Frontier Airlines Expands, Attacks Legacy Airline Hubs

Frontier Airlines Expands, Attacks Legacy Airline Hubs

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Frontier Airlines has just announced a massive expansion for 2024. I don’t usually cover when ultra low cost carriers add routes, since they are constantly adjusting their networks. However, this expansion is a bit different than past ones, and I can’t help but wonder how this is going to play out.

US ultra low cost carriers have been struggling

We know that ultra low cost carriers in the United States have been struggling quite a bit lately. Leisure demand has come back incredibly strong post-pandemic, so you’d think that ultra low cost carriers would be doing well, given that they’re targeted at leisure travelers. Unfortunately there are some issues, though:

  • A lot of the summer leisure demand has been for travel to Europe, and that’s a destination that US ultra low cost carriers don’t serve
  • We’ve seen a huge increase in premium leisure demand, and ultra low cost carriers don’t have as many premium products to sell people
  • A large portion of the profits for the legacy US carriers come from their loyalty programs, and in particular their lucrative credit card agreements, and that’s something ultra low cost carriers can’t capitalize on in the same way
  • In many ways, legacy airlines have gotten better at competing with ultra low cost carriers, by flying larger aircraft, and shifting their route networks to a lot more leisure destinations

In October 2023, Frontier CEO Barry Biffle said that his airline was “kind of the canary in the coal mine,” which is something you don’t want to hear. Executives at the airline have committed to transforming the business, so there’s an interesting development along those lines…

Frontier has been struggling financially

Frontier Airlines attacks legacy airline hubs with new routes

Frontier has just announced dozens of new routes that will be launching this spring, between April and June of 2024. These routes cover 38 different airports. What makes this expansion so interesting is the type of routes that Frontier is adding. No, we’re not talking Baltimore to San Juan, or Islip to Tampa, or Cleveland to Punta Cana, as we might have seen in the past.

Instead, Frontier is expanding almost exclusively to the hubs of legacy airlines, in many cases even flying between their hubs. You can find the full listing of new routes here, but just to give some examples, the airline will fly from:

  • Atlanta (ATL) to Minneapolis (MSP)
  • Charlotte (CLT) to Chicago (ORD), Dallas (DFW), and New York (LGA)
  • Dallas (DFW) to Houston (IAH), Chicago (ORD), Detroit (DTW), Los Angeles (LAX), Minneapolis (MSP), and Salt Lake City (SLC)
  • Denver (DEN) to Chicago (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX), and New York (LGA)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) to Denver (DEN), Phoenix (PHX), and San Francisco (SFO)

That’s just a tiny sample of the routes, but Frontier is primarily adding flights between major airline hubs (including between hubs of two competing airlines), as well as flights from major airline hubs to other cities that typically have high pricing.

Frontier is attacking legacy airlines at their hubs

This expansion will be great for consumers

Obviously ultra low cost carriers in the United States need to do something to improve their margins. So this is a very interesting direction for Frontier to take.

Historically, many ultra low cost carriers have been focused on operating point-to-point routes in markets not served by legacy airlines. For example, that’s the entirety of Allegiant’s business model, and Allegiant is probably the most successful ultra low cost carrier in the United States.

Yes, Allegiant has the St. Petersburg to Flint and Punta Gorda to Appleton markets all to itself. So obviously Frontier is going exactly the opposite direction here, entering markets that are largely very well served, but which maybe don’t have very attractive pricing.

Airlines have a ton of pricing power at their hubs. For example, Frontier is starting flights between Charlotte and Buffalo. Currently, American’s cheapest one-way fare in the market is $192. Yes, that’s even when booking months in advance, and worst of all, that’s a basic economy fare. Now Frontier is entering the market, with fares starting at $19. You can bet that this will put downward pressure on American’s pricing.

I think there’s merit to this strategy, though admittedly it also doesn’t come without some challenges. Frontier can’t compete with legacy airlines in terms of frequencies, and the airline also won’t have as much connecting traffic. The legacy airlines can essentially skim point-to-point demand from their hubs with high fares, since connecting passengers largely fill planes with lower fares.

I’m not sure if Frontier will be successful here, but I appreciate what the airline is trying, and the aggressive approach. hopefully the airline can quickly figure out which markets prove successful, and adjust capacity accordingly.

One thing is for sure — this is very exciting for consumers, since you can bet that this will lower fares in many markets.

Legacy airlines will respond with lower fares

Bottom line

Frontier Airlines is expanding significantly this spring, with dozens of new routes. This expansion consists almost entirely of new service from the hubs of legacy airlines, with lots of hub-to-hub flying. Historically ultra low cost carriers have tried to create a niche by avoiding competing directly with legacy airlines. However, that’s a trend that has been changing, and this latest expansion by Frontier is the prime example of that.

I’m curious to see how Frontier does with its expansion. At a minimum, consumers should be excited about lower fares from hub airports.

What do you make of Frontier’s expansion?

Conversations (35)
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  1. John Guest

    DONT WASTE YOUR TIME!
    HORRIFIC AIRLINE!
    IF YOU FLT IS COMING FROM ANOTHER DESTINATION, YOULL WAIT HOURS,DAYS,WEEKS TO GET TO YOUR DESTINATION.
    NOT ENOUGH PLANES!
    POOR PLANNING!
    LOW END OPERATION.
    NICKLE AND DIME AIRLINE.
    SERVES A CERTAIN DEMOGRAPHIC!

  2. Mikker50 Guest

    This isn’t an “expansion” unless Frontier magically took delivery of a bunch of airplanes and spawned a huge amount of trained pilots overnight. This is a shift in flying.

    1. Bob hope Guest

      Frontier pulled out of LAX they didn’t want to move to remote international terminal, but maybe come back when construction is done..and go back into 5 or 6

  3. Derek Vaughn Guest

    I doubt many of these succeed because the legacies will match Frontier's prices until they pull off the route, then go back to normal pricing. Frontier, and Spirit compete more with Southwest than they do legacy airlines. Southwest has lost business to these ULCC's for years.

  4. Mark Guest

    Frontier is also cutting a lot of other flying to fund this new service.

  5. iamhere Guest

    What you have not addressed in this article is the various fares the legacy carriers have now. There are very basic economy fares which include almost nothing similar to that of the ultra low cost carriers. Let's see how this strategy plays out.

    1. Atiya Guest

      I hear a lot of people say that, but don't see Frontier type fares when I search American and Delta's websites.

  6. Shaun Guest

    Frontier is hands down the worst U.S. carrier, and for my two cents, they're the worst in the entire world. Yes, I'd rather fly RyanAir.

    Until they stop intentionally making everyone on their flights (passengers AND crew) miserable, I won't even think about booking a ticket from them unless they're paying me. I have no interest in being trapped in a sardine can with 240 people, half of whom are drunk, and all of whom...

    Frontier is hands down the worst U.S. carrier, and for my two cents, they're the worst in the entire world. Yes, I'd rather fly RyanAir.

    Until they stop intentionally making everyone on their flights (passengers AND crew) miserable, I won't even think about booking a ticket from them unless they're paying me. I have no interest in being trapped in a sardine can with 240 people, half of whom are drunk, and all of whom are mad about being squeezed (physically and financially) by an airline that practices open hostility toward its own customers.

    The routes they're adding flights to already have plenty of capacity, so the prospect that this makes any noticeable difference in price part the "low introductory fares" is very dubious.

    1. Brian W Guest

      I fly Frontier weekly. Their planes are relatively new and you get a good fare if you are comfortable carrying just a personal item and dont care where you sit. For a sub 3 hr flight, it is fine. It is the McDonalds of restaurant chains. Cheap and gets the job done.

    2. Derek Vaughn Guest

      Most of their planes are less than 5 years old lol. What the public fails to understand is the business models used by Frontier and Spirit. Without ultra low cost carriers, millions of Americans aren't flying. Then there would be an uproar due to the cost of air travel.

    3. Bob hooe Guest

      I’d say AA the worst

  7. Exit Row Seat Guest

    Right now, the big four are peering at their radar scope looking for incoming bogies (F9, NK, MX, & B6). Ready to match with their own version of Bare Fares (sans a seat selection & carry on, no refund, no FF miles, no nothing).
    The ace up their sleeve is frequency, consistency, connections and recovery. And the first will scream about the Southwest 2022 Winter of Discontent. Well, WN has learned its lesson. If...

    Right now, the big four are peering at their radar scope looking for incoming bogies (F9, NK, MX, & B6). Ready to match with their own version of Bare Fares (sans a seat selection & carry on, no refund, no FF miles, no nothing).
    The ace up their sleeve is frequency, consistency, connections and recovery. And the first will scream about the Southwest 2022 Winter of Discontent. Well, WN has learned its lesson. If it wants to run with the big boys, it needs to send the money or perish!!

  8. Henry Guest

    I think they capture the market well, last year, I had a lot of needs for the connection with the legacies through a LCC like G4, F9, etc. Some routes are so expensive that are just very reasonable to use LCC to connect or reposition.

  9. Bob Guest

    That Frontier web page is hilarious - it lists all the routes twice, making it seem like there's twice as many new flights being launched than there actually is.

    Purchase these at your own risk. Most of them will be cancelled within months and you'll be left without a ticket, and have to buy from another carrier at a real price.

    1. Atiya Guest

      I noticed the double listing's too. Lol

  10. Mantis Member

    SFO-LAX? That's crazy, how are they going to compete with the $130B high speed rail?

  11. Santastico Guest

    Wondering how many people fly from MSP to ATL as final destination. I bet most passengers are flying to ATL to connect on an international Delta flight so not sure anyone doing that would fly Frontier but I could be wrong.

    1. Atiya Guest

      That route is probably gonna operate April to November. They might as well roll the dice and see what happens.

  12. Atiya Guest

    People on this forum seem angry about Frontier even trying to go up against the expensive legacy airlines. Why the hate?

    1. Nawaid Ladak Guest

      Agreed. Although it's mainly George Romey who seems to be unhinged.

      In my opinion, this is very smart for Frontier. They'll drive down ASM yields at fortress hubs for the legacies. While only having to fill a few seats as they figure out which routes work and deserve increased service and which don't and should be eliminated.

      Let's take ORD-RDU for example. Frontier is currently offering tickets at $29 for that route. Exit...

      Agreed. Although it's mainly George Romey who seems to be unhinged.

      In my opinion, this is very smart for Frontier. They'll drive down ASM yields at fortress hubs for the legacies. While only having to fill a few seats as they figure out which routes work and deserve increased service and which don't and should be eliminated.

      Let's take ORD-RDU for example. Frontier is currently offering tickets at $29 for that route. Exit row seating starts at $19, and a carry-on is ~$55.

      At worst, you still came out $10 ahead versus comparable products offered by the legacies at similar times. Take off the carry-on, and savings get close to 40% less than what UA offers on the same route.
      Also, the risk for a route isn't that bad. You're only adding three frequencies a week on a route served 55x/week currently by AA (34x) and UA (21x).

    2. George Romey Guest

      You definitely know nothing about revenue and costs. Based upon your revenue total of $103 Frontier would never make money. The difference between United and Frontier is that United (and AA, DL, WN) subsidize flying with partner income, particularly credit card income. Now maybe if Frontier offers many more money losing flights they could become profitable.

    3. Shaun Guest

      Frontier will make you regret saving that $10 when they pay the gate agent a $10 bounty to deny you boarding because your personal item has a strap that sticks out of the sizer and the gate agent tells you you're not allowed to push it in to make it fit.

      Or when they stick you into the smallest seats in the industry between two morbidly obese passengers who smell like rotting corpses.

      Or when...

      Frontier will make you regret saving that $10 when they pay the gate agent a $10 bounty to deny you boarding because your personal item has a strap that sticks out of the sizer and the gate agent tells you you're not allowed to push it in to make it fit.

      Or when they stick you into the smallest seats in the industry between two morbidly obese passengers who smell like rotting corpses.

      Or when the flight you scheduled at 6:00pm gets rescheduled for 8:45pm and they refuse to refund you because it wasn't changed by 3 hours, and then they delay the flight until 10pm, anyway, after you've checked in.

      Or when you get stranded overnight because they only have one flight per day on the route you're flying and they have no interline agreements to get you on someone else's metal.

      I'd spend $100 to fly any of the big four instead of Frontier. You can definitely keep that $10.

  13. Kay_Elemeno Guest

    Wow, ATW getting a shout out in an OMAAT article. I feel seen :)

    BTW, the non-stop allegiant flights from Appleton are the most fantastic addition to the airport that until recently only had regional flights to nearby legacy hubs.

  14. andy Guest

    Many of these routes (like throwing pasta at a wall) will never stick around. iirc Feb/March is when Frontier attempts to operate from multiple Focus Cities where their Crews are scheduled with Out and Back routes like say CLT-LGA and maybe a CLT-DFW segment where they cut operational costs by eliminating most of the overhead costs of the Crew by no longer paying for hotel overnighting. many of these routes are not even Daily service...

    Many of these routes (like throwing pasta at a wall) will never stick around. iirc Feb/March is when Frontier attempts to operate from multiple Focus Cities where their Crews are scheduled with Out and Back routes like say CLT-LGA and maybe a CLT-DFW segment where they cut operational costs by eliminating most of the overhead costs of the Crew by no longer paying for hotel overnighting. many of these routes are not even Daily service and when weather interferes with the operation they will merely cancel flights at random. Very sketchy business plan that will most likely backfire and even retaining current workforce may be a problem because many Crew Members choose to not even live in their base city and will not want to pay for hotels on their dime. CHEAP Operation, Buyer beware.

    1. George Romey Guest

      Exactly, particularly pilot that have many employment opportunities. With this new strategy if crew don't live at their base they would be screwed. They would have to pay for multiple nights at a hotel or shared housing. Or move to their base on their own dime. I give this mickey mouse airline 2 years at the most.

      The only flyer they will attract is the $19 fare flyer that will have a horrible experience and...

      Exactly, particularly pilot that have many employment opportunities. With this new strategy if crew don't live at their base they would be screwed. They would have to pay for multiple nights at a hotel or shared housing. Or move to their base on their own dime. I give this mickey mouse airline 2 years at the most.

      The only flyer they will attract is the $19 fare flyer that will have a horrible experience and never come back. Try making money even with rip off fees with that fare.

  15. stogieguy7 Gold

    Hate to be Debbie Downer here, but there's no way that this strategy will succeed. Many of these flights aren't even daily, yet they're competing with legacy airline routes served multiple times per day. Not to mention the miserable experience that is gained from flying a ULCC. Once people figure out how quickly that $18 fare balloons into closer to the cost of your legacy airline, these routes are done. Not to mention that many...

    Hate to be Debbie Downer here, but there's no way that this strategy will succeed. Many of these flights aren't even daily, yet they're competing with legacy airline routes served multiple times per day. Not to mention the miserable experience that is gained from flying a ULCC. Once people figure out how quickly that $18 fare balloons into closer to the cost of your legacy airline, these routes are done. Not to mention that many of these routes are business heavy and business travelers want no part of Frontier.

    1. George Romey Guest

      Exactly the only demand they steal are $19 fares. They can't rip people off with enough "ancillary fees" to make up for the loss on a $19 fare. This is a desperation move.

  16. Sharon Guest

    This almost looks like a cash grab to me more than strategic flying as the legacies do. A lot of these routes also don’t touch frontier bases which is at odds with their recent strategy announcement of our and backs.

    Most of these routes are short and some even are on highly competitive routes like LAX-SFO. It looks that Frontier is realizing that there aren’t a million customers dying to go to Orlando and...

    This almost looks like a cash grab to me more than strategic flying as the legacies do. A lot of these routes also don’t touch frontier bases which is at odds with their recent strategy announcement of our and backs.

    Most of these routes are short and some even are on highly competitive routes like LAX-SFO. It looks that Frontier is realizing that there aren’t a million customers dying to go to Orlando and Vegas and they are trying to get any city dwellers wallet share that they can!!

    1. stogieguy7 Gold

      Can you imagine people leaving WN, UA, DL, AA or AS (extra aircraft ventilation not withstanding) for Frontier on LAX-SFO? I sure can't see it. Why would you? What advantage is there in doing it? Maybe they catch a few newbies who don't read the fine print and go for that cheapest fare shown on Google - but those people don't fly much either. And that's the problem with this entire strategy.

  17. Tom Guest

    When you cited CLT-BUF @ $19 it reminded me of PeoplExpress circa 1983-84, which ran exactly the same in-your-face play on the legacy carriers’ bread-and-butter routes and soon found itself flying too close to the sun.

    AA and UA didn’t worry much about PE when it was stimulating new traffic on sleeper routes and getting people out of their cars. When PE escalated to attacking the big guys where they lived, though, the game...

    When you cited CLT-BUF @ $19 it reminded me of PeoplExpress circa 1983-84, which ran exactly the same in-your-face play on the legacy carriers’ bread-and-butter routes and soon found itself flying too close to the sun.

    AA and UA didn’t worry much about PE when it was stimulating new traffic on sleeper routes and getting people out of their cars. When PE escalated to attacking the big guys where they lived, though, the game changed and Crandall / AA swiftly drove them out of business with superior yield management software. I hope we’re not due to watch a remake of that 40-year-old movie here.

  18. Dn10 Guest

    Do they have enough planes for all these new routes? Or did they have to cut routes for that to happen.

    1. Dan M Guest

      I suspect the latter. Lots of routes to secondary markets have been completely cut (DEN-JAX, BNA-MCO), as well as significantly decreased frequencies to CUN, LAS, and MCO from DEN.

    2. Shaun Guest

      Biffle says both:
      https://www.forbes.com/sites/tedreed/2024/01/24/too-much-florida-and-vegas-frontier-targets-rivals-hubs-with-new-flights-and-19-fares/

      But they've only added about 20 new planes in the last 2 years. Their fleet stood at 112 aircraft in November 2021, and they were expecting to be at 145 in 2023, but they're only at 135.

      https://ir.flyfrontier.com/news-releases/news-release-details/frontier-airlines-orders-91-additional-a321neo-aircraft-tripling

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Bob Guest

That Frontier web page is hilarious - it lists all the routes twice, making it seem like there's twice as many new flights being launched than there actually is. Purchase these at your own risk. Most of them will be cancelled within months and you'll be left without a ticket, and have to buy from another carrier at a real price.

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Santastico Guest

Wondering how many people fly from MSP to ATL as final destination. I bet most passengers are flying to ATL to connect on an international Delta flight so not sure anyone doing that would fly Frontier but I could be wrong.

1
stogieguy7 Gold

Hate to be Debbie Downer here, but there's no way that this strategy will succeed. Many of these flights aren't even daily, yet they're competing with legacy airline routes served multiple times per day. Not to mention the miserable experience that is gained from flying a ULCC. Once people figure out how quickly that $18 fare balloons into closer to the cost of your legacy airline, these routes are done. Not to mention that many of these routes are business heavy and business travelers want no part of Frontier.

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