Another Airline Has Started Charging for Carry On Bags!

At the Freddie Awards Thursday night I told the audience that we had to make some cutbacks — that I would be the emcee this year instead of Randy Petersen. But that we hadn’t gone as far as the airlines, since on my way to Seattle I had been charged for my emotional baggage.

Little did I know I was nearly prescient. Because Frontier airlines is now charge for carry on bags.

They sent out an email announcement to their members saying that this is so that they can lower their fares, and they’re pitching it as not charging customers for services they don’t use.

First, they will continue to charge a price that’s market-driven rather than rule-driven (‘lower than before’).

Second, carry on bags aren’t a service as such (the airline doesn’t do something for you).

It’s fair to say that overhead bin space is a scarce resource that ought to be rationed based on price. Of course, it has only become a scarce resource in recent years:

  1. As planes are full and more people are competing for a fixed amount of space
  2. As airlines have begun to charge for checked bags, so customers have sought to bring on as much as they can to avoid those fees.

Remember that pre-9/11 passengers were allowed two carry on bags not just one. The initial limitation down to one was imposed in order to speed up the security screening process.

Airlines have created a scarce resource and will now charge for it. Frontier may be able to get away with this if consumers don’t know to expect it (we’ll see how well the rules are displayed — especially for tickets purchased outside of Frontier’s own channels), and if they offer fares lower than those airlines which don’t charge extra.

At other carriers you can get out of checked bag fees with elite status or with co-brand credit card. in the case of Frontier elite members get the fee waived but not credit card holders.

The fee for bags that don’t fit under your seat will range from $20 to $50, depending on how early on the process between ticket purchase and appearing at the gate you pay. If you’re charged at the gate it’s $50 — a tax on people that aren’t aware of the change (although paying attention during the check-in process will price the fee at $35).

Frontier of course was acquired by a hedge fund led by the former Chairman of Spirit. So this was entirely predictable.

Spirit is the airline that wants its customers not to like it and would love to sell tickets and then increase prices after purchase.

And Frontier’s new President is Barry Biffle.

  • Barry worked under Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza
  • He was at US Airways under Baldanza as well, with the Dividend Miles program.

I remember Barry as a ‘young kid’ at US Airways coming out to drinks in Crystal City with frequent flyers after an online chat at

Barry has been Spirit’s Chief Marketing Officer, so responsible for their shocking, reprehensible, thirteen year old boy awesome ads.

(HT: uggboy on Milepoint)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’ve never had a problem with charging a fee for carryons in the overhead and think all airlines should follow suit. Charge the same for the overhead bins as the checked bags. Then the airlines won’t be providing a financial incentive to certain behavior or choices. Those who want to check a bag and not lug it around the airport can do that, and those who want their bags close by will be able to do that. We’ll all board quicker and more orderly.

  2. Also note that Frontier updated its systems last night to reflect that it no longer has 3 tiers of bundling, only 2 going forward. They eliminated the ‘Classic’ level.

  3. I’m disappointed by Frontier’s move, and I think it may be harmful to their growth. The USA could really use a low cost carrier that doesn’t suck. Something like easyJet in Europe. I was hoping that Frontier might eventually fill that role in the USA. Now that seems less likely. I don’t think America needs another Spirit.

  4. I agree with Cory. Airlines should either stop charging for checked bags or start charging for carry-ons. Charging for checked bags but allowing carry-ons for free causes a lot of problems: slow boarding, trouble finding overhead space for those of us who genuinely want to carry our bags on, etc. So I like Frontier’s move.

  5. This is just confirmation that they are following the Spirit business model. I would need to be saving hundreds of dollars to consider them a serious option.

  6. Maybe just me, but it seems like overhead space is both more scarce and more convenient than the cargo hold. As a result, I’ve felt for a long time that the baggage charge should be for the overhead carry on, not the checked bag (or under-seat).

  7. re: free checked bags for co-brand credit card holders

    While most of the legacy carriers provide this, I was surprised the other day to see it’s not offered with the Alaska Air CC.

  8. might want to fix this “Spirit of course was acquired by a hedge fund led by the former Chairman of Spirit”

  9. “Barry has been Spirit’s Chief Marketing Officer, so responsible for their shocking, reprehensible, thirteen year old boy awesome ads.”

    So he brings us More Invisibly Lurking Fees.

  10. You know – when I read their little email this morning it had that “spirit” feel to it. Now I know why. Honestly though – I fly in and out of DEN quite a bit and I have never been compelled to use Frontier. Now with this change, I am even less compelled to use Frontier. We shall see how drastically low the fares get (yeah, sure).

  11. Wait a year, watch Delta & United follow suit.

    I’m of mixed feelings about this. Don’t see where they promise to lower ticket prices by at least $20.

    I already usually travel with just a Patagonia Minimass bag that will fit under my feet. I’m a minimalist.

    Be engineering defensible if they charged by weight for both bags and passengers. I can see fees for checked bags, I actually can, since you have to employ baggage handlers for all of that and it’s really just breaking out that fee instead of me subsidizing your 50-pound bag. Flights lately I’ve seen lots of full overheads I’m glad I’m not competing for.

  12. Since you are not allowed to check items like electronics, medicine, etc, it should be illegal to charge extra for the carry-on bag. Stop the madness. Won’t name names but I can’t respect the judgment or ethics of those who would condone this, much less “approve” of it. It is theft. Pure and simple.

  13. This has always been such a simple problem to me and I’ve never quite understood why airlines have taken the model they do. Why not charge for carry ons, and make checked bags free. For your business (frequent) travelers, they will just have the company pay, and for less frequent travelers they will end up just checking.

  14. @peachfront: Theft? That’s ridiculous. No one is forcing you to fly that airline, nor are they forcing you to take a bag.

    If Frontier hides the fee until after customers buy a ticket (or worse, until after customers show up at the airport with a bag), then that would be fraudulent (and one could legitimately call it theft). But I don’t think Frontier is doing that. And even in that case, I don’t see how charging for a carry-on is any worse than charging for a checked bag.

    If you want to get mad about something, get mad about the ironically named “Transparent Airfares Act of 2014” — which lets airlines lie to you about what you’ll pay for a ticket.

  15. We have used Frontier for years with great success so we’ll see how things go with the changes in ownership. If you pay when you book, the carry on is $20 & checked is $15. I like how they are trying to speed up boarding by making checked bags cheaper. Fares that I looked at this weekend are the exact same price today…

  16. Charge for carry on? How did they have this idea prior to Delta? Well, I guess Delta will be the second on this one. If they can screw up a customer and make some money they will. That is their business model.

  17. You mean Frontier is still in business? Not for long, it looks. These guys are not Spirit, no matter how much you want to compare them.

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