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frontier airlines review

A Cheap Fare, Stiff Seat & High Fees: Our Frontier Airlines Review

Budget carriers like Frontier Airlines can strike fear in the heart of travelers for knee-crunching legroom, uncomfortable seats, and fees that can instantly outweigh what was once a cheap ticket. But this ultra-low-cost carrier has its place: Do it right, and it's a nice (and cheap) flight.

That was my takeaway after flying Frontier for the first time on a quick, bleary-eyed morning flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Denver (DEN) recently. The seats certainly won't win any awards for comfort, but the legroom was surprising … and believe it or not, I mean that in a good way. And while you'll pay a hefty price to pick your seat or bring anything bigger than a backpack with you, whether you pay an extra $100 or $0 is up to you.

Will I fly Frontier again? I won't go out of my way to hop onboard one of their animal-emblazoned jets – especially if I need to bring some baggage or work for a few hours from the skies. But unlike many travelers who swear they'll never set foot on this budget carrier, I won't take pains to avoid them, either.

It's all about expectations. So read on for our full Frontier Airlines review.

 

Booking Frontier Flights

The trip with Frontier started long before getting on the plane. The experience of booking a ticket with Frontier Airlines is an adventure, filled with surprising twists and turns you won't find on many (if any) other airlines.

To be perfectly clear, everything went smoothly while booking my Frontier ticket from Minneapolis to Denver. But during the booking process, how many other airlines will:

  • Charge more for a carry-on bag, checking a bag, or even many seat assignments than the cost of the ticket itself?
  • Offer you a free, one-time change for an extra 99 cents?
  • Try to give you a bunch of coupons for free or discounted razors, Hello Fresh food deliveries, or a Walmart+ subscription after checkout?

 

frontier airlines coupon

 

Much like any other ultra-low-cost carrier, there's one key thing to keep in mind when booking Frontier: The cost of your ticket might seem cheap at first, but the fees add up – and they add up fast. In fact, Frontier makes more revenue collecting fees on bags, seats, and early boarding than it does actually selling plane tickets.

That's exactly how they do it. By unbundling things like seat selection, baggage, priority boarding, and even drinks, Frontier can offer cheap fares while making more money on a handful of different fees. Think of it like basic economy fares on the major U.S. airlines, just on steroids.

In my case, it started with a $49 one-way fare from Minneapolis to Denver booked just two weeks before departure – a route that sometimes sinks as low as $29 or even $19 each way. It's easy to search for Frontier flights on Google Flights and click through to begin the checkout process with Frontier.

But right off the bat, Frontier tried to upsell me on various bundles that included bags, free seat assignment, early boarding, and other perks … for double or nearly triple the price of my ticket. I passed and went the a la carte route.

 

frontier airlines bundles

 

From there, it was time to select seats. Frontier was charging anywhere from $19 for a seat at the back of the plane to as much as $55 for a “Stretch” seat with some extra legroom at the front of the plane. If you need a seat assignment, it's wise to pick one and pay up during the checkout process: Seat fees increase after you book. Otherwise, you can roll the dice and get assigned a seat for free at check-in.

Oddly, Frontier was charging more for middle seats than for those along the windows or aisles … because on many of its planes, those middle seats are actually a bit wider. No matter: I went with an aisle seat in the middle of the plane for an extra $25.

 

frontier seat selection fees

 

Flying Frontier, the only thing you can bring onboard for free is a personal item – like a backpack or purse – that you can stow underneath the seat in front of you. Adding a checked bag or even a carry-on to your reservation will cost you dearly: In my case, adding any bag to my flight was more than the ticket itself. Paying $69 or more each way for a bag is steep, especially compared to the $30 or $35 standard on major U.S. carriers like American and Delta.

 

frontier airlines baggage fees

 

Read our full breakdown of Frontier baggage fees!

I kept things simple and skipped a bag. At every turn, Frontier tries one last time to upsell you on these additional fees, warning that adding a bag after completing the checkout process will cost even more.

 

frontier baggage upsell

 

The fees don't end there. Frontier also offered a free one-time change for 99 cents – though it may be higher on other flights – as well as the option to add priority boarding for another $7.99.

 

frontier change fees others

 

And there was yet another last-ditch attempt to add something extra, like a rental car and what Frontier calls “Agent Assistance” – a $20 fee for having a Frontier agent check you in and print your boarding pass at the airport. Pass.

 

frontier rental cars agent assistance fees

 

I was traveling light and didn't need much, so I was able to book my one-way ticket to Denver with a seat assignment and a one-time free change – why not? – added in for a grand total of just under $75. That's not bad at all … but you have to do the math for yourself. If you need to bring a carry-on bag and pick a seat with extra legroom, those extra fees flying Frontier could easily push the cost of your ticket over the likes of flying Delta, American, United, or Southwest.

 

frontier final checkout

 

At Thrifty Traveler, we don't accept freebies. We use our own points, miles, or cash to pay for every single flight or hotel you see reviewed here – including this one!

 

Checking In & Boarding

Don't procrastinate when flying Frontier. And definitely don't get to the airport late.

As of Aug. 16, Frontier will close its check-in counters and bag drop one hour before each flight's departure. That's substantially earlier than most airlines, who give travelers a 30- to 45-minute window before domestic flights. So whether you need a paper boarding pass or just have to check your bag, you'll want to get to the airport earlier before a Frontier flight.

Traveling light or checking in online or via a smartphone app, like me? You should be set. Checking in through Frontier's app and adding my boarding pass to my Apple Wallet was a cinch.

 

frontier mobile boarding pass

 

Flying in and out of Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP), you'll need to pay close attention to the terminal. Frontier now operates out of the airport's smaller Terminal 2, a move it made a few years ago.

Frontier flies a fleet of Airbus A320s and A321s, each emblazoned with an animal on the tail and a corresponding name. Our A321 – dubbed “Joe Bob the Badger” – was ready and waiting at the gate for our bright-and-early departure to Denver.

 

frontier airlines plane

 

Frontier handles its boarding process differently than most airlines – and it's all about how the airline enforces its “don't you dare bring a carry-on bag onboard unless you paid for it” policy. Zone 1 boarding is solely for passengers who have paid to bring a carry-on bag. After that, Zone 2 through Zone 5 is for the rest of the passengers bringing just a personal item on board.

There were sizers at the gate for both personal items and full-size carry-ons, and the gate agent did not hesitate to use them to ensure no bags were too big.

 

frontier airlines review boarding

 

With just a handful of passengers boarding in Zone 1 and stowing carry-on bags overhead, boarding went pretty quickly.

 

Frontier Airlines Cabin & Seats

Like all budget airlines, Frontier Airlines packs a lot of seats on its planes. Maximizing passengers is the name of the game.

In all, there are a whopping 230 seats onboard this Frontier A321. Compare that to the 191 seats Delta installs on the exact same planes, and you can immediately tell that Frontier squeezed in as many seats as it could.

The cabin is about as basic as it gets, with black leather seats, gray seatbacks, and … not much else. But hey, it's a cheap ride to get you where you need to go!

 

frontier airlines cabin 

frontier airlines cabin

 

Really, the only differentiation in the cabin is in the “Stretch” seats at the front of the plane and in the exit row, which are in jet-black leather with some patterned cross-stitching to set them apart from the rest of the plane. There are three rows of these extra legroom seats at the front of the cabin and another, single exit row – each sporting a few extra inches of legroom for an additional fee.

 

frontier airlines stretch seats

 

The rest of the 200-some seats throughout the plane were largely identical, with plain gray leather and a few details here and there.

 

frontier airlines seats 

frontier airlines seats

 

The seats themselves are … well, they're there. They exist. They're upright. They have a place to put your butt, a back to lean against, and a seat belt to keep you strapped in.

That's about all you can say about these seats, which are about as unforgiving as it gets. Aside from some leather and a bit of padding, there's not much to separate this from a standard wooden dining chair. It's obvious just how ultra-slim these ultra-slim seats are from the side.

 

frontier airlines seats

 

And that's not a complaint! I'm a 30-something-year-old in good health, so spending two hours flying in these Frontier Airlines seats was more than fine – especially for the price. A three hour-flight would probably be OK, too. But much longer than that and I'm not sure I'd walk off a Frontier flight feeling that way. And travelers who have back or mobility issues might wind up paying a steeper price for the discomfort.

The lack of padding is most obvious with the headrest: There really isn't one. And it might be just me, but these seats also feel a bit shorter than your average airplane seat.

 

frontier airlines review

 

But the legroom was a surprise … and a pleasant one, at that! On paper, Frontier offers just 28 inches of seat pitch – the standard aviation measurement of legroom from the back of one seat to the next. Compared to the standard of 31 inches or so on most major carriers (and even more on Southwest or JetBlue economy), you might assume your knees would be crunched.

But that's not the case. The lack of padding, seatback extras, and the scalloped shape of the back of each seat makes the legroom pretty manageable. In fact, I'd say it's close to on par with any major U.S. airline.

Read more: The Airlines with the Best Legroom (& How to Find Them!)

 

frontier airlines legroom

 

The under-seat storage, however, is another matter. With how compact each seat is, there's just not much room for a bag underneath without eating into valuable foot space. My normal-sized backpack clearly stuck out.

 

frontier airlines storage

 

While the padding and seat pitch might feel tight, at least there are still just six seats in each row – the same as any other airline flying these narrowbody planes. That means each seat is about as wide as you'd expect – though Frontier makes middle seats in each row a tad wider. That's not enough for me to take a spot between two strangers, but you do you!

 

frontier airlines seats

 

What's that on the seatback? Pretty much nothing. Don't expect a seatback screen to stay entertained flying Frontier Airlines. And Frontier doesn't currently offer inflight Wi-Fi, so there's no way to get connected to work in flight. There are also no power outlets or USB sockets to keep your devices charged.

 

frontier airlines seatback

 

Each seat does have a tray that folds down, though it's almost comically small – enough to set down a drink and not much else. There's also a small pouch for literature and anything else you might want to store.

 

frontier airlines seat tray table

 

frontier airlines seat tray table

 

Fortunately, there are air vents overhead if you need to cool off.

 

frontier airlines air vents overhead

 

There were just three lavatories on the plane: One at the front and two all the way at the back. With our departure before dawn, passengers were slumbering rather than getting up to use the bathroom. But during a daytime flight, I'd probably worry about lines forming outside each lavatory.

 

Service, Food & Drinks Flying Frontier Airlines

Forget about morning blues: The five flight attendants working this Frontier Airlines flight were cheery for our 5:30 a.m. flight.

A pair of flight attendants buzzed down the aisle shortly after leveling off with a drink cart – and given the early hour, there weren't many takers. But if you want something, prepare to pay for it: Frontier Airlines charges for everything.

A soda, juice, full bottle of water, or coffee all cost $3.99. Beer, wine, and liquor each cost $9.99 while Buzzballz cocktails clock in at $10.99 and a small bottle of sparkling wine will cost you $11.99. There are also some snacks like candy, chips, and even cheese trays available for purchase.

 

frontier airlines menu 

frontier airlines menu

 

I settled on a cup of coffee, which was brewed and served a few minutes later in a cute cup with the claim that Frontier is “America's Greenest Airline.” Refills were free, which was an unexpected touch.

 

frontier airlines coffee

Bottom Line

Above all, the price was right.

At $49 for a one-way flight, Frontier was substantially cheaper than my other options for getting to Denver – even after adding a seat assignment for $25. But add in bag fees and all the other extras, and the math would have quickly changed. And that's the entire point: Frontier and fellow ultra-low-cost carriers are banking on drawing in travelers with dirt-cheap fares, then collecting much more in additional fees.

If you can travel light and survive a stiff seat for a few hours, flying Frontier Airlines is just fine if you ask me.

 

17 Responses

  • I have it on good authority from airline sources that recently, Frontier has gotten very militant about checking the size of bags. They used to not do that as much. Gate agents get bonuses for each bag they find oversize. One woman’s bag I witnessed was barely sticking out of the bin and she couldn’t push it down. They wanted to charge her $50! I came to the rescue, gave the bag a good shove and saved her some dough! So careful how you pack, bring a soft-sided bag.

    • If you’re active duty military, you just show your CAC card and your carry on and 2 checked bags are free. I highly recommend this airline for anyone serving in the military.

  • It is important to note this airline has terribel customer service and no phone number to reach airline personnel. The only way to reach them is through chat which takes at least 15-30 minutes to be connected. If a flight is cancelled by the airline there are no options to rebook online – just flight credit or refund. The email they send you does not link to any other available flights. They have no agreement with other airlines for flights.
    MOST IMPORTANT – They give their employees incentives and/or bonuses for charging for personal carryon bags at boarding time which don’t meet their standards for personal carryon items. Sadly, many people (including me) have been harassed for personal bags when they did meet guidelines. (Key hack – Measure your bags and buy a portable weight scale). Frontier airlines has been sued for this practice recently. You have to have a backup plan for your flights when traveling. I had two flights cancelled in the last month, and there was absolutely no help available in getting to my destination. No codeshare arrangement exists with other airlines. I only use them for non-essential trips.

  • I will never attempt to fly with Frontier ever again and I would not recommend it to anyone. We gave it a shot for cheap flights to Mexico. We were fine getting to Denver, then the gate agent forced us to pay for a back because it did just “slide” right into the bag thing, even though it did fit.

    On the way back, we couldn’t check in online, and had to wait in line for like an hour just to check in, even though we weren’t checking any bags.

    Next, we got back to Denver, and they delayed and then cancelled our flight without reason in the middle of the night. They wouldn’t put us up in a hotel for 2 nights, which is how long it would have taken to get put on the next flight home. We were stuck and had to pay 4x the price to go on Delta to get home.

    We got credits, and then booked a trip to Jamaica, attempting to give them a 2nd chance. They cancelled our flights before the trip even started, but only cancelled 1 of the legs. I had to fight for months to get a refund and ended up disputing things with our CC company.

    DO NOT EVER FLY WITH FRONTIER!

  • This guy is a horrible journalist. He flies Frontier Airlines once and thinks he’s qualified to give a review. What a joke. I’ve been flying Frontier Airlines for years it used to be a good Colorado own company now it is horrible. Do yourself a favor don’t bother reading this dribble and stay the hell off of Frontier airlines. Anybody who has read any of the comments on their website will know how awful their customer service is and how they gouge you. Actually they just got rid of Live customer service a few months ago. I guess they got tired of hearing all the irate people who got screwed by Frontier Airlines. And they’re also under a class action lawsuit right now that should tell you something that this article didn’t bother to share.

    • I totally agree yesterday what should have taken just a few minutes took about an hour WHY??? you ask you cannot call them only a chat room and the question I had was how to pay my baggage fee and so after chatting with several people I was finally able to get a straight answer so stay far far away from frontier !!!!

  • I paid for cancellation insurance…..I am 81 years old, the day I was to travel from Phoenix to tampa it was 119 degrees in Phoenix, I cancelled as it was too hot for me to safely travel., I thought cancellation insurance was good, frontier wanted a doctors letter to explain why I cancelled….I. Truly think that deception is the focus of these fraudulent swine ……I want to join a lawsuit against them please advise, I will provide documents…..thad leininger

  • I’m not trying to side with Frontier here. I too have been avoiding them ever since they implemented the incentive for charging passengers at the gate. I use to work at the airport and confirmed this myself, their agents make a commission. They’re alright when things go well and there’s no harassment over the bag being pushed in the sizer, but the stress and anxiety most people have to worry about just encourages people to fly a more reputable and reasonable air carrier.

    Spirit is not my favorite either but I like them much more.

  • We have flown LAS to BNA four times on Frontier. TWO of the four flights had weight and balance problems ( e.g. unloaded from the back at destination). We buy the Works bundle and we were in row 2 on all four flights. Irritating to say the least. We only fly Frontier if Southwest gets greedy. Last October and December we flew BNA to LAS round trip for half the price of Southwest. However, all upcoming trips are on Southwest.

  • Save your money. FRONTIER airlines is the worst!!!! Terrible equipment and worst of all the personnel is rude.

  • I bought 2 passes for the summer Go Wild Pass. Ended up wasting 1000 on this so called deal! I wasn’t even able to use it! Every time I checked for a flight ( and I checked every few days!) and NO FLIGHTS were available! Even though they had plenty of flights for their regular and subscription flights. I contacted the BBB and even after a month of going back and forth, BBB had to close the case unresolved since frontier refused to respond! Don’t make my mistake. DO NOT BUY THEIR “PASSES”. Waste of so much money!

  • I’d like to point out that this airline is very military friendly. You just show your military CAC card and you get 2 free checked bags and a free carry on. You don’t even need to provide military orders like other airlines require. They are awesome for military and I highly recommend them to anyone serving.

    • Yes, they are military friendly. Because compared to a troop transport plane, their aircraft are an absolute pleasure to fly 🙂

  • If you genuinely just pay for what you need and don’t expect luxury for a flight that you will just need point A to point B. Also just pay for a decent snack and go to sleep. Then you are going to be fine. However if you don’t pay for what you need and blindly expect for everything to go your way. Welp your screwed and frontier is ready to screw you badlyyyyyy especially if you don’t pre-pay for all that you need. Including assigned seat, pay for bag or carry on, AND travel insurance. Then your pretty set but if you don’t be prepared for the worse frontier experience at the DOOR!! But stay ready you don’t have to get ready! If you don’t want to deal with anything and be a rose colored glasses type of passenger GO ON jet blue or delta so they can over-charge you for customer service!

  • My flight was delayed for 11hours and a half!!! Compensation: a $15 meal voucher. We had to wait for the next available flight for more than 11 hours, seating on uncomfortable chairs in the cold Philadelphia airport lobby. No explanation for the delays that kept on increasing. My husband and I lost a day of work and we had to pay extra for car parking. I will NEVER fly with Frontier again and I will make sure to tell everyone about this awful experience. Frontier is THE WORST airline I have ever experienced. No customer service, no compassion for the elderly, no consideration for customers time, complete disrespect for human beings.They should go out of business.

  • Gonna pile on to what everyone else has said and advise you to never EVER fly Frontier if there is another option. Literally anything else–even another ultra-low-cost airline like Spirit or Allegiant–is better than Frontier. I’ve only flown a handful of times with this airline (usually when it’s the only option), but every single experience has been very negative. Their horrible policies and intentionally terrible pre-flight and in-flight experience are one thing, but that’s far from the extent of the grievances. 100% of the time the flight is delayed; 50% of the time the gate changes minutes before boarding. The tiny window of time to drop off your bag, paired with them only staffing a single bag check desk, causes such a massive and slow line that I’ve had to call relatives back to the airport and leave my luggage with them so I wouldn’t miss my flight home standing in the line. Other times, I’ve been stuck on the tarmac for hours after already 6-hour redeye flights, not allowed to stand despite the actual pain of sitting in those upright hard-plastic seats for so long, and left with a dead phone that I had no way to charge and thus no way to communicate the situation to loved ones or even see what time it is. Whatever small amount of money you might ostensibly be able to save by flying this airline, it is absolutely not worth it. I would rather pay more and take a bus than relive the nightmares experienced on Frontier Airlines.

  • Terrible customer service, scales don’t seem calibrated. Cramped cabin, stiff seats. Avoid if possible, but if funds are limited, prepare for a miserable flight and take no chances on the weight or size of your baggage.

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