In two moves that will likely discourage travel agents from booking its seats, Frontier Airlines will withdraw from ARC on March 7, moving to the host system Navitaire, a classic platform for low-fare carriers, and announced that it will continue to participate in all four GDSs at a very minimal level.

As a result, agents booking through GDSs and corporate travelers using self-booking systems will be able to book only nonrefundable economy tickets. More flexible Classic Plus fares will only be available for purchase on the Frontier website.

Airline analyst Bob Mann said the moves were intended to save money on distribution, which he called “a huge cost for every carrier and particularly … for a low-fare carrier.”

Frontier tickets will also be available through online travel agencies. However, because of the switch-over, Frontier tickets were unavailable in Expedia, Orbitz and Priceline this week. Frontier spokesman Todd Lehmacher said Expedia and Priceline would be online with Frontier early next week. Orbitz said it would be onboard after it completes work to enable offering Frontier as a ticketless carrier.

Also as a result of the switch-over, Frontier is requiring some form of payment within four hours of the booking, though transactions still can be voided within 24 hours without penalty, as required by the Department of Transportation, Lehmacher said.

Frontier joins Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air as ticketless airlines.

The changes make booking Frontier more time-consuming for agents because they will now have to exit their workflow and point a browser to the Frontier website to book more flexible tickets, said John Millsaps, travel and technology specialist for Christopherson Travel, which is based in Salt Lake City but has an office in Denver, where Frontier is based. Moreover, they must call the carrier if they have to make exchanges, he said.

Christopherson Travel CEO Mike Cameron said the fact that Frontier is still participating in the GDSs is a positive.

The changes follow several run-ins Frontier has had with agencies in recent years. In the spring of 2013, for example, it issued a press release telling consumers that Frontier’s own website would henceforth be the only place they could book an economy seat, not have to pay to use overhead bin space and earn 100% mileage in Frontier’s Early Returns program. In fact, however, knowledgeable agents could book those fares in the GDSs, enabling their clients to get the same benefits available through direct bookings.

Not all carriers participate in ARC, which is owned by nine airlines. Spirit and Allegiant, for example, do not participate. JetBlue Airways was a notable holdout but started participating in ARC in 2009. All 200 participating airlines pay a monthly fee, which ARC did not disclose, and a 20-cent fee per transaction.

Southwest Airlines is both in and out of ARC, said travel lawyer and Travel Weekly Legal Briefs columnist Mark Pestronk, as agents can issue tickets and settle through ARC or make reservations and pay on behalf of their clients directly with Southwest.

Christopherson Travel CEO Mike Cameron said the fact that Frontier is still participating in the GDSs is a positive. In addition, he noted, Frontier has a loyal, “almost cult-like following in the Denver market.”

“People see it as a local, hometown airline that keeps United in check,” he said.

But in November, Frontier said it would cut jobs and flights out of Denver, citing rising operating costs at its airport. 

In addition, Frontier has gone through two ownership changes in recent years. Republic Airways acquired it out of bankruptcy in 2009. Then, in 2013, Republic sold Frontier to Indigo Partners, an investment firm run by former Spirit Chairman William Franke.

Frontier said it would continue to operate its agency support desk.

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