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Award Sweet Spot: East of Denver on Frontier Airlines


We’re working on a series of origin-based award program sweet spots, compiled in the Award Sweet Spots by Origin section of the Resources tab at the top of the page. This one might be a little bit of a curve ball but I think it deserves a lot more attention than it gets: For 10,000 Frontier miles each way, you can get from much of the U.S. to some of our nation’s greatest treasures including Alaska (Fairbanks and Anchorage) and Yellowstone National Park via Jackson Hole, WY or Bozemon, MT. While this may not appear to be a great deal compared to 12,500 miles each way on American and United (by utilizing partner award charts) among others, the factor that makes this one sweet is the number of seats available in comparison to AA and UA. That’s also why the map doesn’t really extend West of Denver, even though the availability does. If you live in the West, you likely have better options on Alaska Airlines but this may still be worth a look. Update: Frontier has cancelled service to Alaska. Furthermore they have changed their policy to make miles expire after 6 months without activity (from 18 months) and announced that they will no longer be an AMEX transfer partner. I do not recommend collecting Frontier miles unless you have an immediate need that fits their current schedule.

The area of the U.S. where Frontier may a good choice for award travel to Alaska. Note the small darker green circle – this is the hole in Alaska Airlines route map. Map courtesy of Free Map Tools

American Express Membership Rewards points can be transferred 1:1 to Frontier. I would not recommend transferring AMEX points to Frontier until you are ready to book, because for nearly every other destination there are better choices for the AMEX points. The one time I transferred AMEX points to Frontier, they showed up in my Frontier account within minutes.

Frontier has a co-branded card issued by Barclays with a signup bonus of (currently) 40K miles after spending $500. It has been as high as 50K and as low as 35K. There is also a companion award option that discounts a Frontier card member’s companion’s award ticket by 5K points when flying with the cardholder, but only if the cardholder is flying on a paid ticket. This could be worth leveraging on discounted routes by booking one-way travel since the companion would only require 5K points each way.

Eastern routes with service on Frontier Airlines to Denver.

Eastern routes with service on Frontier Airlines to Denver.

Why Alaska?

It’s just far away enough to be a real family adventure, without requiring a day and a half to get to, a passport or another language. We recently got to visit Alaska, and I absolutely recommend it to every family who can make the trip happen, as soon as your kids are old enough to appreciate nature. If you prefer your trip reports Boarding Area style, with a report on each hotel, Summer over at Mommy Points is wrapping up a great report on a trip to Alaska with her 4-year old daughter and comes to this conclusion:

My biggest take-away from our recent trip to Alaska is that it is a trip not to be put off any longer than necessary as Alaska is a Colorado-on-steroids-minus the hipsters-1950′s style-outdoor adventures-utopia. This means that folks were actually using rest stops to picnic and play, camping along the way, packing their lunches, actually talking to each other, putting down electronics, and enjoying the absolutely breath-taking scenery at every turn.  Using Hotel Points to Save on Trips to Alaska.

This was one of several small calving events we saw at Northwestern Glacier as we listened to it crack and groan on its march into the Fjord. Nowhere else that’s so accessible will your kids be able to experience this!

Why Frontier?

There are two airlines that actually have reliably decent award seat availability to Alaska during the summer: Alaska Airlines and Frontier Airlines. While Alaska does have flights to the East coast, they often don’t open award seats on many of those longer routes to Seattle, and there is still a big part of the Midwest and South not served by Alaska Airlines, as shown on the first map.

Frontier also flies to several cities in Mexico, the Caribbean and Costa Rica for 15,000 miles each way which can be a great deal – especially the Costa Rica options from Alaska or the Pacific Northwest. Otherwise that may not be a great option unless they are the only airline with available seats, compared to distance-based programs from British airways and ANA, and off-peak awards from AA.

Why not Frontier?

The price is great! The fees, not so much.

The price is great! The fees for baggage, not so much.

In 2013, Frontier made the transition from a Low-Cost Carrier to an Ultra-Low-Cost Carrier and added the typical ULCC fees as you can see here. Of course they can be covered with points from an Arrival or cashback card, but you should be aware of them to avoid a nasty surprise at the airport. Clearly it’s better to check a large bag or two and carry backpacks than to carry on your typical bags with their fee schedule. On the plus side, their “Stretch” seating with extra room is more reasonably priced than the corresponding Economy Plus of legacy carriers for a 5 hour flight.

Frontier Airlines opens their schedule up about 6 months in advance so that can make planning more difficult if you wanted to use them in one direction and other program(s) in the other direction.

Getting creative to see more of Alaska

  • Use 10K Frontier miles to fly to Fairbanks or Anchorage, and spend some time in Denali National Park or the Kenai Peninsula.
  • Use 4500 British Airways Avios to continue on to more remote parts of Alaska, like King Salmon, Kodiac, Barrow or Nome.
  • Use 12,500 AA miles for the return, using Alaska Airlines to a Southwest hub (Denver or Phoenix?) and continuing on Southwest if necessary. It’s totally worth the extra miles if that’s the only way to make an Alaska adventure possible!
More Alaska Beauty!

More Alaska Beauty!

Even though a fortunate mistake fare erased our need to use Frontier so I haven’t flown them yet, we loved Alaska! Just like everyone else I’ve ever talked to who has ever been.

Disclosure: If you apply and get approved for the one credit card linked to in this post, I get nothing. But if you do, please don’t be stupid with it!


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