Low-fare carriers are transforming the way travelers zip around Europe, Asia, the U.S.--and now, Mexico.
For years, traveling within Mexico has meant choosing between long bus rides on awful roads, navigating those same roads on your own in a rental car, and expensive and often inconvenient flights. No mas.
A discount airline boom is underway south of the border. Five new carriers are either already flying or in the works, and all have business models that mimic global trendsetters Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, and EasyJet. Fares connecting major cities, like Guadalajara, Mexico City, and Monterrey, and beach resorts, such as Cancun, Zihuatanejo, and Acapulco, have plunged in a few instances. During one airfare promotion, a round trip from Mexico City to Veracruz on Click, launched last summer by former national carrier Mexicana Airlines, cost $180. Click's parent company was charging $350 for the same trip.
The growth of Mexico's low-fare airlines comes on the heels of the government's decision to privatize Mexicana; it's expected that private investors will buy Aeromexico, the other state-run airline, by the end of the year. The more-open marketplace has attracted some of the biggest names in Mexican business. Carlos Slim Helu, one of the wealthiest men in the world, and Grupo Televisa, Mexico's largest media company, are jointly bankrolling Volaris, whose name comes from the verb volar, meaning "to fly" in Spanish. Volaris took to the skies in March of this year. Another carrier, Interjet, was launched in December by the grandson of a former Mexican president.
It was an Irishman, however, who made the biggest news splash. Tony Ryan, whose Ryanair helped change the airline business in Europe with occasional $2 flights, announced that his new venture, tentatively named Viva AeroBus, will connect Mexican airports to a handful of U.S. cities starting in September.
Of the airlines flying already, Click serves the most cities (19 in Mexico, plus Havana, Cuba, and soon, Miami), followed by Avolar (17), Interjet (7), and Volaris (5). For the most part, passengers are expected to be Mexican nationals attracted by cheaper fares and better connections than those offered on the older carriers.
Many routes make sense for American travelers as well, especially people interested in hopping around or tacking on an extra city or beach to their getaway. As with low-cost carriers elsewhere, Mexican airline fares aren't always rock-bottom cheap. We found a round-trip Avolar flight from Oaxaca to Zihuatanejo for $290, which seemed mediocre considering the flight's only about an hour each way, as well as a $220 Cancun-Guadalajara Volaris round-trip (via Toluca) that's arguably a much better deal because it's a journey of 1,000 miles.
Thus far, booking can be a challenge. Most websites are in Spanish only. You may have trouble figuring out which routes are offered, whether they have nonstop or connecting flights, and how many times a week a route is flown (daily is rare). It's harder than it should be to locate airline phone numbers and sometimes difficult to find an English-speaking agent. Also, prices are generally given only in pesos. Travelers accustomed to getting around on bumpy, crowded Mexican buses, however, may prefer the new headaches to the old ones.
Mexico's new airlines