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Frontier Increases Fees, Award Prices for Frequent Flyers

Beginning September 15, members of Frontier's EarlyReturns scheme will pay more to participate in the program—both more miles for awards and more and higher cash fees for program-related services.

First, among the cash costs, Frontier will follow American ($5 fee) and US Airways ($25 to $50) in imposing a fee simply to issue an award ticket. Non-elite EarlyReturns members will pay $25 every time they redeem miles for an award ticket. In other words, no more free tickets.

Other fee changes include a $75 charge for award tickets issued within 14 days of the departure date, a $75 fee for award ticket changes (up from $35 currently), and a $75 fee to cancel an award trip and redeposit the miles (also $35 currently). All three are waived for elite members.

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Award prices are going up as well.

The cost of award tickets within the contiguous U.S. and Canada will increase by 5,000 miles, to 20,000 miles round-trip.

Award trips to or from Alaska or Mexico will cost 30,000 miles round-trip, up from 25,000 miles currently.

And award trips to or from Costa Rica will increase to 40,000 miles round-trip, up from 35,000 miles.

As is so often the case with the airlines' recent rush to generate more revenue and cut expenses, at any cost, one is left suspecting that Frontier's changes are not only nasty and mean-spirited, but downright bad business decisions as well.

Frontier's principal hub is Denver, where United is the dominant carrier. Frontier had an opportunity to make inroads against its primary competitor, by refraining from just this sort of nickel-and-diming while United continued degrading its Mileage Plus program and alienating travelers with its new in-flight meal cuts.

Apologists for short-term expediency will point out that Frontier is already in bankruptcy, and that it must concentrate on winning the battle if it wants to survive to fight the war. That's the strategy embraced by most major airlines, which as a group are teetering on the brink of financial collapse.

By contrast, Southwest, the most successful U.S. airline by most any measure, is betting that its no-fee approach will not only serve it well now, but will ensure its long-term success as well. Given Southwest's sterling track record, and the dubious track record of its competitors, you have to wonder if Frontier didn't choose to emulate the wrong airlines.

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