$100 Carry-on Bag Fee: Frontier's Bold Gamble

If you book a "basic" ticket through any provider other than Frontier, you'll pay a $25 to $100 fee for a carry-on bag stowed in the overhead bin. Frontier will not charge for a carry-on bag that you can stow underneath the seat in front of you, but that's a pretty tight limit.

Although many travelers will probably focus on the outrageous top $100 fee—which only applies if you don't pay until you check in at the airport—you can run that fee down to $25 by checking in through Frontier.com. Frontier also plans to charge a nominal $1.99 fee for the basic soft drink/tea/coffee service for travelers who purchased"economy" or "basic" fares.

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Frontier has justified the carry-on fee as a move to make sure its "most loyal" customers find sufficient overhead-bin room. But that's more of an excuse than a reason. Beyond the revenue element—always a big factor with airlines these days—Frontier is at the forefront of a move to lure travelers away from third-party online travel agencies (OTAs). The airline wants you to buy through its own website, both to lower its costs and to keep more control over you, as a customer.

Already, Frontier penalizes travelers who buy through third-party agencies by giving reduced frequent-flyer miles, withholding some bundled fare options, and not allowing early seat selection.

Frontier isn't the only carrier trying to grab a bigger share of the direct-buying market. Southwest doesn't use third-party channels at all. But Frontier's move is a gamble: It may gain revenue, but it could also drive lots of customers to other airlines. The marketplace will ultimately decide whether the latest gamble will pay off.

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