An interesting thing happened on the path the airlines took when they changed their loyalty programs. It made me less loyal.
I need to go from Cincinnati to Denver for an upcoming business trip. I’m trying to catch a late-evening flight to do so. I was using Matrix by ITA to look at all my flight options, but I was pretty sure I’d be flying United. I’ve already accrued 100,000 qualifying miles (EQMs) on American Airlines but I’m not quite there on United. But, since I’m not familiar with flights and times out of CVG, I decided to double-check that there weren’t any opportunities I was missing.
I should have snapped a screenshot, but the prices for a one-way flight ranged from $400-ish to over $600 for my short-term booking. Except for that $40 fare on Frontier. Now, they say business travelers aren’t price-sensitive, but I can’t in good conscience spend that kind of extra money just for airline loyalty. This is especially true when you consider how bad the new changes United made actually look now that we can analyze them.
So, I booked the $40 ticket. And, in the process, saw that the fees on Frontier aren’t as horrendous as you might think. I wrote last year about their ski package which made bringing your skis much more affordable. The first thing they’ll try to sell you is “The Works” package:
With an effective sample size of less than half a dozen flights (I’ve booked a few employees on Frontier in the past), I don’t believe that The Works package will be most passenger’s first choice. In my case, they wanted $86 for $174 in total value. Problem is, I don’t see value in most of that package. I’ll be carrying on an item and I wouldn’t mind some extra legroom. But, by clicking on “Not interested in savings”, I was given the a la carte choices later in the booking process:
I selected 1 carry-on bag for $30 and ended up picking a $20 exit row middle seat. It was one of only two seats left (both middle seats) at $20, so if you are considering “The Works”, know that you may not get $20 in value out of your seat selection. Probably want to check the seat map first.
Ultimately, the ticket price is cheap enough that I don’t want to pay to be able to change it, and I last checked a bag willingly sometime in the 90s. So, I tacked on another $55 in fees to my ticket, but I’m still saving my company roughly $400.
United Told Me To Book With Frontier
I had two concerns when booking with Frontier. The first was that the flight was a bit earlier than I wanted to leave, so I’ll be hoofing it to the airport. The second was if there’s a problem with the flight. The problem with low-cost carriers is that their tickets aren’t generally honored by other airlines due to the absence of interline agreements. If something goes wrong with the last flight of the day on Frontier, I might be spending another evening in Cincinnati, which definitely isn’t part of the plan.
United has already raised their price to the highest level I expect them to. This is something I see commonly where they set their pricing high for restricted economy tickets on certain routes more than a few days prior to departure. I took some time to look at other close-in rates for last-minute bookings on my route, and I have a fair degree of confidence the price of the United flight won’t get more expensive.
United has a habit now of pricing routes that they dominate much higher than competing connecting options. In some cases, I’m questioning whether I can take a business trip given how much some of the tickets are. American does the same thing, though with less frequency and veracity from the flights I observe.
I set an Expert Flyer alert to let me know if the flight is getting close to selling out in case I need to make a decision, but I doubt that happens. For the most part, that means I can book the cheap Frontier ticket and if something goes wrong, I’m likely to be able to hop on the United flight anyway, and without paying more money than if I booked today. Not a foolproof plan, but I’m willing to fade a bit of risk for that sort of savings.
As the argument for elite status and loyalty to an airline weakens, these choices become easier. I’d like to think I would have considered Frontier in the same situation a couple of years ago, but the reality is I’m not so sure. I try to choose the lowest priced ticket to my destination, but in the past I’ve been choosing between United and American. Due to a combination of price disparity and reduced elite benefits, the list of airlines my list has gotten longer.
Now that airlines like Frontier have added TSA PreCheck functionality, they’ve removed one of the few remaining pain points for business travelers to flying a true low-cost carrier (Southwest hasn’t truly been an LLC in a long time).
I guess I finally get to fly a plane with an animal on the tail. I’ll be sure to weigh in with my thoughts on the traveling experience after I fly.
The post I Booked My First Flight On Frontier. United Told Me To was published first on Pizza in Motion