Can You Save Money By Buying Frontier Tickets At The Airport?

Filed Under: Frontier, Ultra Low Cost Carrier

I’ve recently shared how you can save money by buying Spirit or Allegiant tickets at the airport. That’s because these airlines effectively tack on a surcharge for using their website. They don’t call it that of course, but that’s what it is.

The reason they do this is because airlines have to pay a 7.5% federal excise tax on ticket revenue. They only pay this on the actual fare basis, however, not the ancillary fees. So they have a very real incentive to make their money through fees, rather than the actual fare.

The trick is, for something to be a fee — not a fare — it has to be optional. If you think about it, you don’t have to check a bag. You don’t have to select a seat. You don’t have to eat some food. Those are obviously all fees.

Well, Spirit and Allegiant have become very creative with their accounting over the years such that they even have what amounts to a convenience fee for using their website. The amount can vary, but is typically $18.99 on Spirit and $13 on Allegiant. That’s per passenger and per segment.

But since they need to convince the government that it’s an optional fee, they have to give you a way to not pay it. That’s why they don’t charge it if you buy your tickets at the airport.

I actually tested this out recently by buying my mother-in-law a one-way ticket on Spirit at the airport. Sure enough, the ticket cost $24.10, a savings of $18.99 versus the website. I didn’t quite believe it, but this stuff is real.

Given that Frontier is an ultra low cost carrier similar to Spirit and Allegiant, I was curious as to whether they have a Ticketmaster-style convenience charge as well.

And sure enough, they do.

Frontier ticket counter at the Denver International Airport

Taxes versus carrier imposed surcharges

Frontier calls their website convenience fee the carrier interface charge, or CIC.  And it seems to be about $19.00, at least for the few routes I searched. I suppose that should be no surprise given that Frontier competes head-to-head with Spirit, which has a website fee of $18.99. So they are pretty much the same in that regard.

Frontier conceals the carrier interface charge really well. The first screen shows the price of the ticket, with all fees included. They give you the option to show details, however, which is what you’ll need to do.

The total price of the Frontier ticket is $78.20

Clicking on show details takes you to the next screen, which breaks the ticket cost into airfare and taxes and carrier imposed fees. But it still doesn’t show the CIC explicitly.

I’d say it’s pretty clear that Frontier doesn’t want us to keep snooping around, because this time they don’t advise us that we can click for more details. But the taxes and carrier imposed fees is actually a link. You’ll want to click it.

Taxes and carrier imposed fees is actually a link

Begrudgingly, Frontier finally tells us about this carrier interface charge.

It just so happens to be making up the majority of these other charges. You’ll notice that three of the other charges are federal taxes, while one is an airport charge. The carrier interface charge stands alone for its obscureness. 

Frontier’s carrier interface charge is generally $19

If there’s going to be a tax-exempt fee, there has to be a way to avoid it. And my guess is that you can get cheaper Frontier tickets if you pay at the airport.

These fees represent a significant portion of the cost of a ticket on Frontier, particularly when they’re offering sale fares, and the carrier interface charge is more than half the total taxes and fees on most tickets.

Bottom line

Frontier, like Spirit and Allegiant, categorizes part of the cost of their tickets as a convenience fee for using their website. That allows them to avoid paying the federal excise tax on that component of the ticket price. But in order for it to be exempt from this tax, it has to be an optional fee, which based on how other ultra low cost carriers handle ticketing, suggests Frontier tickets purchased at the airport may not be subject to the fee.

That means you could save $19 per passenger and per segment by buying your Frontier tickets at the airport. If you have a family like me, those savings add up fast and could probably justify a special trip to the airport.

Although I’ve flown Frontier four times in my life, I only recently learned about this. So I haven’t had a chance to test it out yet. But I’m curious.

Have you ever bought a Frontier ticket at the airport to avoid paying the carrier interface charge?

  1. So:

    1. Does the person purchasing the ticket have to be on the PNR?
    2. Is there a physical document involved when you purchase at the airport?

    If not, I see a nice opportunity for someone who has easy access to a not-too-busy airport with counters for one or more of these carriers to run a service purchasing tickets on behalf of families and other groups.

  2. The latest in a ridiculous installment of articles about ULCCs. I don’t know whether I think this is indicative of getting kickbacks from the actual ULCCs (any press is good press, right?) or other US carriers (ULCCs bad! Basic economy good!). What I do know, though, is that I’m just about done reading articles by Travis.

    If you want to push this investigative journalism narrative about ticket prices, why salami slice it so much? I’d much rather read 1 or 2 well written articles showing that American, Delta, Qatar, etc. fees don’t work like this as opposed to 12 articles all saying basically the same thing about a different airline. You know, basic compare and contrast stuff.

  3. @LarryinNYC – I have bought Spirit tickets before for myself and wife with my wife not present at the airport. Assume it is the same for Frontier.

    Also, I appreciate these articles since I have never thought about doing this for Frontier. Didn’t realize they had the same fee Spirit did – although I have not flown them in years

  4. Great timing on this article, I was just looking at some Frontier tickets online yesterday and wondered the same thing when I saw this line item fee.

    If this is true, I could get a round trip from Chicago to Miami for about $50 all in, if I purchase at the airport. I definitely will look into giving this a shot.

  5. @Dan: But, in that case, you were on the PNR and present at the airport. I wonder if it could be done by a third-party person (I assume so — I could buy a ticket for my kid traveling alone) and how they would react if someone showed up at the airport to buy 50 tickets across 10 unrelated PNRs.

    Also, although I haven’t flown any LCCs I enjoy these articles both for the specific information about individual airlines and the insight they give into how all airlines structure their accounting to avoid paying the excise tax. There no less interesting, and probably more useful to me personally, than articles like the one next to it about how to get a $600 hotel night for “only” $345 (which is not to say I didn’t find that one interesting as well).

  6. I am pretty close to an airport as well, might look into this especially as I’ve never flown Frontier or Spirit. Will definitely avoid Spirit, but Frontier is a whole different animal 😉 Thanks Travis!

  7. @Gina, one of the cool things about the internet is the fact that you DON’T have to read everything. If you don’t want to read an article about the ULCCs, skip them. OMAAT’s subject lines are usually (if not always) enough to discern whether the post is on full-service vs LCC vs ULCC.

    I for one appreciate the info on the ULCCs because the whole point of miles and points to me is to travel at minimal or no monetary cost. Thanks for the info on this whole piece Travis, really helpful.

  8. @Mr. Wise Frontier really is no different than Spirit. Both charge crazy fees for all the add ons. Both don’t have a large fleet and network to fall back on when MX issues or cancellations occur. It’s an operational nightmare when things go south on both airlines. Which is why I choose to stick with the big guys.

    Spirit actually has nice new planes, friendly crew and decent service. But that’s where it stops. I’ve had too many delays, cancellations etc with them when booked on Spirit so I just can’t trust them anymore.

  9. So, how is it possible to avoid Spirit’s “Unintended Consequences of DOH Regulations” fee? Also a carrier charge, not (any longer) waived at the airport, as I tested this weekend.

  10. I have flown Frontier from Orlando several times in the past year and was able to get much cheaper fares at the airport. I didn’t know the reasoning and when I asked the Frontier Employees they never explained why but responded in most cases the fares are cheaper at the airport.

    My last round trip fare to DC was $40 TOTAL…including taxes. I purchased at the airport.

  11. I too really appreciate these topics. I had no idea it was even possible on Frontier, and this explains why it’s possible.
    I’m flying RT on Spirit for 6!!! From ORD to LGA for $220 (that’s total, not per person) because of Travis’ prodding about buying tickets in person.

    I fly frontier a couple times per year when they have great fares on a not-too-long flight. And if I can save $20/person, that really adds up.

  12. Here’s my question though, can you get the 90% off deals at the airport too or no because its a promo code for online use?

  13. Thanks ORD Flyer! I always thought Frontier was less ‘downmarket’ perhaps than Spirit, maybe I’m wrong on this. Didn’t realize that Frontier suffers from the same operational concerns, will keep this in mind.

  14. I have no problem letting Travis know when i don’t like his posts, but his stuff on these charges saved me $40 bucks on a FLL-CTG flight on Spirit. It’s useful: keep it coming

  15. I really like these posts. I live in a smaller city and currently work 5 mins from the airport. It would cost me $1 in parking to go there to buy tickets.

    My home airport has Allegiant flights to LAS and LAX. Frontier is re-starting flights 3x weekly to DEN, so these posts are very helpful and will save me money in the future. Thanks Travis.

  16. In other words, what these LC airlines are really doing is TAX FRAUD. Why isn’t the government prosecuting them?

  17. @chambonazo

    Because it’s perfectly legal. In the spirit of the rules? Perhaps not. But allowed? Absolutely. It’s simply a loophole.

  18. I’m more interested in the ULCCs than the typical reader as I value quantity over quality. However, why does this warrant 3 long articles all saying exactly the same thing?

    You could have put all the relevant info from all 3 articles into a single sentence!

  19. Just bought several Frontier tickets at the airport this morning. Saved ~$50 per round trip, agent was surprised and that it was actually cheaper in person than online.

  20. i recently purchased a $38 round trip on Frontier from Islip, Long island to Orlando International. i purchased it on their web site and i cant imagine it would have cost any less had i purchased it at the airport counter. But as they say, “you never know unless you try”

  21. I’m doing STL to MCO for $19 on Frontier, ticket purchased at the airport. I have purchased my tickets are the airport with no problem, except during flight check-in time, the wait can be excessive.

  22. Thank you SO much for writing this article!
    I had been watching a frontier round trip flight for weeks hoping it would go down, but because of this I article I went to the airport today when it was on the low end of prices I’ve seen it recently, and I saved $76 (across 2 RT tickets) on our flights next month!

    Plus, the agent offered to book me free seats when I asked if I could choose them for free at the 24 hour advanced check in (which was a no). She gave us like $60 worth of seats (row 3 and my preference for a window seat) for free, so now I don’t have to pay for them in advance AND I don’t have to stress about risking not finding a seat with my husband at the gate.

    Thanks again!

  23. The article says you can buy tickets one hour after departures. Are the ticket desks open surrounding incoming flights if there are no departures that day?

  24. Just booked a flight from Frontier at the airport today. There really is a saving. And if you want to save even more money, choose your seat online. You can do this as soon as you want.
    You’d have to make an account on Frontier’s website and use your trip’s confirmation number to link your trip to your account. Choosing a seat online is cheaper than at the counter. Wish I knew this before. Now I know better. Here’s their current seat rates:

  25. Just a word of caution: if you plan to check a bag, be aware of the difference in pricing. I, too, bought my tickets at the airport. When the agent asked if I was checking a bag, I indicated I would have ONE bag. When he added it to the ticket price it seemed awful high. I asked him how many bags he added and he replied “one”. When I asked the price, he said $45.00. This was a bit more than I expected.
    When I got home I went online to add a checked bag to my reservation and the price was $38.00. That represents the price within 24 hours of making a reservation. If I bought my tickets online, the cost would have been $30.00. The price of purchasing a bag at the airport is $45.00, except on the day of travel. That, I believe, is $60.00.
    I saved by going to the airport, but had to give some of it back when I bought my checked bag online.
    I asked for an adjustment, but the customer no-service agent said “too bad, too sad”.

  26. So, I went to the airport and tried to buy 5 tickets SJC-DEN, the rep in Frontier ticketing told me he does not have any availability for the dates I was interested in, while on the website they were available. When I showed it to him (through the mobile web page) he told me that “the website might sell you tickets we are not allowed to sell, but from the website”. I think that is violation of the whole carrier interface charge idea mentioned here, correct? If so, should I complain? to whom?

  27. Just bought two one way tickets from ISP from ORD!

    At the time, the online ticket price was $99 and each ticket was $77.90. It’s during July 4th weekend, so not expecting crazy deals, but definitely beats Southwest. I will have to check about the bag situation. My friend will most likely check a bag, and I will just stuff my backpack underneath the seat.

    The process was simple, just went to the ticket agent and gave her the info on the flight, my info for me and my friend (must know his/her birthdate), and then double checked the printed receipt she gave me.

  28. While the article is informative, what it doesn’t go on to state is that if you purchase your ticket at the Frontier airline counter and you want to purchase a carry-on, checked bag, and an advanced seat assignment, any or all three of these will cost you more at the ticket counter and after booking, within a 24 hour period. Paying at the counter saves you paying the $19 CIC charge per person if you’re traveling only with a free personal item. If you’re purchasing a carry-on bag at the time of purchasing your ticket at the counter, your savings from avoiding the CIC fee is now less: $4 instead of $19. Purchasing two or more additional options wipes turns into all gravy for the airlines. Frontier went up on its bag fee purchase at the counter when purchasing a ticket at the counter, as of 9/12/18. If you want to travel with only a personal item, and you purchase your ticket at the counter, you save $19. If you purchase a carryon bag, your savings are reduced to $4.

  29. “Buyer Beware!” I just tied to purchase a reservation for future travel from JAX to ORD. I live in New York, a short bus ride from LaGuardia so I figured why not give it a try. Here’s a rundown of the subsequent run-around from the Frontier desk. First I was told “We do not serve JAX — go fly Spirit Air.” After providing them with the exact date, time and flight number from JAX, I was then told “That flight does not exist on the date you requested.” After proving them wrong again I was told they could book it (at a tremendous savings no less), but I would not be able to get mileage credited to my Frontier Miles Account. Before I could say anything, that quickly changed to “we cannot book this because this may be fraudulent” (words to that effect) and finally “we cannot book ANYTHING while people are checking in for flights.” The fact that the Frontier desk at LGA is open ONLY while people are checking in effectively meant Frontier will not process reservations at LGA. A subsequent call to Customer Service confirmed that Frontier does not sell tickets at its counters at LGA. So much for avoiding the carrier interface charge!

  30. Interesting: I’m a 20K member of F9, and I had a $100 certificate expiring next week. Had to book open-jaws itinerary, which can’t be done online, so I called the reservations line, and what I had priced out at $128 all-in came back at $90 all-in — a difference of … $38! When I scoured my receipt for the two $19 CICs, they weren’t there. Whether this is because I’m an F9 elite, or just a blanket policy at the call center, I’m unsure. (The $10 phone booking fee is waived for those with status, but it’s a discrete line item from the CIC.) Just a data point.

  31. Well, as mentioned in some other threads, the net effect of going to the airport to offset the CIC charge has diminishing returns when considering the value of Discount Den fares and the packages.
    In particular, the Discount Den fare differential (which is often $20) makes forgoing the CIC charge at the airport a moot point. The net fare purchased online with DD is cheaper that the at-airport fare even without CIC.
    Throw in the fact that you can’t use Works, Perks is more expensive, and for a typical family group the online fare is most likely a better overall deal.

  32. Anyone know what agency regulates this?

    Just discovered this today and going to be booking round-trip for 3 with a CIC of $19 so a total of $114 in savings if I’m able to book at the airport. However, it’s LAX so I’m wondering if they’ll allow me to book there. If not I want to know who to complain to — it’s not an optional fee if it’s impossible to avoid.

  33. @flyingsaver I just purchased three tix at LAX yesterday. No CICs. $57 in savings, less $5 for parking.

  34. I heard about this as I have a group of friends/business partners who we are always traveling to different things whether personal or business but I was always to lazy to go to the airport. I booked a cruise earlier in the year departing the Saturday after Thanksgiving forgetting that it is one of the most expensive times to travel of the year if you don’t book early. I looked online and even the low cost carriers were high. I decided to go to the airport and see if I could save on a ticket for my wife and I and I saved over $100. Now I definitely buy my tickets at the airport.

  35. Can you buy frontier tickets at another airport? I live near a couple options to fly from but the closest airport does not have the dates/times that I need. Example… live near BWI but better flights out of Regan(DC) want to buy at BWI for a DCA flight.

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