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Frontier adding charges to drinks, carry-on bags

4:57 AM, May 2, 2013   |    comments
Photo by Jeff Swensen, Getty Images.
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Frontier Airlines today announced a major shakeup to its fare structure. Hardest hit will be passengers who don't book directly via the carrier's FlyFrontier.com website.

Starting this summer, customers who book anywhere other than Frontier's website will have to start paying for checked bags and drinks, and they'll earn only a 25% of the frequent-flier miles that they would receive from booking at FlyFrontier.com.

Among the biggest changes is that carry-on bags will soon cost $25 per bag if paid in advance or $100 if paid at the gate.

There's a significant caveat, however: customers who book at Frontier's FlyFrontier.com website will be exempt from the fee. Frontier's elite-level members of its EarlyReturns frequent-flier program also will not have to pay the fees.

Frontier says the carry-on fee change will take effect in summer 2013, with the start date to be announced later this spring.

The move is the latest in an effort by Frontier to steer more customers directly to its website to purchase tickets.

But Frontier says it also is making the change after receiving complaints its top-tier fliers about overhead storage bins filling up before they can stow their carry-ons.

"With this change, we are ensuring that our most loyal customers - Ascent and Summit level members of EarlyReturns, those who book Economy, Classic and Classic Plus tickets, including all customers who book through FlyFrontier.com, will have more space onboard the aircraft for their carry-on bags," Frontier CEO David Siegel says in a statement. "As we unbundle our product further, we ensure those customers who want the absolute lowest fares can always find them at FlyFrontier.com."

Frontier sells three fare types on its website, with "Economy" fares being the lowest and coming with the fewest amount of perks. Frontier's "Classic" and "Classic Plus" fare types each offer more perks for correspondingly higher prices. Frontier labels fares sold through third-party sites as "Basic" fares.

Among other changes, Frontier says its fee for a first checked bag will remain $20 when purchased during at FlyFrontier.com but will increase to $25 when purchased at airport check-in for all Economy and Basic fare tickets booked on or after June 1 for travel on or after July 11.

Frontier also will begin charging non-elite customers flying on its lowest fares for drinks. The carrier will charge $1.99 for coffee, tea, soda and juice - part of what Frontier describes "as part of (its) transformation into an ultra low-cost carrier."

"All customers will now receive a full can of soda or juice and customers choosing coffee will be offered free refills," Frontier says in its statement.

Again, Frontier's top-level frequent-fliers will be exempt from the beverage charge. Also exempt will be customers who purchase Froniter's Classic Plus and Classic fares. Customers buying Frontier's cheapest "Economy" and and third-party "Basic" fare types will have to pay for beverages other than water.

Changes are coming on the frequent-flier front, as well.

Frontier already had moved to reduce mileage earned for customers who bought their tickets anywhere other than Frontier's website. Those benefits now will be diminished even further.

Frontier says that beginning July 1, mileage earned on tickets bought from third-party sites will only earn 25% of miles flown - down from the current 50%.

All tickets bought at FlyFrontier.com will continue to earn 100% of the miles flown for Economy tickets, with 25% and 50% bonuses for Class and Classic Plus fares, respectively.

Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAY

USA Today / Gannett

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