A dramatically changed schedule on Frontier should lead to a refund


Beth Bixel books a flight on Frontier Airlines. Later, the airline changes the departure time. The new schedule has her arriving at her destination too late. She cancels the ticket, but is charged anyway. Can our advocates help her get her money back?

Question: I recently booked nonstop round-trip flights from Cleveland to San Francisco on Frontier Airlines. Five days after booking, I received an email from Frontier informing me that my flights had changed. I would now have a stopover in Denver and arrive in San Francisco nine hours later. And, the return flight would have an overnight layover in Denver. The email gave me an option to accept the change, which I didn’t do.

I tried calling Frontier, but was on hold for at least 20 minutes. So, I decided to just cancel the tickets online. I received a refund less a $198 cancellation fee. I had no choice but to cancel the tickets and shouldn’t have been charged a cancellation fee. Can you help me get the rest of my money back? — Beth Bixel, Willoughby, Ohio

Answer: When your flight changed significantly, you had an option to accept it, change it or cancel it without penalty. For flights with a schedule change over three hours, the Frontier policy allows a passenger to accept the flight, change the fight or request a refund. Accepting the change doesn’t require any action. But, canceling the flight requires you to contact the airline or submit an online refund request.


The problem you encountered was caused by going online to cancel your reservation on your own. The Frontier system didn’t process your cancellation and refund under its schedule change policy. It processed it according to the terms of your ticket. You would have needed to speak to a Frontier agent so that the fee didn’t apply to your cancellation. Or, you could have submitted the online refund request for the full amount of the cancelled flight.

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Once Frontier charged you the $198 cancellation fee, you contacted our advocates for help. But, before seeking help from our advocates, you could have posted your question to our help forums. Our help forums are staffed by travel industry experts, who may have had helpful suggestions about how to address this issue with the airline. Or, you could have tried contacting the company through its website. If that was unsuccessful, you then could have escalated your complaint by contacting company executives for help. We list executive contact information for Frontier Airlines on our website.

Our advocates contacted Frontier on your behalf. The airline confirmed that you did not follow the steps for any of the three options given to you. You didn’t communicate with Frontier by phone because of the long hold time, and you canceled your trip via the website. Had you spoken to an agent, or submitted the refund request form, the cancellation fees wouldn’t have applied. The airline agreed to refund the $198 and processed the refund the same day.


Diane Perera

Diane and her family love to travel, and they do so as much as they can. Having experienced the downside of travel, and having learned so much from Elliott.org, led Diane to become an advocate and to help fight the good fight.

  • SirWIred

    I’m with the customer here. It’s not intuitive that requesting a cancellation one way will result in a full refund, but requesting another way will result in the normal penalties applying. There are IT-based ways to fix this problem (like temporarily making a fare fully-refundable so a check will get cut no matter how it’s cancelled) and it’s telling they haven’t done so.

  • Mel65

    I’m really glad this worked out. However, “you did not follow the steps for any of the three options given to you”. If the email says “do XYZ in order to process your cancellation” why on earth would the OP decide to 20 minutes was too long to be on hold and take matters into her own hands and then wonder why she didn’t get what she was asking for? Processes are in place for a reason and like it or not sometimes they have to be followed.

  • MF

    It may be that this very reasonable & helpful suggestion of yours would result in a loss of revenue for the airline, so naturally it is not offered?

  • Daddydo

    It is called “Small print”. The rules and the procedures are spelled out, yet they take more time to read than the 20 minute hold time that Frontier stated. You need an oral and a written confirmation of cancellation and full refund. Every travel agent knows this, and when you book your own reservation, you become the travel agent.

  • finance_tony

    I don’t disagree, but it’s unfortunate the the onus of being made whole from Frontier’s rescheduling fully falls to the customer – and this was a truly egregious rescheduling, not an hour or two and not a last-minute change due to weather. Who knows how long the hold would have been?

    On the other hand, if Frontier offered a “we’ll call you back when it’s your turn” option, that would seem to take the edge off.

  • Bill___A

    Not having seen the email, how do we know this wasn’t the case. The description says there was a link “to accept the change”. I found it very strange that there would be one link with one option and it was for doing the one thing which would have been the default (no action required) which was to accept the change. I’m thinking there must have been more options in that email.

  • Hanope

    I wouldn’t be surprised if there was just the one linked option, The airline wants to make it easy for you to accept the change and deal with it while the airline keeps your money. They want to make it more difficult for you to decline the change where they have to give the money back. Thats why the OP either had to call and wait, or submit a refund request (which would take them X amount of months to “process” and actually refund the money to your card).

  • Mel65

    And I agree with you completely. However one thing I’ve learned is in these types of circumstances, no matter how obnoxious you have tofollow the rules and you can complain about them later but you can’t change them.

  • Michael__K

    Actually, the rules spelled out under Frontier’s contract of carriage (which are probably not legal or enforceable) state that they MAY “at Frontier’s discretion” refund a fare for a “significant” schedule modification. Or, in other words, they may choose not to refund anything and tell you to get lost.

    The contract also spells out that all refunds require a “written explanation”, which contradicts what the Frontier reps apparently told the advocates that this could and should have been done over the phone. And it also contradicts the customer’s experience where they were able to cancel tickets online, apparently with no opportunity to provide a “written explanation”, and still receive a refund (minus a cancellation fee).

  • Michael__K

    Which rules? The correct process as described by the Frontier representative as quoted in the article is at odds with the process prescribed by their contract of carriage — which precludes this being done over the phone because it requires all refunds to be requested in writing — and which doesn’t even guarantee a refund for a significant schedule change anyway….

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    There contract may say “at Frontier’s discretion” but I’m pretty sure that if they change a flight by more than a few hours and tried to refuse a refund, a small claims court judge would find that inconsistent with the UCC or restatement of contracts.

  • MF

    Another cynic, I presume the same as you. I wonder what the percentage of airline revenue comes from ticket sales where PAX actually FLY (legitimate revenue) vs percentage from fees & forfeited ticket money (money grab)???

  • Michael__K

    If it was any other business besides an airline, then absolutely. It’s actually very tricky in the case of an airline, because under the Airline Deregulation Act, they are immune to state and local laws affecting their pricing and service. And the courts have ruled (e.g. Northwest vs. Ginsberg) that this makes airline’s largely immune to even normal common law contract presumptions.
    But at some point it would probably rise to the level of an “unfair or deceptive trade practice” that the Department of Transportation would have authority to address. They have previously rejected the petition of a customer who wanted a refund for a 30 minute schedule change, but in so doing they noted that the airline (Delta) did offer refunds for schedule changes over 90 minutes:
    https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.dev/files/docs/eo_2012-11-4.pdf

  • Mel65

    I quoted the author of the article. Ask him/her.

  • Bill___A

    I wouldn’t know how Frontier Airlines does it since the chance of me flying them is incredibly slim. But the airlines I deal with would have all of the options…

  • Annie M

    If she had used the link in the original email to cancel this would have happened. I don’t understand why she didn’t go right back that link to cancel instead of what she did.

  • cscasi

    Sounds to me that Frontier has made it easy to cancel one’s tickets whenever one wants; that doing so will result in zero refund. You do not need a written explanation that way because you are going to get nothing back.
    In any case, if one is unsure how to cancel tickets that he/she no longer wants because of unworkable/lengthy schedule changes, then one needs to take the time to call the airline to ensure what the rules are for refunds, or lose money.

  • Michael__K

    then one needs to take the time to call the airline to ensure what the rules are for refunds

    You mean one should take the words of a call center phone rep over the written words in the contract which also state:

    No employee or agent of Frontier has the authority to waive, modify, or alter any provisions of the Contract of Carriage unless authorized by a corporate officer of Frontier

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    I hear you, but DOT actually has a website discussing suing an airline in small claims court https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/air-travelers-tell-it-judge with an example case that is not as good as the cancelled/won’t pay refund situtation. So if they didn’t provide the service because you requested a refund, it would make an interesting small claims case because I agree that it would at least be a deceptive trade practice.

  • Michael__K

    Note that the DOT pamphlet about small claims was last edited in 1994 — 20 years before Northwest vs. Ginsberg was decided.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    I just read Northwest v. Ginsberg, and the case was entirely devoted to a frequent flyer mile dispute. And the court stated “We note, finally, that respondent’s claim of ill treatment by Northwest might have been vindicated if he had pursued his breach-of-contract claim after its dismissal by the District Court. . . . If respondent had appealed the dismissal of his breach-of-contract claim, he could have presented these arguments to the Court of Appeals, but he chose not to press that claim. He voluntarily dismissed the breach-of-contract claim and instead appealed only the breach of implied covenant claim, which we hold to be pre-empted.”

    So the court left open a “breach of contract” claim, even for frequent flyer miles, much less failure to refund after failure to fly. In my opinion (do not rely upon this as legal advice), I think this remains a viable avenue to obtain a remedy, especially in small claims court, even under the Northwest v. Ginsberg ruling.

  • Michael__K

    He could claim a breach of contract if he has a claim that’s supported by the letter of the one-sided contract… but not based on the one-sided letter of the contract being unenforceable under common law (state) contract presumptions such as the covenant of good faith and fair dealing ….

  • Lindabator

    they usually show a ling to accept changes, or to request a refund – with the option of speaking to a rep. She chose to just cancel, and that was hr mistake

  • Lindabator

    thy all do – but being impatient and choosing your own option leads to these issues

  • Lindabator

    EXACTLY

  • Lindabator

    or click the link in the original email sent, rather than just pulling up your booking and canclling

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    I think you are overinterpreting the case. If our current case went to the Supreme Court, I bet it would come out differently, even with the five conservative justices.

  • Michael__K

    It was a 9-0 decision. Basically since different common law standards have evolved separately under case law in 50 states (and a few territories), even the “liberal” justices didn’t want to open the can of worms where we end up with a patchwork of 50+ rules/interpretations of every airline contract depending on the passenger’s state of residence which would frustrate the ADA’s objectives. So they punted and decided that the DOT should adjudicate for all passengers. Of course the DOT has yet to exercise its authority to regulate either frequency flyer programs or schedule changes.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    Different facts can make different law. We can argue this to death, but without a decision, unless you are on the Supreme Court, our opinions don’t really matter.

  • Michael__K

    Sure. All I’m saying is that practically speaking either you need the DOT (or Congress) or you need a legal argument that isn’t thwarted by Northwest vs. Ginsberg or you need to reverse a unanimous Supreme Court precedent.

  • Shirley Kroot

    I had a similar experience with American Air Lines several years ago, but with a very positive outcome. We lived in AZ and when traveling to Chicago, we always too the first flight of the day, which got us in about 11:00 AM. I got an email saying that the flight was cancelled and we were rebooked on an 11:00 flight, which got us in to Chicago at 5:00pm. That was not acceptable, as we had made plans for that afternoon. I called American and explained the situation. I was given a reference number and told to call Reservations number and give it to them. I did that and the agent who answered the phone asked me what I wanted to do. I told her that I would take the 11:00 am flight but THE DAY BEFORE, thereby giving us a full day with family instead of a half day, which our original reservation would do. The change was made at no charge.

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