Frontier Airlines may not be making any friends in the travel agency business these days. And apparently it doesn't want to, having gone to some lengths to penalize passengers who use what the airline calls "outside booking channels."

Under the airline's new regime, only those travelers who book on its website can get seat assignments at the time of booking. They also earn mileage at a 100% rate and get a discount on change fees.

According to the airline's media release, travel agency clients, on the other hand, "get their seat assigned at check-in, earn 50% EarlyReturns miles and pay higher fees." Sounds enticing, doesn't it?

In the early days of the Internet, airlines saw the Web as the low-cost distribution channel. Collectively, they rushed to exploit that cost advantage by training consumers to believe that the "best deals" were online, even to the point of withholding their lowest "Web-only fares" from traditional agents.

As a result, we now have a generation of travelers who have an implicit trust that the "best deals" are on the Internet (although some of them are beginning to wonder).

Now, Frontier could be compounding the damage by putting its pricier and more attractive options on its own website and withholding its more convenient and attractive -- and more expensive -- travel offerings from traditional retailers and online agents.

If other airlines adopt this tactic, the result might be a next generation of travelers who associate travel intermediaries with inferior products and services.

Many travel agents are probably asking themselves, why bother booking Frontier?

But perhaps agents should put the same question to Frontier: Why does the airline bother to pretend that it has any kind of meaningful relationship with its "agents"?

The Frontier website continues to have a travel agents link under "products and services," but really Frontier, why bother? You have relegated your least-attractive products to what you regard as your highest-cost outlets.

Why bother?
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