Denver-based ultra-LCC Frontier Airlines is “changing a lot,” almost doubling its number of destination cities, introducing a new loyalty program, and making it easier for passengers to achieve elite status.
A major move this year was Frontier’s codeshare partnership with Mexico City ULCC Volaris. Beginning early August, this has added 12 more Mexican cities to Frontier’s network and 53 more US cities to Volaris’ network, Frontier SVP-commercial Daniel Shurz said.
Speaking at the Boyd Group International Aviation Forecast Summit in Denver Aug. 20, Shurz also noted the codeshare takes Volaris into Cancun, which Frontier serves but Volaris did not.
Overall, Frontier has grown its network from 54 cities in 2017 to 99 this year. It has also restarted Canada service with a Denver-Calgary route. “It’s an experiment,” Shurz said. “We are interested to see how if we can make that transborder market work.”
While maintaining its low costs and “very low fares,” Shurz said the airline was “changing a lot” with the aim of “building a different type of product as an ultra-low-cost carrier.”
As an Indigo Partners carrier, Frontier is set to take delivery of 100 Airbus A320neos and 34 A321neos.
As it grows its fleet and network, Frontier is adapting its loyalty program, called Frontier Miles, and begun offering new ancillary product bundles. For example, a “Works” bundle, which must be purchased on Frontier.com when the ticket is bought, is fully refundable and includes a carry-on bag, checked bag, priority boarding and seat pre-selection.
The Frontier Miles program, meanwhile, has additional tiers and allows families to pool their miles. At the first tier, Elite 20k, passengers get free carry-on bags and pre-assigned seats.
“Almost all the major airlines have gone to dollar-based mileage programs, with elite status harder to achieve,” Shurz said. “The main carriers have alienated the moderate traveler who flies two or three times a year. At Frontier, a mile flown is a mile earned. We have only added benefits, not taken anything away.
Through its transformation, Frontier continues to be in dispute with its pilots, who are represented by the Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA). ALPA has sued the airline in federal court for bad-faith bargaining and asked the US National Mediation Board to declare an impasse and start the 30-day clock that could potentially lead to a strike.
About 40 Frontier pilots held an informational picket Aug. 20 outside the Denver summit venue where Shurz spoke.
“Every one of Frontier’s industry peers, including Spirit and JetBlue, has increased their pilot pay to reflect current market conditions. However, Frontier currently pays over 50% less, because our contract was negotiated while in bankruptcy 11 years ago,” ALPA Frontier unit chairman Tracy Smith said.