The David Siegel Scam, How Frontier Airlines Scams Customers

I’ve watched over the past month many friends posting angry messages after last minute or crazy fees were thrown at them by Frontier Airlines. I wanted to document how this works, partially to warn others but partially to ask them politely that this is no way to treat customers.

So lets say you book your flight to somewhere through Priceline, Kayak, Orbitz or other travel aggregators that have been in business for the past 10 years trying to make your life easier. You book the flight, show up with a carry on and get to the gate to be slapped with a $100 fee. Huh? You have never heard about this fee for good reason, Frontier hides it. It is ridiculous and everyone that works at Frontier should be ashamed to work for a company like this.

Lets walk you through this scam (because that is what it is).

#1 Booking with an Aggregator

“Best price guaranteed” should lead the consumer to think of, well, just that.

Frontier Airlines Scam Screen Shot 2013-11-11 at 2.53.13 PM

#2 Show up to the airport

There are two lines to check in, the place for bags and place for people with just carry on bags.

People with bags get this sign (your first time being alerted to the scam):

David-Siegel-scam

People that are just checking in with no bags get this setup:

David Siegel Scam Frontier

Notice how there is no sign, no warning? They hide the fact that they are going to charge you. Does any airline, in the world do this? I’ve flown ~30 airlines and this is the only time I’ve ever heard of this.

#3 Get to the gate

So get to your gate and find out to board the plane you need to hand over $100 because they recently changed their policy, with no notice.

So my question to David Siegel, the CEO of Frontier Airlines: Do you think this is the way to run a company in Colorado? Why do you participate in the aggregators if you are going to change the rules to double the price of flights?

Frontier Airlines is falling apart and I encourage you to stay away from flying them until they get these scams stopped. When they go under we can only look at their leadership for being so historically stupid.

  • I had a somewhat similar experience in 2010 when my wife and I were flying to our quaint destination wedding. It’s obviously getting even worse now based on this post, but they’ve been at it for awhile.

    I don’t remember the full details and don’t want to say anything that is libel, but essentially we were forced to upgrade our tickets in order to make a flight. The ticket agent in so many words told us to “upgrade or you will probably miss your flight” even though we had bought the tickets long ago. We ended-up having to pay almost another tickets worth of fees to upgrade because we weren’t obviously going to miss our wedding.

    It’s too bad Frontier has strayed so far from when Sean Menke was the CEO and they were an independent company. It’s basically another Spirit Airlines now– the Frontier brand died long ago.

    After the aforementioned incident, I have been flying Southwest instead and like them quite a bit.

  • sari

    It gets worse. They’ve cut staff to the point where I had to wait 35 minutes to pay the bag fee (I’d checked in online) and nearly missed my flight. It was like flying Ryan Air, but not cheap enough to put up with the bullshit. Oh, and you get to land Omaha, not Sicily.

  • Riley Gibson

    You probably saw one of my angry tweets to Frontier a while back 🙂 I flew them and bought my ticket through orbitz. When I was coming home, I had some meetings get cancelled and showed up at the airport very early. They had a few flights headed back to Denver. I went to get on the standby list and they said since I didn’t get my ticket through frontier.com I had to pay over $100 just to go on standby. I do this all the time on Southwest and never get charged anything.

    I watched 2 flights take off that were WAY undersold. The irony? The flight I was scheduled on was oversold, so they had to offer vouchers for people to spend the night in PDX… Unbelievable.

    I used to fly them a lot and I really liked them, but they are horrible now. I don’t see how tricking customers into huge hidden fees feels like a good long-term strategy to them.

  • Whaaaat!

  • Eric Olson

    They also do this for corporate travel sites. So, you’re forced to use your corporate booking tool. Then, you’re hit with all kinds of fees. There’s no way around it unless you make them a preferred vendor. So, I’d suggest corporate travelers should avoid frontier.

    And the other day, I was flying out of a small airport and arrived 30 minutes early (plenty of time to get to the gate in a tiny airport) but because of reduced staff, they didn’t have anyone at the counter anymore. So, I missed my only flight of the day and they told me there was nothing they could do to help me, despite my 500K+ miles I’ve flown on their airline in the past few years.

  • eee.

    I wondered why Frontier Airlines recently started running radio ads touting their “free” carry-on bags IF you booked your flight with Frontier.com. So very disappointing and nefarious. Thanks for calling it out, Andrew!

  • sayohat

    Actually it seems the low cost carriers in Australia do this but with different tiers of prices, with prepaid baggage as one option (and no bags or lightweight bags as the others). Showing up at the airport with the wrong tier could cost upwards of AUD $75 if you had more baggage (weight) than you anticipated! There is fine print and I read it so I didn’t get scammed there but it was a bit mind blowing and I wondered too whether any other place did this. I haven’t flown Frontier in awhile but if I ever do I am forewarned! What’s next for these airlines?!

  • It would be hard to make an argument that it isn’t a scam. It has all of the markers of a scam. The fee is exorbitant, and they get people in a situation where it would be awkward and inconvenient to avoid paying the fee.

    It doesn’t make sense to me for an airline to run something that’s clearly a scam. I think it will piss off the wrong people (including you) and it will cause damage in the long term.
    I can’t see why they don’t just stick to more underhanded techniques to get extra revenue from customers.

    It doesn’t make sense to me. Besides not making sense to me from the airline’s perspective it just sounds ludicrous from the perspective of the travelers. Not all travelers have a hundred dollars to their name, and some of those who do have a hundred dollars won’t be able to pay bills if they spend a hundred dollars. I can picture people who are stranded at the airport because they can’t afford transportation out of it (which is expensive at DIA due to its remote location) and people using Western Union or Wire Transfers to get enough funds to fly.

  • I wish this wasn’t true… so odd.

  • “Next time they will know to book on our site” -what the execs think
    “Next time I’ll never fly Frontier.” -what customers think

  • Ryan Air is at least up front with you about how they are going to be.

  • “the Frontier brand died long ago” … sad, but I see this every time I’m near them. I’ve made the Southwest switch and am super happy.

  • Check a bag: you have some added staff and I can kinda see the rationale with a fee.

    I don’t see how a carry on raises their costs a penny.

  • I flew Virgin and Qantas in Australia and didn’t have an issue with a carry on.

  • I’ll actually take two connections with an alternate carrier before I would consider flying direct on Frontier. Oh. Did I say Direct on Frontier? Sorry. I meant FLY THRU DENVER JUST BECAUSE.

  • Lance

    I arrived 40 minutes early for a carry-on only flight. Had checked in the night before and had a seat. I didn’t print it because I live out of country. 45 minutes before the flight the kiosks stop printing passes. I had a seat and everything, but was not allowed to try by the rude staff. I can only think the execs enjoyed my rebooking fee for little reason other than greed.

  • Ethan Bagley

    Ugh. And companies wonder why consumers don’t trust them. On a positive note, I had a great experience on my Virgin America flight, and would suggest them as a replacement!

  • I’m digging the investigative journalism here. Thanks for uncovering. I fly Southwest myself but this is good to know!

  • tomnagle

    I hate behavior like this.

    This is Frontier’s poor attempt at operant conditioning; they’re trying to train folks to book at their site, and I don’t think they’re thinking long-term (enough) with this ruse. I’ve been trained to book at Southwest, but they didn’t do it via similar methods.

    ?If you want to charge for a carry on, that’s fine…but disclose, disclose, disclose. Don’t surprise me at the airport.

    I don’t know the data, but I’m guessing the financial gain of $100/bag from hordes of unsuspecting customers will be far overwhelmed by the negative mind share they’re building in those same customers. I don’t think any of the routes Frontier flies are (that) unique to them, and many customers won’t forget getting hoodwinked.

    ?Tripit is telling me I’ve flown 100K miles over the past year-and-a-half. I haven’t flown Frontier in the last five years (and I don’t remember anything negative about the flight)…and they did just open service from Wilmington, Delaware, which is ten minutes from my front door.

    I’ll think twice about Frontier if I’m considering them down the road.

  • Southwest has you book directly with them by blocking access to priceline, kayak and the rest. I’d actually be pretty fine if Frontier did this as well, but truth in advertising a fare and then bait and switching at the gate (when is the last time you have seen someone have to pay a fee to get on a flight after security). Short sided and stupid.

  • I’ve loved my flights on Virgin. Seems like everyone is just happier and takes pride in their work.

  • I’m starting to love Southwest. Hoping to get the companion pass next year.

  • “Minimum viable effort.”

  • Want a heartbreaking scene? Watch someone get shook down for $100 at the gate as people are lined up to get on the flight.

  • So if you would have had your boarding pass, you would have walked on the flight, but since they don’t have mobile boarding passes, or the staff at the counter, you missed it. I wonder how much this happens.

  • Courtney O’Rourke

    All they need to do is let it be known these fees are in effect, and let the people make their decision. It’s the sneaky work arounds “all explanations of charges and fees are clearly outlined on our website” they’re hiding behind that are not clear enough. Get with it, Frontier, or don’t. There’s been chatter of Southwest starting to charge for checked baggage in the new year. Of course I’m not happy about that, but I am confident SW will work the appropriate channels to get this policy change message out loud and clear, as any corporation should do. I’ve flown Southwest exclusively for years, and will continue to enjoy the experience, no fees and low fares, even if the “no fees” become ‘low fees’.

  • Chris Campbell

    It’s stories like this from friends that get me to never fly an airline again. Frontier now joins United and Spirit on my do not fly list.

  • Morgan Bast

    I had this exact same experience this summer when flying to Indiana for a friend’s wedding and was met with extremely rude customer attendants, clueless social media managers, and an even worse web platform.

    How it happened:
    I go to check into my flight through the Frontier Airlines app (thinking it’d be as intuitive and easy as the United App). When I got through to the check in confirmation, I was met with a prompt to “print your boarding pass,” which is impossible to do on a phone. I asked @FrontierCare on Twitter what they recommended, they suggested “Check in at the airport, or print from your computer” — What would the point of the app be then? I took a screen grab, and then went to my desktop to check in and print there — resulting in my deletion of the app.

    The next day, I go to the airport with my printed boarding pass, get through security just fine and get to the gate. I’m told I have to put my carry-on bag (which I’ve travelled with 12 times prior to that without any problems) into a TINY bin to test the size. My bag is TSA approved, has been travelled with many times, and has always been easy to use. Of course, Frontier’s bag bin check was too small (probably because of the scam you mention above, Andrew) and I’m told I need to pay $50 to gate check my bag — typically a convenience for the airline I’m travelling with and something I’m more than willing to do regularly. I say calmly that my bag is TSA approved and it didn’t fit in the bin as they were looking to charge $50. The gate attendant accosted me among a large group of travelers with a “Do you even have a credit card?” statement, which as a frequent Frontier traveler, and a rewards member, was incredibly rude. Needless to say, on the way back, I checked my bag for $20 to avoid a similar situation.

    I handed over my card to pay the $50 and took to Twitter to voice my complaints as the gate attendants did not feel the need to treat me with the respect I deserved as a customer.

    From there, @FrontierCare was extraordinarily rude and unresponsive to me. As as social media manager myself (with actually a higher klout score than @FrontierCare personally, and a managed network of over 150,000 people) I understand what it means to respond to an irate guest. I know what it takes to diffuse the situation and prevent the loss of a lifelong customer. @FrontierCare basically took the social management rule book and threw it out the window, treating me rudely, responding inappropriately, and escalating it on Twitter (instead of taking it offline). Part of that conversation can be found here: https://twitter.com/andrewhyde/status/370984141447106560

    The end result of charging me $50 to gate check my bag? And then treating me rudely both in person and online? A loss of a lifelong customer, not to mention the agreement of many members of my social network to never fly Frontier again.

    Thank you for getting this issue the attention it deserves, Andrew! I’m more than happy to get it more attention in any way I can.

  • Eli Madrone

    AH – thanks for getting on this. So many reasons i hate to fly Fontier – proof that nickel and diming us to death is NOT the way to run a business. This is why I fly Southwest – you know what you’re getting and they put the customer first.

  • Substitute “enormous lines at the 2 working carryon-only kiosks” for “staff at the counter,” and welcome to the heart attack I have every single time I get to DIA.

  • E

    Yup, horrible company! I was fired while on military orders. Their reason (I hope you’re sitting down) job abandonment. Serving my country and they can me. When I return home I had to get a lawyer to get my job back, upon my return it was a hostile work environment because of the steps I had to take just to get my job back for serving this great nation of ours. I advise you not to fly this worthless airline, spend your money elsewhere.

  • Jacob marienthal

    I knew Frontier was going to start charging for carry-on, but I thought it was going to be around $25 like the checked bag fees, not $100! That’s just ridiculous.

  • James Clark

    I’m with you Andrew the Frontier brand died a long time ago. As a Summit Member on the airlines I’m looking to get out. Did you happen to talk with Southwest about transferring status?

  • I didn’t, but if you do a personal and business credit card you are 100k points with 110k points needed for a companion pass (you can take me with you for free)!

  • Greg Hadden

    I’m not excusing Frontier as I agree they have handled this poorly, but pouring out love for Southwest (no pun intended) is contrary to the foundation of this whole story: booking with OTA’s (Priceline, expedia, etc…). Frontier is trying to get away from them just as Southwest has. OTA’s are the problem. They make more profits than the airlines but take on none of the risk (equipment leases, fuel costs, union contracts, lawsuits, etc…). Frontier is trying to both have and eat their cake (they need to fix their policy), but you cannot simultaneously say how convenient OTA’s are and how much you love Southwest–you can only book on Southwest at southwest.com!

  • Clint Russell

    Companion pass is the best thing ever… Southwest rocks!

  • ddd

    As someone who flies Frontier all the time and love them, I am very happy that you people are not on board. Because you obviously don’t know how to read! We all have our opinions. My opinion is that stupid should hurt… thus the $100 bag fee. (that, by the way, is only the fee if you DON’T book on their website, AND you carry on a bag, AND it is oversized, AND you wait to figure all this out until you are at the gate! Stupid) And yes you should ck in online, and yes when you do you are told the fees for bags. (several times) Get it right! Or don’t, it’s nice to not have you onboard. By the way… they are full full full all the time. Guess they are doing something right!

  • Always Flying

    Thank you! You can purchase a ticket that meets your needs.
    Fully changeable/refundable or just a good seat with baggage or just a seat
    nothing and else. Choice is yours! If you choose a ticket that is only a seat
    and you change your mind and have carry-on pay on line, at the ticket counter,
    at the kiosk at the gate. Each of those areas are cheaper and gradually
    increase … However, if you try to
    sneak past all of that THEN and ONLY THEN is it $100 ……

  • Tired of the complaining!

    Mr. Hyde, conveniently left out the part about when you buy on one of this 3rd party sites, it asks you at least 2-3 times if you want to pay for a carry-on. Each time you check the box declining, you get charged more. Therefore, the $100 at the gate. Passengers are thinking that they can get by without paying the fee if they get to the gate. They HAVE to check the box in order to proceed with the transaction. Passengers also can’t print a boarding pass if they did not check those boxes, therefore, you better better get there in the allotted time, so you can check in with the ticket counter. So don’t give me this crap about a scam. They are informed every step of the way when they are purchasing their ticket. Maybe you didn’t do all the research you needed to do in order to get your story correct. Also, you only pay for what you want. If you want a $40.00 seat and can pack light enough for a small carry-0n that fits under the seat, you only paid $40.00 for your ticket. Can you get a $40.00 ticket on SWA? Not hardly!

  • Tired of the complaining!

    Just because your bag is TSA approved means nothing to the Airlines, they all have their own rules. The rules can be stricter than TSA as well as the FAA. Just because TSA says you bring on booze doesn’t mean you can drink it on the airplane.

  • M

    Good,ONE day, SOON YOU WILL be paying for bags on Southworst, too. In due time… Don’t punish those WHO DO NOT RUN the company!! WE are the pions. Jerk!!

  • M

    People need to READ the fine print!! It states that you will be charged for bags!! ON All websites!!!
    It IS not hidden anywhere!! Stupid is as STUPID DOES!!! People NEVER read the fine PRINTin ANY contract with ANY airline…

  • zoolander

    oh, there is a smart person in this group the rest of you are idiots if you think you wont be paying for bags shortly on southwest! Frontier just took #1 position in customer service. I am loyal to frontier for life. Southwest herds you on like cattle…ultra low class

  • zoolander

    bravo!
    so true

  • Tired of the complaining!

    You should be arriving more than 40 minutes before your flt!

  • FormerF9er

    Ah but this survey was also done before the phase out of frontier employees in all outstations was complete too. They finished laying everyone off last week in their last cities in ATL & SEA. They also announced yesterday that they are laying off their “STAR” team which is a group of Denver based CSA’s that go around the network helping out where cities are understaffed or need training. I also spoke with a couple of frontier agents on Tuesday in Denver and was told by them that for the company customer service isn’t much of a priority anymore, they are no longer allowed to apologize to passengers unless it’s “i’m sorry the earlier person didn’t enforce policy but…” as they extract more money out of you. Aircraft damages are up across the network because of these outsourced, minimum wage earning, non-benefited employees. These contract employees aren’t enforcing any of the draconian fee rules in many of the outstations which means that when the passenger gets to Denver and tries to connect BAM they get hit with the $100 carry on extortion. Frontier contract workers man their check in counters in these other cities with one maybe two employees greatly reducing the speed of check in and many of these cities either don’t have kiosks or if they do they don’t work properly. So by the time some people are finally about to be checked in they are now told they cannot check in as it’s the 45 min cut off and are now stuck with another fee to be put on a later flight even though it’s no fault of their own. What’s frontier’s response to this? “If we man counters with more than needed we cannot provide you with lower fares.” Southwest may be on the way to charging bags after AirTran is fully absorbed and I may hate their boarding processes but they so far are not treating their passengers as an ever-flowing ATM.

  • FormerF9er

    He mentioned David “the greedy snake” Siegel….when I was forcibly pushed out of the company due to outsourcing back in May it was still David “the greedy snake” Siegel running the company. Did this change? I can’t imagine him releasing his stranglehold on the human ATM machines and let the “pions” in charge. Yes southwest will be charging for bags but not for a while, not until AirTran is fully absorbed into the system. Even then it’ll still only be for checked bags, I can’t imagine southwest doing something as stupid as charging for carry-ons, they are not in the same league as spirit, frontier, or allegiant airlines.

  • Grace

    Hmm, have you guys check recently whose the number one airline on an overall standing. Check it out! Airfarewatchdog.com. Frontier Airline – we are 🙂

  • Did you read my commenting rules before posting a comment I will delete?

    You are… right!

  • Used to be for sure! It was such a great airline, now seems like the executive team has shorted the stock and is trying to make their fortune that way.

Commenting Rules