Low Cost Carriers Go Upmarket: Frontier Looking To Add First Class, Sun Country Considers A Lounge

I receive compensation for content and many links on this blog. Citibank is an advertising partner of this site, as is American Express, Chase, Barclays and Capital One. Any opinions expressed in this post are my own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by my advertising partners. I do not write about all credit cards that are available -- instead focusing on miles, points, and cash back (and currencies that can be converted into the same). Terms apply to the offers and benefits listed on this page.

It’s not April Fool’s or Backwards Day, yet reportedly ultra low cost carrier Frontier Airlines is considering adding first class to its planes. That would be another great reason you’d want to take advantage of their incredibly generous status match offer up to top tier, and even matching against hotel and cruise status.

  • It’s unclear what this would look like, whether it’s a traditional first class with included catering, or just a “Big Front Seat” along the lines of Spirit Airlines.

  • Frontier CEO Barry Biffle led marketing at Spirit when that low cost carrier decided to offer their Big Front Seat product for the odd reason that it was too expensive to remove and replace those seats from aircraft (it would have cost them $3 million).

There are passengers interested in paying more for a better product, and ignoring those might be leaving money on the table.

In an effort to find new high-margin revenue streams, these budget carriers are weighing the possibility of offering premium-priced products and services, including first-class seats, customer lounges, and branded foods.

Frontier CEO Barry Biffle has noticed a greater desire among leisure travelers to pay for first-class seats on domestic flights and is closely monitoring this trend. He stated, “If people are really willing to pay that much for a premium, maybe there is an opportunity.”

Similarly, Sun Country, another ultra-low-cost carrier, is considering opening an airport lounge and offering branded food and beverage, as CEO Jude Bricker has observed an increased demand for services that improve the travel experience.

Frontier today offers its own premium seating product: extra legroom ‘Stretch’ seats. In March, Biffle indicated a desire to stick with their current product instead of moving towards a Spirit Airlines premium offering.

On the other hand, Brian Sumers reports that Biffle this month said that the changing revenue environment means they’ll be focused on new strategies – although he described that to mean “simplifying our business even more and doubling down on costs.” That leads me to be skeptical of this report.

At the same time, a fee-based buy up option for customers interested in a premium product isn’t a stretch for the carrier.

Low cost carrier Sun Country, which used to offer a first class before switching to a more Allegiant-style business model, offering a club lounge in Minneapolis is an interesting idea.

  • It’s easier and lower-risk to experiment on the ground.

  • It also serves as a poke in the eye at Delta, which operates a major hub in Minneapolis and has been driving to exclude customers from its lounges – banning those traveling on the cheapest fares; raising the price of membership and restricting who can purchase it; limiting entries by premium credit card customers who spend under $75,000 a year on the product; among other measures.

Sun Country might sell one-off or subscription-based access to an airport lounge. And, unlike a first class cabin, wouldn’t mean removing seats and operating at a higher cost per seat overall. While Frontier or Sun Country could make the speculated changes, I’m not sure it’s more likely than not that either airline will.

Frontier of course lacks inflight internet, which is why I consider flying Spirit but not Frontier. But that status match to 100K, which waives all of the fees on the fee-based airline, will make sense for many.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »

Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of advertisers Citibank, Chase, American Express, Barclays, Capital One or any other advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.


  1. The seats and/or strict baggage policy does not bother me with Frontier or Spirit. What bothers me is the lack of capacity. If a person’s flight is canceled, there may not be another seat available for a day or two. That makes a 4-5 day vacation worthless. I will stick with WN, AA, or DL.

  2. @ Gary — I’m not convinced that a Frontier status match today would help much with a BFS option later. If they are only “considering” this today, wouldn’t it be 12 months or longer before it was implemented?

  3. Good! With more and more true frequent flyers becoming free agents, more competition in terms of premium seat offerings would be a great thing. Much of the “cost” of legacy carrier premium seats is just the price premium that customers are willing to pay to stay locked into the network and FF program. But with the FF programs becoming lower and lower in value, that psychological price premium is going to erode.

  4. My issues with Frontier aren’t the seating necessarily but that they are just too dang difficult to deal with. Like trying to move a travel companion on same reservation into Stretch seating with me, a published perk of being 50k elite, and the website kept trying to charge me. So it took me 90 minutes with three different chat agents and nothing was resolved from moving my seat out of Stretch to telling me that it isn’t possible or that it is not a benefit despite what the website says. I put in a complaint thru the website, and after getting an email back asking me what my email address is (not the first time), a week later the seating was moved. Shouldn’t be this hard. Contrast Spirit where Gold elite has a dedicated phone number that gets answered within 90 seconds most of the time. On board is fine (aside from some flight attendants being a bit forward about begging for tips) but just successfully getting on a Frontier flight as planned with established benefits received is a challenge.

    I think Sun Country could pull off a lounge at MSP. I’ve flown them 3-4 times this year and they are truly better than others. Midwest Airlines ran a lounge at MKE for 15 years in isolation and it did well. Almost all members were local to Milwaukee. I think culturally it would be a good fit.

  5. Frontier’s first class could include a fluffer and you still wouldn’t get me on one of their planes. Operational unreliability, hateful staff and no ability to talk to humans when addressing reservation needs. And there there are the fees for everything.

  6. Would like to see JetBlue open lounges in key cities (JFK, MCO, FLL, BOS). This would upgrade the image of the airline. Would also assist with their Euro expansion.

  7. I made reservations for Frontier Airlines for August 29th, Ny flught was changed 3 times. Due to storms & maintenance issues, 4 hours later I arrived in Las Vegas. My flight was due to arrive @ 11:30 pm. I’m 81 years, my cell phone lost power
    I had to wait in the airport till morning to get a ride to my hotel, no shuttle until in the morning. I will not fly Frotiner again. My family was up all night worried.

  8. Spirit can tape up all the planes they want they are my last choice. Frontier can add any service they want being stranded in a state you were not going to is no fun fee’s fee’s fee’s… get on SWA and get where your going 2 free luggage is always a winner with me pay a little extra for tickets and be done… talk to an agent… Be Done…change your flight same day be done…SWA hey go fly today…Be Done

Comments are closed.