to hear how you think this was click-bait.

    The headline says this works on Frontier. It does.
    It says that it saves the award booking fee. It does.
    It says the trick is simple. I think it is very simple.

    What am I missing?

  8. I think it is illegal for Frontier to advertise no redemption fee for booking more than 180 days out, but at the same time do not provide any flights more than 180 days out for consumers to book.

    In fact one can simply file a complaint with DOT with this argument. Frontier is required to “provide a substantial response” within 60 days.

  9. I’m reading this exactly a year after this article was written and Frontier now is obviously charging $80 “close-in” fees for dates 35 days out. I noticed when I started to book the flight last night, the fee was $50. This is ridiculous.

  10. Thank you for this. I actually saved $35, which can be done any day of the year. I was booking a flight for 2 weeks out ($50 fee), and saw this post. I instead booked a flight for 5 weeks out that had the same itinerary for the same amount of miles, then called and made the change. Voila! Still had to pay $15, but it’s better than $50 for a flight that otherwise would have only cost $90 anyways without miles.

  11. Can the ticket “switch” be handled online? On a different issue, I wanted 45+ minutes today to finally reach a customer service person to talk to. Love the idea, but not sure the wait time is worth it.

  12. Just tried this today. Was wanting to book 11/11 (today is 11/1) and was being charged the $50 fee. Instead I booked 5/10, and called to change to 11/11. They still wanted to charge me the $50 fee. I ended up quoting the website award ticket term to the agent on the phone (several times) and he eventually waived the fee. Just be aware that they may have changed their policy and this may not work anymore.

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