Frontier, Spirit Scrap Change, Cancellation Fees

ULCCs add travel flexibility in major pricing overhaul

By Evan Dougherty

Published June 3, 2024

Read Time: 4 mins


Travelers on ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCCs) could be saving some money going forward, as two leading ULCCs are making major changes to their fee structures to offer travelers more flexibility and compete against other airlines.

Frontier Airlines announced in May that it will eliminate change and cancellation fees for travelers on flights within a week prior to their scheduled departure, meaning that changes or cancellations can be made at no charge up until departure.

Shortly after Frontier revealed its changes, Spirit Airlines announced that it will also do away with change and cancellation fees effective immediately.

Both carriers have launched major additions at PIT this year including Frontier’s new twice daily service to Philadelphia (PHL) along with flights to Atlanta (ATL), Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) and Raleigh-Durham (RDU).

In May, Spirit began daily, seasonal service to New York-LaGuardia that will operate through late October, adding another low-cost option between Pittsburgh and New York. This week, Spirit will launch daily, year-round service to Boston and daily, seasonal service to Houston-Intercontinental from PIT. This summer, Spirit has also increased service to Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando.

New Frontier

Prior to the change, Frontier charged a $99 fee to customers that sought to change or cancel their flights. It will only charge this fee for travelers seeking the carrier’s lowest-fare bundle.

Frontier also announced a new fare structure that aims to be more transparent – a shift in the carrier’s longstanding ultra-low-cost model that has offered al-la-carte pricing, seating and onboard amenities. It is adding the following new fare classes:

  • Basic, structured for budget-conscious travelers, which comes with a personal item and offers additional amenities available for purchase.
  • Economy, which adds a complimentary carry-on bag and personal item, standard seat selection and no change or cancellation fees.
  • Premium, which adds priority boarding and premium seat selection with extra overhead bin space.
  • Business, which adds two free checked bags under 50 pounds. Business also adds Frontier’s extra legroom seating near the front of the aircraft and a guaranteed empty middle seat.

A Frontier A320neo taxis to its gate after completing the airline’s inaugural flight between Atlanta and Pittsburgh on May 17, 2024. (Photo by Evan Dougherty)

Additionally, Frontier will expand the validity of flight credits from three months to 12 months. It will also re-introduce live phone support for travelers within 24 hours of flight, as well as for Elite members of its FrontierMiles frequent flier program.

Frontier CEO Barry Biffle says the changes are the beginning of a new era for the airline.

“This is ‘The New Frontier’ and we are committed to offering more than the lowest fares – we deliver the best price for all the options you want and the customer support you need, when you need it,” Biffle said in a statement. “No gimmicks, just really low prices and good customer service.”

The changes come shortly after Frontier kicked off its network expansion at Pittsburgh International Airport to the four new markets, which are also served by American (PHL, DFW, RDU), Southwest (ATL, DAL), Delta (ATL) and Breeze (RDU).

Spirit Follows Suit

Spirit Airlines is also dropping change and cancellation fees.

Previously, Spirit charged between $69 and $119 for changing or cancelling a flight, depending on when travelers made the change, according to CNBC.

Spirit plans to introduce bundled fare packages, similar to Frontier’s, with options that were previously a-la-carte.

Spirit’s moves come after the airline signaled a shift in its first-quarter earnings call toward appealing to higher-end fliers. That includes a new merchandising strategy that the airline says will align with premium travel preferences that have grown in popularity since exiting the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is clear that we need to introduce some changes to reflect the new dynamics of the industry and to make Spirit a more compelling option for the traveling public,” Spirit CEO Ted Christie said in the airline’s quarterly earnings call in March.

A Spirit A320-200 lands at Pittsburgh International Airport on May 16, 2024. (Photo by Evan Dougherty)

Amidst these changes, Spirit is also expanding its operations at PIT with the New York, Boston and Houston additions. Larger carriers such as American, Delta, and United also serve New York airports and Southwest serves Houston Hobby and United serves Houston-Intercontinental. JetBlue and Delta also serve Boston.

Spirit’s additions bring the carrier’s network at PIT up to 12 total destinations served nonstop either year-round or seasonally.

ULCCs match network carriers

Frontier and Spirit now have change and cancellation fee policies that mirror those of larger network carriers. American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines eliminated such fees during the pandemic.

Southwest Airlines does not charge its customers fees when changing or cancelling tickets. Alaska Airlines also does not apply change fees more than 24 hours before departure. Travelers on JetBlue can also avoid change fees through the airline’s website prior to their flight’s scheduled departure time.

In addition, the Biden administration has sought to step up enforcement by recently announcing new rules for airlines and travel agencies that include more pricing transparency, certain fee disclosures and mandatory cash refunds.

The trade group Airlines for America, which represents major U.S. carriers, is challenging the administration’s new rules in federal court.

The industry believes that Frontier’s changes are not tied to the federal government’s new rules. Spirit said its pricing changes are also unrelated to the new rules, per CNBC.

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