If you’ve flown an ultra-low fare airline like Spirit, Frontier or Allegiant, then you know that it can be a devil’s bargain. First, these carriers can offer unbelievably low prices to get you on-board. But once you’ve bought your ticket, you’ll find yourself being charged for everything including carry-on bags, checked bags and seat assignments.
But what if there was a way to enjoy the low fares while still receiving the basic services that other airlines offer? The newly relaunched Frontier Airlines World Mastercard from Barclays could give you the opportunity to do just that.
How the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard works
New cardholders earn 40,000 miles after using their card to spend $500 within three months of their account opening. That’s enough for two round-trip award tickets, which cost as little as 10,000 miles, each way. You also earn 5x miles on Frontier purchases, 3x miles at restaurants and one mile per dollar spent elsewhere. Finally, you’ll receive a $100 flight voucher each cardmember year that you use your card to spend $2,500 or more.
So far, this is fairly standard for an airline credit card, if not slightly better than most cards that just offer double miles for airline purchases and one mile per dollar elsewhere. But here’s where it gets innovative, and interesting. When you use your card to spend $20,000 in a calendar year, you can earn what’s called Elite20k status in their EarlyReturns frequent flyer program.
For each dollar spent, or each mile flow, you earn one qualifying mile toward elite status, which begins at 20,000 miles. Once you have this entry level of status, you don’t have to pay a fee to pre-select a seat or to carry on a standard sized bag that fits in the overhead bin, in addition to your “personal item” that can fit underneath your seat.
Reach 50,000 elite qualifying miles through any combination of travel and credit card spending, and you’ll earn Elite50k status, which offers seat assignments and a free carry-on for the entire family, up to eight companions on the same reservation.
Finally, 100k status is available for those who earn 100,000 qualifying miles, and it gives you “the Works” bundle for your whole family that includes priority boarding, a free checked bag and even a fully refundable ticket.
Other benefits include priority boarding and a waived award redemption fee. You also receive trip cancellation insurance, baggage delay coverage and a free monthly FICO score. There’s a $79 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
What do I really think about the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard?
I like the idea of flying a low-cost carrier like Frontier, which can sometimes offer tickets for insane prices like $19. When your airline ticket costs less than your ride to the airport, it can seem like you’re getting a great deal. But too often, the value disappears once you add in fees to carry on bags or a seat assignment to avoid the dreaded middle seat (although on Frontier’s planes, middle seats are wider than the aisle and window seats). This is especially true now that other airlines with more frequent schedules are introducing their own basic economy fares that have similar restrictions.
Frontier and Barclays recently hosted myself (Jason Steele) and a bunch of other credit card and travel journalists at their Denver headquarters and gave us some insight into where they are going in the future, both literally and figuratively.
First, they are adding dozens of new planes and massively expanded their route map, which now has hubs in Austin, Atlanta, Chicago–O’Hare, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Las Vegas, Miami, Orlando, Philadelphia, Raleigh/Durham, San Antonio and Trenton New Jersey (just outside Philadelphia).
Next, they are rolling out this new credit card to take the sting out of their business model and appeal to family travelers. They figure that between flying and credit card spending, it shouldn’t be too hard for even infrequent flyers to reach the 20,000 qualifying miles necessary to earn the first level of elite status. For example, a single cross-country trip could earn 5,000 qualifying miles, which are granted based on the miles flown, unlike most airlines that now award miles based on how much your ticket costs. Take two of these trips while spending $10,000 on your credit card, and you can quickly earn elite status. Once you have that status, you now get to carry on a full-sized bag and pre-select a seat, just like any other airline. Reach 50kElite status, which you could do just with the credit card alone, and the whole family gets those perks.
Another family-friendly feature is their new family pooling option, which allows credit card holders to combine the miles earned by up to eight members of your family. You can define your family however you want, and they don’t even have to live at the same address. And of course, each Frontier airplane has a unique animal on its tail, which kids love.
This credit card also has a $79 annual fee which some might find objectionable. Keep in mind that you also get a $100 flight voucher every year, which more than makes up for this expense.
How about their frequent flyer program?
Frankly, I’ve never been a fan of their EarlyReturns frequent flyer program, but having this credit card addresses my concerns. The first problem is that their frequent flyer miles expire after six months if your account isn’t active. But this credit card fixes that so long as you make at least one purchase every six months, no matter how small.
Next, Frontier imposes award redemption fees for flights ticketed within 180 days of departure. In practice, this is nearly all flights since they often don’t even release their schedules that far out. The fees range $15 for flights within 21-179 days, $50 for flights booked seven to 20 days in advance, and $75 for award flights within six days of departure. This can take much, if not all of the value out of your miles. But thankfully, Frontier Airlines World Mastercard holders will have these fees waived automatically.
What to look out for with the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard
You can definitely save a lot of money with Frontier’s discounted tickets, but it’s not for everyone. While Frontier serves a lot of routes, they often have just one flight a day on a particular route, or just a few flights a week. This works when you have a very flexible schedule, but might not make sense for some business travelers or those who need to fly at certain times of the day.
More importantly, credit cards are not for everyone. If you use credit cards to incur debt and pay interest, then you should be using a different form of payment altogether, and forget about credit card rewards. For more information about responsible credit card use, check out Clark’s recent article on detailing his approach to credit cards.
Everyone wants to buy a cheap airline ticket, but no one wants to pay for a seat assignment or a carry-on bag. If Frontier Airlines works for you, and you’re a responsible credit card user, then the new Frontier Airlines World Mastercard can let you enjoy the benefits of flying a low-cost airline, without paying all the extra fees.
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