I was intrigued when I received an email offering 100% off the airfare for flights to the Caribbean and Central America for a limited time at the beginning of 2022.
Orlando is a hub airport for Frontier, with flights to many destinations in the Caribbean and Central America, so I was interested to see where we could fly for free.
It wasn’t long before I discovered that a flight with a 100% discount on airfare on Frontier doesn’t mean the flight is free.
My first search was for a flight from MCO to PLS (Turks and Caicos). While this isn’t the optimal destination since Frontier only flies there once weekly, it was worth looking at.
A round-trip ticket would cost $181.37. While saving the $16.80 each way of the airfare cost, you’d still need to pay the taxes and fees that Frontier adds to a ticket.
As one who’s booked an award ticket with points or miles, I know it’s no secret that the taxes and airline fees are often more expensive than the airfare itself. International fees can add up to hundreds of dollars on what was supposed to be a free ticket.
I figured there was one way to try and avoid these fees. I looked at flights from Orlando to San Juan, PR. Since I wouldn’t be leaving the US, there were no international fees to pay for these tickets.
When I looked at ITA Matrix, there were only a few mandatory fees added to the ticket.
The $5.60 fee is familiar to anyone who’s booked an award ticket since 9/11. The other two fees are sometimes waived for flights in the US and charging an International Departure Tax on flights to Puerto Rico is iffy but whatever.
So where does Frontier get $52.20 in fees for a flight from Orlando to San Juan?
According to Frontier’s website, there are a number of fees that are not broken out on their website.
- U.S. Transportation Tax (domestic FET): airfares for travel within the 48 contiguous states include a 7.5% Federal Excise Tax (FET).
- Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs): these charges are from the airports themselves, and are applied to the operations of those airports. The charge ranges in value and is set by the airport.
- U.S. September 11th Security Fee: the Transportation Security Administration assess a September 11th Security Fee per passenger enplanement.
- U.S. Domestic Flight Segment Tax: the US government taxes each passenger and each ‘segment’ (basically, every take-off).
- Carrier Interface Charge: the standard fare price we display online includes a charge per passenger, per segment, that is assessed on tickets purchased through the website or our call center. The Discount Den fares we display online include a charge per passenger, per segment, that is assessed on tickets purchased through the website.
- Service Fee: for each ticket booked through our Reservations Department on 801-401-9000, there will be a Service Fee which is calculated per passenger.
- APHIS User Fee Passenger (international arrivals): This fee is levied by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) for international arrivals.
- Immigration User Fee and Customs User Fee (international arrivals): These fees are levied by the United States Customs and Border Protection for international arrivals.
- Mexico Tourism Tax (Derecho No Immigrante) and Mexico Departure Tax – TUA: these taxes are levied on passengers flying to and/or from Mexico on international flights, and differs depending on the airport.
- Surcharges: The fare price we display online includes a charge per passenger, per direction, that is assessed on tickets to cover costs of providing a service including facility maintenance, fuel, security etc. These surcharges appear during peak holiday travel periods such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.
- High Cost Airport Charge: The High Cost Airport Charge offsets Frontier’s higher operating costs in select major airports where, for example, landing fees and gate rentals are significantly higher than other major airports where Frontier operates.
While I understand Frontier’s desire to pass on costs to its passengers, none of these fees explain the $28 difference from the price filed with ITA to the price on their website. Frontier also does not provide any way to show a breakdown of the fees so you have to trust them about what they’re charging you for.
Offering flights for $0 is nothing new, as carriers in Europe, like Ryanair, have been offering these sales for a while. By no means are the flights free, as passengers are on the hook for any taxes and airline fees in addition to any extras you choose to pay for, like seat assignments, carry-on or checked bags, and food and beverages onboard the flight.
However, this is the first time I can remember a US carrier offering $0 fares to passengers, only to add opaque fees and taxes to the tickets. Since most of the fares are for tickets outside of the US, Frontier has more freedom to add additional fees to tickets without fear of penalty from the federal government.
This deal may be helpful to some people but don’t expect to save a ton of cash on tickets because Frontier loads most of the cost into fees and not to the actual airfare cost.
While the sale says it is targeted to Frontier’s best customers, Sharon received an email and she hasn’t flown them for over 2 years and her Frontier Miles expired during the pandemic. The code to get discounted fares is TROPICAL.
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