For a cheap flight to or within Mexico and Central America, you might consider Mexico’s second largest airline after Aeromexico, budget carrier Volaris. Of course, you’ll read a lot of bad reviews on Volaris, but I believe most reviewers only point out the negative and it’s likely that travelers who had bad experiences simply had unrealistic expectations of a low-cost carrier.
Tips for Traveling on Volaris
To help you avoid unnecessary extra fees and to understand how Volaris differs from the competition, follow this step-by-step guide on what to expect when flying Volaris.
What to Know Before You Book with Volaris
Volaris operates much like ultra-low-cost carriers Spirit and Frontier by selling a super cheap “clean base fare” and then upselling any extras, such as seat selection, baggage, and drinks/snacks onboard, that some other carriers may include. However, with the introduction of Basic Economy by the major carriers, this product is very similar to the lowest fares on other carriers.
Update: As of January 27, 2020, the lowest fare on Volaris, Vulea Basic fares, only include a small personal item up to 18 x 14 x 8 inches. A full-size carry-on bag can be added for $15-$20 each way. This is a change from a previous policy, which used to allow 2 full-size bags with a weight limit. There doesn't appear to be a strict weight limit listed on the website anymore so this new policy could be a blessing in disguise since it is cheaper to add a carry-on bag than it used to be to add more weight. If you prefer to check a bag, Volaris has very similar fees to other airlines with a first checked bag fee starting at $38 each way. Bundled fares are also available if you prefer to add multiple extras.
As always, it’s a good idea to compare your total cost with other carriers to determine if flying Volaris will save money. If you are searching on google flights, keep in mind that the price shown for Volaris flights from the U.S. to Mexico does not include the non-resident fee of approximately $28 USD. For flights from the U.S. to Mexico, this fee will be added if you indicate a country of residence other than Mexico on the Volaris website.
Volaris also has two different membership programs that give members access to special fares and discounts on baggage. The v.club membership, which gives you access to exclusive fares and sales, costs $54.99 annually for an individual or $169.99 annually for a group. The v.pass plan gives you monthly flights within Mexico for a fixed fee starting at $299 MXN pesos (~$16 USD) per month. More information on these memberships can be found in our guide to Members Only Airfares and How to Book Them.
You’ll find Volaris flights from many western U.S. cities and a few others spread between the Midwest and the east coast to locations all across Mexico. You won’t find nonstop flight options from the U.S. to Mexico’s famous beach resorts, but instead to some colonial cities and niche markets. Its main hub is in Guadalajara (GDL), but there are also flights from many U.S. cities to Mexico City (MEX) and other smaller cities in Mexico. If you live in the San Diego area, you can take advantage of the Cross Border Xpress bridge and hop on a Volaris flight from Tijuana (TIJ). In recent years, Volaris has expanded flights to Central America with a hub in San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO). Flights from the U.S. stop in either Guatemala (GUA) or San Salvador (SAL) on the way to Costa Rica.
Daily flights are available on the most popular routes, but most international routes on Volaris are only flown on limited days each week, which means you should have flexible travel plans in case there are any delays or cancellations. Volaris has a new partnership with Frontier Airlines, but the route network is not exactly streamlined to provide the best connections between the two airlines.
How to Book a Flight with Volaris
Volaris flights are often cheaper on its website than third-party booking engines, especially with frequent promo code sales and the occasional flash sale with fares as low as $39 USD one-way. But always compare prices on all airlines with a few third-party sites. The Volaris website often defaults to Spanish and/or pricing in Mexican Pesos (MXN) so if you want the English version and to see pricing in USD, bookmark this page, and always start a new search with this link so it doesn’t default back to the Spanish language or Mexican Peso version. It may be possible to save a few bucks by paying in Pesos or booking separate one-way flights in each direction but it’s usually very minimal and may not be worth the hassle of converting prices to compare.
When searching on the Volaris site, make sure to indicate the number of Mexican passports, which appears in the dropdown after clicking on the number of passengers. Choosing 0 Mexican passports will give you the correct pricing, including the non-resident fee, initially so you won’t be surprised by a price jump later on in the booking process.
There is almost always some sort of percentage discount promo code sale so click in the “Have a Promocode?” box to see if there are any current offers for the route and dates you are searching. We provide a roundup and alerts for the better promo code offers and flash sales from Volaris so make sure to sign up for fare alerts to be notified.
Once you’ve chosen dates and started your search, you’ll see available flights to choose from and three different fare options. The “Basic” fare is the one most flyers will choose with the ability to add on extras à la carte. A "Classic" fare includes a carry-on bag, one checked bag, and priority boarding. The "Plus" fare includes extra carry-on weight, a checked bag, seat selection, and priority boarding. For the most part, I’ve noticed these options to be more expensive than simply adding a checked bag to the “Basic”, so I don’t see much advantage to booking these types of fares. The “v.club” fares are exclusive to v.club members only. If you wish to see a bar graph of pricing across an entire month, click on the “price calendar” link in the upper right corner.
In order to get the initial price you see, you’ll have to decline all extras throughout the booking process, travel light, check-in online, and take whatever seat gets assigned for free at check-in. If you need to add any extras, it’s best to do so during booking to get the lowest prices. Fees are slightly higher after booking or at the airport.
Extra Fees on Volaris During the Booking Process
Once you’ve chosen flights, you’ll continue to the following page where you can choose to add carry-on or checked bags, and combos. There’s a more flexibility combo, which gives you free flight changes. The more baggage combo includes a checked bag, extra carry-on weight, and the possibility to travel with sports equipment or an instrument. There’s also a more speed combo, which includes priority boarding and seat selection.
When filling out customer information, you’ll be asked to choose a check-in option. Choose free web or mobile check-in to avoid extra fees. If you wish to check-in at the airport, there is a fee, which you can pay for in advance. I would only use this option if you are purchasing tickets online for a friend or relative who is not very web savvy and would have an easier time checking in with an agent at the airport.
On the seat selection page, if you want the lowest price possible, just click “continue” without selecting a seat. A pop-up will appear where you can then choose to skip choosing seats and have one assigned for free at check-in. You’ll then be offered more extras such as car rentals, credit card offers, and trip insurance. I would suggest declining all these extras as it’s usually a better deal to book these separately and you could see your low price increase quite a bit if you keep adding extras.
Check-In for a Volaris Flight
Online check-in is available starting 24 hours before departure for international flights (72 hours prior for domestic flights). Make sure to check-in online to avoid any extra fees for airport check-in. If you have checked luggage, make sure to arrive at the airport early since you may encounter long lines to check bags.
If you’re traveling with just carry-on bags, you may find that your printed or mobile boarding pass won’t work at the TSA checkpoint. If this happens, you can just show your documents at a Volaris check-in counter to have them reprinted for free. This may be a tactic for Volaris to check the weight of your carry-on bags.
When I flew Volaris, I had paid for the extra carry-on weight and was never asked to weigh my bags. However, there have been varying reports on how strict Volaris agents are at checking the weight of bags, with some reporting agents roaming the gate area with handheld scales. It will likely vary by airport and you’re more likely to have your baggage scrutinized at stations departing Mexico or Central America. Bottom line, pay for the amount of luggage you need during booking or take the risk and be prepared to pay more at the airport if you are caught with too many or overweight bags.
At larger airports, like LAX, there may be several flights departing from the same gate around the same time, and if there are any delays, it can be confusing to know which flight is boarding. Since this is a Mexican airline, expect all the announcements to be in Spanish, even on flights departing from the U.S. If you are confused at any moment, just politely ask one of the gate agents to make sure you are in the right boarding area and when your flight is boarding.
The Volaris Inflight Experience
Once onboard, be prepared to pay for any drinks and snacks during the flight. Volaris keeps its costs low by not including these ancillary items in the airfare. Bring your own water bottle to fill up before the flight and some snacks of your own if you don’t want to pay for anything onboard. Volaris has a pretty tight seat pitch that averages around 29 inches so don’t expect the same comfort level as the major carriers. However, I found the seats themselves to be fairly comfortable and the service was friendly.
There is currently no inflight WiFi and entertainment options are slim. Bring a good book to read or load up your devices with movies to watch during the flight if you need something to keep yourself occupied. I’d suggest taking the time inflight to try and get in a few z’s before arriving at your destination so you’ll be refreshed and ready to explore once you arrive.
Featured image by Carlos Yudica via Shutterstock.