News, features, and commentary from the biggest city in the Americas, Mexico City.
By Darren M. Popik —
Though it may be the biggest city in the Americas, finding cheap airfares out of Mexico City can sometimes be a challenge.
And remember, you have two airports to choose from — the big Benito Juárez International Airport (MEX, also known by the acronym AICM, or Aeropuerto International de la Ciudad de México), and Toluca’s Adolfo López Mateos International Airport (TLC).
Today we’ll focus on the domestic market. (International flights, where it’s more difficult to find deals, will be the focus of Part II.)
Thanks to competition (there are six airlines competing for your business), there will be times when you can get a flight that’s cheaper than a bus ticket.
Airfares mentioned here are at current prices — just be aware that prices and promotions can change frequently.
Aeromexico is the largest carrier, and offers service to most of the country’s bigger cities (though it excludes some, like Colima). But this airline almost always prices itself out of the domestic market, with tickets significantly higher than those offered by their competitors.
A member of the SkyTeam airline alliance, Aeromexico’s strength is in the business and government travel market, where someone else (ie, other than you, the flyer) is picking up the bill. Plus, Aeromexico is the only carrier with business class service, though it’s not available on all routes. Also, if you want to collect frequent flyer miles, and like VIP lounge access (here’s a look inside), then Aeromexico is your choice. But for price? No.
Interjet has the second biggest share of the domestic market. From MEX, they fly to 23 cities within the country (seven from TLC). In my experience, Interjet usually has good prices, but whether they have the best price will depend on the route you’re travelling. When it comes to price, they’re strong on some routes, weaker on others. From a service standpoint however, they’re a very good option.
Volaris is number three domestically, with service to 15 Mexican destinations from MEX/TLC. They also get very good marks for service. And if you’re willing to fly on the first/last flights of the day (what appear to be repositioning flights), you can get some great deals with Volaris. (My look at the Volaris experience.)
For example, right now, you can fly MEX-Monterrey (MTY) for as low as USD$55 one-way, if you take the 4:30 am departure, and $64 on the return, departing at 11:50 pm. Similar story for MEX-Guadalajara (GDL): $44 MEX-GDL (4:30 am departure), and $52 GDL-MEX (11:40 pm departure).
VivaAerobus flies to eight cities from MEX. They’re an offshoot of Ireland’s RyanAir, meaning fees for everything — even a fee to pay for your ticket! It’s aggravating, for sure, but even once mandatory fees are factored in, they may still have the best price. The trade-off is fewer flights, meaning that if something goes wrong, you may be stuck somewhere for a while. And customer service is not this airline’s strong point.
That said, I did fly with them once, to Puerto Escondido, and fortunately, things went smoothly. This is one of those routes where a flight can be cheaper than a bus ticket. I paid about 100 pesos less going by VivaAerobus (a one-hour 20 minute flight) than by going by bus (and spending 12-14 hours on the road). So, in this case, I was willing to put up with an airline that is not customer-friendly. (FYI: Their current best price to Puerto Escondido is about MXN 1,600 pesos, or USD$135 round trip.)
Here’s a report I did on VivaAerobus last year. Fair warning though, Viva has added and increased their fees since I wrote this piece.
Aside from these four main carriers, there are two others flying within Mexico — Aeromar and MagniCharters.
Aeromar considers itself an “executive” airline, meaning it’s aimed at the business/government market, and as such, its fares tend to be high. Usually, the routes they cover have little (if any) other scheduled service, so they can get away with charging any price they want. They operate turboprops with single-class service. They do, however, have their own VIP lounges (Salon Diamante), which are available to all of their passengers.
MagniCharters is just what the name implies — a charter airline. Their focus is the leisure traveler going to the beach. If this is you, and you’re looking for a package deal, with a hotel, they may be an option for you. But their service is far less frequent than the scheduled airlines just mentioned. I flew with them one time, to Manzanillo, and had no problems.
If you’re looking for deals, you also have to consider the market/route you’re looking at. Routes with little competition will naturally have higher fares. Also, a route with a higher percentage of business/government travelers (compared to leisure travelers) will also tend to have higher fares.
So if you’re looking for the destinations likely to have the best fares, the top destinations from MEX (based on number of passengers, 2012 stats) are Cancún (3.1 million), Monterrey (2.4 m), Guadalajara (2.0 m), and Tijuana (1.1 m).
Each of the big four airlines serve Cancun (CUN), Monterrey and Guadalajara. Three of the four (except VivaAerobus) serve Tijuana (TIJ).
And speaking of Tijuana, if you’re planning a trip to the San Diego area, consider flying into Tijuana instead of San Diego. Right now, round-trip tickets to Tijuana from MEX can be had for $300 on Volaris, or $350 on Interjet. By comparison, most US airlines will charge over $500 to fly to San Diego (all with one-stop involved). And Aeromexico is charging $656 to fly to San Diego (though a much more moderate $367 to Tijuana).
Use the Airlines’ Own Websites
The bottom line, is that Mexico’s low-cost carriers are your best bets when flying within Mexico. But, only Aeromexico and Aeromar will show up in search results if you’re using a site like Expedia or Travelocity to book a flight.
If you use Kayak.com, however, they’ll also display results for Interjet and Volaris, but not VivaAerobus. In any event, you’ll have to do your booking for any of these three carriers via their own websites.
And, don’t forget, when searching for Mexico City flights on sites like Kayak or Expedia, to include Toluca airport in the search results, you’ll have to choose “Mexico City area – all airports” or simply type “MEX, TLC” in the search box.
And above all, flexibility pays off. If you can choose from a range of dates to travel, you’ll have better luck. Also, remember that Mondays, Fridays, and Sundays are usually the more expensive days to fly, while Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday are the cheapest.
In part II, we’ll take a look at the more difficult market to find airfare deals in Mexico — international flights.