Advanced Award Booking Tips: Frontier Airlines

Let’s not mince words: Booking flights with Frontier Airlines miles is a pain. Between the confusing fees, short expiration window and low-value miles, the hassle of award booking can seemingly outweigh the benefit.

But don’t lose hope — these advanced booking techniques can help you wring more value from your Frontier miles. Whether you’re a seasoned elite status holder or a Frontier newbie, these tips can help you make the most of the airline’s finicky system.

Know thy enemy: fees

Frontier adds two types of fees to award flights:

  • Fuel fees and other surcharges. Almost all airlines add these fees. For domestic travel on Frontier the amount is usually small ($5.60 one-way), but these can get much more expensive on international award travel (about $50 each way for travel to Jamaica).

  • “Redemption” Fees. Many airlines now include close-in fees for award travel booked within a couple weeks, but Frontier is alone in applying these fees to any award flight booked within 180 days of travel. Specifically, here are the fees tacked on based on how far out they are booked:

    • 21-179 days before travel: $15.

    • 7-20 days before travel: $50.

    • <6 days before travel: $75.

There’s no way to avoid the first kind of fees when booking with Frontier or other airlines. However, the “redemption” fees can be avoided in a number of ways.

Redemption fees don’t apply for those with either elite status or the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard®. If you earn enough Frontier miles quickly enough to book an award flight before those miles expire, you’re likely a good candidate for both elite status and applying for this card.

Frontier’s lowest-tier elite status requires only 20,000 flown miles, and the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard® carries a relatively modest $79 annual fee, which would nearly be offset by making a single booking less than a week before you needed to fly.

If neither elite status nor the credit card works with your plans, there’s another, sneakier way to slip around these outrageous fees…

Play around with free changes

For all its faults, the Frontier Miles program does offer one very useful perk: It does not charge change fees on award bookings if the “fare class” of both tickets is the same and the change is made eight or more days before flying. Let’s break that down and explain how it helps.

The “fare class” of a ticket is mostly an internal tool to help track inventory and cost. Basically, the cheapest fare classes are the first to sell out. To check a potential flight’s fare class, follow the “Fare Rules” link during the checkout flow (highlighted in red here):

The fare rule is displayed at the top of the pop-up section:

Since this is a “Class G” fare, it means I can change it to another Class G fare on the same route for free, as long as I do so at least eight days before my flight.

See where this is going? You can book a flight more than 180 days out (with no redemption fees), and then change it to a more close-in flight for free without incurring those fees.

This nifty workaround does require some extra effort, since changes can only be made on the phone. So you’ll want to check that the same ticket is available (in the same class) before you book. Then book the flight that’s at least 180 days out, call Frontier and request the free change. If for whatever reason the change is not allowed, you should be able to cancel your original booking within 24 hours and receive a full refund.

Use the month view to search

The above techniques require some patience, but this one’s easy: Use the “month” view when making award searches on the Frontier website. This will give you a quick view of both availability and pricing across a larger time frame, and ensure you don’t spend too many miles.

The month view option is displayed as a toggle at the top of the search results page.

This view is especially helpful for routes that Frontier doesn’t fly every day of the week, as it provides a snapshot view of which days are served.

Check international routes

Since Frontier serves mostly domestic destinations, they’re probably not the first to come to mind when planning an international trip. Yet the airline’s footprint in Central America and the Caribbean might surprise you.

What’s more, these routes can offer a good return on miles. For example, we found one-way availability from Denver to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, for 15,000 miles + $47 in fees. The equivalent cash fare ran $216 one-way, making this a decent redemption given that we value Frontier miles at just 0.6 cent each.

The bottom line

The Frontier MiIes program can be a pain. Surprise fees, expiring miles and a difficult award search tool can make for a frustrating experience for the uninitiated. Thankfully, you’re now equipped with a few tools to make booking Frontier award flights less cumbersome.

How to Maximize Your Rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2020, including those best for:

This article originally appeared on NerdWallet