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Low-Cost Carriers Spirit and Frontier Axe Flight Change, Cancellation Fees

The move follows the Biden administration's crackdown on junk fees

by Fergus Cole

May 23, 2024

Legacy carriers continue to dominate the North American airline industry, potentially jeopardizing the most popular low-cost carriers such as Frontier, Spirit and Southwest Airlines / Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Spirit Airlines recently announced that it will eliminate flight change and cancellation fees across all ticket fares, following the decision of fellow low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines to axe change fees for most of its fare types.

Previously, passengers flying with Spirit would be charged between $69 and $119 to change or cancel their flight tickets, with customers typically being charged more for alterations the closer they were to the departure date. Due to Spirit’s low-cost model, passengers could often be charged more for changing or canceling their fare than for the ticket itself.

Photo: Courtesy of Denver International Airport.

But on May 17, the ultra-low-cost carrier quietly rolled out a major change to its pricing policy, removing all change and cancellation fees from its website. The airline said this change is part of a wider strategy to improve its customer experience and return to profitability for the first time since the pandemic.

“Spirit has been evaluating changes to our product and strategy that will help us better compete, elevate the guest experience, and return to profitability,” said Spirit Airlines in a statement. “We are excited to roll out a no change and no cancel fee policy for all guests effective May 17.

“This new policy is among the best in the industry because it applies to each and every guest. We have many other enhancements in the works and look forward to sharing more soon.”

Photo: Spirit Airlines, Airbus A320neo. Courtesy of Spirit Airlines.

During an earnings call earlier this month, Spirit’s Chief Commercial Officer, Matt Klein, said: “As we continue to see the demand and competitive environments develop, we know that we must also change with the times. We will continue testing new merchandising strategies, which we anticipate will change how we think about the components of total revenue generation.”

Spirit’s decision to remove ticket change and cancellation fees came on the same day Frontier Airlines enacted a similar policy change. The Denver-based low-cost carrier announced a range of policy changes on Friday as part of a major overhaul dubbed ‘The New Frontier.’

Photo: Courtesy of Frontier

Frontier now offers four distinct classes of fare – Basic, Economy, Premium, and Business – all promising a different level of passenger experience. Frontier’s highest class of fare – Business – offers UpFront Plus seating with a guaranteed empty middle seat, a carry-on bag, two checked bags with an increased 50-pound weight limit, priority boarding, and guaranteed overhead bin space.

It also comes with a free change and cancellation option, as do the Premium and Economy fares. Passengers on a Basic fare will also not be charged any change or cancellation fees if changes are made 60 days or more before departure, although they’ll be charged $49 for any changes made after this and $99 for any changes made six days or less before departure. Furthermore, all passengers will still be required to pay the difference in airfare when making any changes to their ticket.

“Today marks the beginning of a new era for Frontier – one with transparency in our prices, no change fees and lowest total price,” said Barry Biffle, Chief Executive Officer at Frontier Airlines. “This is ‘The New Frontier’, and we are committed to offering more than the lowest fares – we deliver the best price for all the options you want and the customer support you need when you need it. No gimmicks, just really low prices and good customer service.”

Photo: Courtesy of Frontier Airlines

Frontier also announced a new lowest price guarantee policy, named ‘For Less,’ which will award customers 2,500 miles after their journey should they find another airline offering a lower price for the same route on the same date.

“We are proud to introduce our ‘For Less’ Price Guarantee, ensuring that Frontier always offers the best value in air travel,” said Biffle. “If you find a lower price elsewhere, we’ll reward you 2,500 FRONTIER Miles. This guarantee is part of our commitment to ensuring you always travel with confidence.”

Spirit and Frontier’s recent fee changes mark a significant change in their long-term pricing strategies, which have had a particular focus on ancillary fees. However, they come as little surprise following the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) recent crackdown on so-called ‘junk fees,’ although Spirit Airlines claims its changes aren’t connected to this increased regulation.