Latin America

Latin American Airlines: Flying on Volaris

If you’re flying to Mexico from the USA or need to get from one airport to another within the country, there’s one name you’re going to run into repeatedly. Flying on Volaris is something you’re probably going to experience sooner or later for the sake of time or convenience, even if you’re a luxury traveler. So here’s our take on what to expect.

flying on volaris

First of all, you need to know that Volaris is firmly and unapologetically a budget airline. No frills, lots of extra fees, and no pampering. This is not unusual: there’s only one true full-service airline left standing in Mexico and that’s Aeromexico, which usually sends you through a busy hub. The rest have raced to the bottom, with a similar experience as you’ll find with the likes of Allegiant, Ryanair, or Air Asia. A step up from Spirit and Viva Aerobus, but not a big step.

The good news is, their website is in both English and Spanish, able to spit out prices in multiple currencies, and most of the time it does what it is supposed to do. You just have to reset it back to English if you do multiple searches from within Mexico because it’ll keep reverting back to Spanish and pesos.

Where They Fly

This airline can get you a lot of places, especially if you’re an expat living in Mexico. By most measures they’re the country’s largest carrier now, ahead of the flagship Aeromexico, and are expanding more rapidly. Unfortunately, while the former will get you Skymiles points and they have codeshares with Delta, Volaris is not aligned with anyone except follow no-frills airline Frontier.

Assume you can get to most of Mexico with Volaris, but they also fly to a lot of different countries.

USA: Atlanta, Chicago, DC, Dallas, and many California cities, plus codeshares with Frontier.
El Salvador
Costa Rica

Figuring out these routes is not always easy though because there’s no map and some of the combos are a fake-out. Your departure city and destination city will be available as choices, but then when you try to pick a day, no dates are available in any month.

The Volaris Evolution to Budget Carrier

It wasn’t always the case that this was a low-frills budget airline, billing themselves as an “ultra low-cost airline.” I first flew on Volaris back in 2011, at a time when they were trying to woo customers with more amenities and better service. They were competing hard with Interjet (now kaput) and at the time they were both more likely to surprise you to the upside than the downside. To show how far downmarket they have gone, here’s what I wrote back then:

Attendants hand out headphones to use to watch TV in Spanish on the seatback screens. Soon a drink cart came around with a wide variety of non-alcoholic drinks. (It was early in the morning; they may offer beer and cocktails later in the day). My daughter squealed with delight when she saw the snack they were giving us: Krispy Kreme doughnuts! There were some advertisements on three overhead luggage panels, but we all ended up with a free can of the advertised iced tea before deplaning, so not a bad trade-off. They also had a basket of taffy candy to pick from as we walked off the plane. Nice touch.

Be advised that none of that is in place now. Plus the free checked bag and open seat selection we had then are both gone too.

Assume that you’ll pay extra for anything and everything not included in the base fare when flying on Volaris. Your ticket is basically just a license to enter the plane. They even do a bait-and switch with the fares that come up on their website: those don’t include any of the airport taxes, even though the taxes are mandatory and you have to pay them no matter what. Volaris is just sneaky and they add them to your fare as you move through the booking process. So your chances of paying the first price you see are zero.

Volaris flight above Mexico

Volaris Luggage Fees and a Personal Item

There’s one piece of luggage you are allowed to bring on when flying on Volaris: a personal item that will fit under the seat. The dimensions for that are a skimpy 35 by 45 by 20 centimeters, so it’s takes some super packing skills to get away with that. That’s basically a laptop bag with a few items in it.

If you can plan ahead, you’ll save a small fortune by picking a package deal that includes luggage when you book your ticket. For instance, here’s the fare difference (before mandatory taxes) for a one-way high season ticket between Oakland and Los Cabos:

Zero (Base fare only) – $211

Basic – $221 includes carry-on and restricted flight change

Plus – $263 includes carry-on, 55-pound checked bag, priority boarding, fully refundable/changeable ticket

So unless you’re really pinching pennies, it’s best to go for the top option and get the best options for just $42 more.

Domestic flights tend to have more of a price difference, however, with the Mexican travelers getting socked more for not packing light. Here’s the difference on a high-season flight between Leon/Guanajuato and Cancun, when the beachgoers are not getting any slack.

Zero (Base fare only) – $64

Basic – $77 includes carry-on and restricted flight change

Plus – $138 includes carry-on, 55-pound checked bag, priority boarding, fully refundable/changeable ticket

In this case, you’re essentially paying $51 extra to check a bag, board sooner, and have more change options.

If you’re reading Luxury Latin America, you’re probably the type who will take that deal without stressing about it unless you’re good at packing light.

You’re still not done paying though. Besides the taxes they’re going to add on, there’s also an absence of seating mentioned in those package inclusions above. So you could be stuck in a middle seat in the back by the bathroom if you leave it to chance.

So if you want a great seat, you need to take another step to complete that comfort process…

Flying on Volaris With More Comfort

Because these budget airlines are so coin-operated and don’t even try to pretend they’re offering a great travel experience, you can buy yourself an upgrade without spending very much. While on legacy U.S. carriers it can cost you more than $100 to get a better seat, it’s an easier choice on Volaris. You’re going to have to pay for a seat selection anyway, even if you choose the top package, so you might as well pay a small premium to get one of the best seats on the plane.

There’s no business class on Volaris, of course, but you can pay a little more to have a bulkhead seat at the front, be one or two rows back to get off faster, or pick an exit row seat and have more legroom. If you’re not going to need much at your seat, the bulkhead ones are the roomiest and are probably the best bet for families with a toddler, but you have to stow everything at take-off, so you can’t keep your laptop handy if you have work to do.

Here’s an example of the different seat selection prices on a domestic flight I book fairly often: Leon/Guanajuato to Cancun:

Middle seat in the last row: $9.34

Aisle seat in the middle of the plane: $12.99

Exit row seat: $19.49

Bulkhead window: $23.55

In other words, the difference between the worst seat on the plane and the best one for this 2.5-hour flight is around $14. You’ll gain a few more inches at least over the standard seat pitch of 30 inches.

Here’s what the seats cost on a much longer international flight, from Leon/Guanajuato to Oakland, California:

Middle seat in the last row: $13

Aisle seat in the middle of the plane: $16.89

Exit row seat: $28.59

Bulkhead window: $39

As you can see, picking the best seat on this 3 hour and 40 minute flight only costs $26 more than the worst. So buy yourself some legroom.

budget mexican airline with no frills and extra charges

Other Volaris Travel Tips

As with most budget airlines, Volaris is going to give you a whole lot of nothing to eat and drink. Plus what they do have on offer looks a lot like what you’ll find on the shelf of Oxxo: everything is processed and full of sugar, with lots of warning labels on the packaging.

So order a beer or a cocktail if that’s your thing, but otherwise assume you’ll need to bring a filled water bottle on board, bring your own coffee if you want something decent, and bring your own food if Pringles aren’t your idea of a meal.

The airline has switched to a mobile model for entertainment through the app, but most of what’s on offer is in Spanish or is 10 years old at least. Or both. I have seldom used it and usually just download something to my tablet or read a book on my Kindle.

There are usually no outlets for charging on these flights, whether USB or regular. The seats don’t recline (probably a good thing since it’s so tight) and they’re quite thin in order to cram the maximum in.

Be advised that if you travel with this airline a lot, you may find the Volaris Annual Pass to be a good deal. It’s normally $499 for a year and for that you can travel anywhere on short notice (3 days for international, 1 day ahead for domestic) without paying the fare. You still have to pay everything else though: taxes, seat selection, change fees, and baggage.

That last one is really going to cost you too: they make annual pass holders pay the walk-up baggage rate instead of the advance booking rate everyone else gets when they do a flight search. So on some recent flights I took between Mexico, Costa Rica, and Guatemala, they wanted a shocking $79 for me to carry my own small wheeled bag on or a rapacious $90 to check a bag. I took an underseat bag instead and bought a new outfit on arrival.

I’m still glad I bought it though because I got it for $349 when they were running an advance promotion. It has already paid for itself and I’ll use it more before it expires in six months.

One last tip: be sure you’re flying into the right airport in Mexico City if you’re headed there. AIFA is further out and doesn’t have many connections. You want AICM (airport code MEX).

In conclusion, Volaris isn’t going to be the most pleasant flight you’ve ever taken and you’ve got to add on a lot of extras to get to what everyone receives automatically on a superior airline like Southwest. These are point-to-point flights that are often faster though and even with all the add-ons, it can end up costing you less in the end than being on a carrier such as Aeromexico, United, or Air Canada.

See details at the official website.


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