Leveraging Low-Cost Carriers To Travel Cheaply Around Central and South America
There are so many ways you can maximize miles to get to large cities in Latin America, whether it's American or now US Airways miles on TAM and LAN, or Delta SkyMiles on Aerolineas Argentinas, among other options. Once you've arrived, low-cost carriers can be a great way to get around cheaply and avoid the often expensive fares on short-haul flights within Central and South America. Once you know the ins and outs of these carriers, you can have a low(er)-cost and hopefully stress-free trip, getting to visit even more places than you would have otherwise. Other posts in this series include Maximizing Low-Cost Carriers In Europe and Maximizing Low-Cost Carriers In Asia And The Middle East.
The thought of dealing with a low-cost airline in a foreign country may be daunting, but assuming you’ve read all the fine print and are aware of all the rules and fees (which I will do my best to outline throughout this post) it can be easy and a great way to save money that you can later spend on other experience while you are there, like dining, cultural or tourism activities.
One thing I noticed about Latin American low-cost carriers in general is that a lot of them allow you to check one bag included in the price. However, beware as the weight limit for many carry on bags is much lower than usual, and can be as little as 3-5 kg (7-11 lbs).
Another general thing to note is that they seem to have more simplified policies than many low-cost carriers on other continents. They don't seem to fuss much about having your boarding pass printed or different fare classes and a lot of extras. This could be due to the fact that many of these airlines are quite small and operate only within one country. That being said, each does have a rule or two that could throw you off your game, so read on below for details.
*Please keep in mind that these rules and regulations are extremely specific and constantly changing. The below information is a basic guide to some of the most popular low-cost carriers, but before flying, make sure to check the website for new information and details. If you have any personal experience experiences or tips with these low-cost carriers or others in Asia we’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.
Aerocon is a Bolivian Airline, headquartered in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. This airline started flying in 2006.
Routes: Aerocon operates flights to several cities within Bolivia, such as La Paz, Sucre and Yacuiba.
Sample Itinerary: La Paz/ Trinidad, Bolivia, May 24-28, 2014
Aerocon Price: $164
Amazonas Price: $458
Carry-On Baggage: Each passenger can bring one small purse or bag, not exceeding 30 x 35 x 25 cm (11.8 x 13.7 x 9.8 in) and not weighing more than 3 kg (6.6 lbs). Additionally, you can carry a book, magazine, or jacket.
Checked Baggage: Each adult passenger can check one bag weighing up to 20 kg (44 lbs). A child 2-12 years old can check up to 12 kg (26 lbs). You will be subject to fees if your bag weighs more.
Check In: You may be asked to present the credit card you purchased the ticket with during check in. Additionally, you may be required to pay a small airport tax.
*Another option for flights within Bolivia is Amaszonas, however it is debatable to whether or not this carrier is truly a low-cost.
Azul Airlines is a Brazilian-based low-cost carrier. Founded by Brazilian-born David Neeleman, co-founder of WestJet and JetBlue, this airline began flying in 2008. They now partner with United, so you can bank valuable MileagePlus miles on your flights- while saving money versus flying the competition. I recently flew them from Recife to Fernando de Noronha and had a very positive experience overall.
Routes: Azul flies to over 100 destinations within Brazil.
Sample Itinerary: Sao Paolo GRU/Recife, Brazil, May 23-28, 2014
Azul Price: 473 BRL ($210)
TAM Price: 1,006 BRL ($449)
Carry-On Baggage: Each passenger can carry on one bag weighing up to 5 kg (11 lbs) and the sum of the width, height and depth measurements should be no more than 115 cm (45 in).
Checked Baggage: Each passenger can check one bag weighing up to 23 kg (5o lbs).
Seat Selection: For a small fee, you can select extra legroom, which gives you 86 cm (33 in) of space between your seat and the seat in front of you. You can add this in as an extra, or comes with the Flex Fare.
Extras: Select planes/routes offer TV screens in every seat. Azul is the first airline in Latin America to offer live TV on its aircraft with 48 live channels and 9 channels with recorded programming.
Easyfly is a Colombian low-cost carrier based in Bogota. They began operating in 2007.
Routes: Easyfly flies to several cities within Colombia, like Cartagena, Yopal and Medellin.
Sample Itinerary: Medellin/Bucaramanga Colombia, May 23-28, 2014.
Copa Airlines: $230
Carry-On Baggage: Each passenger can carry on a bag weighing up to 5 kg with a maximum size of 35 x 15 cm (14 x 6 in).
Checked Baggage: Each passenger check one bag weighing up to 15 kg and not exceeding 25 x 40 x 61 cm (9.8 x 15.7 x 24 in).
GOL Airlines is a low-cost carrier headquartered in Brazil. Their first flight occurred in 2001.
Routes: GOL is one of the bigger Latin American low-cost airlines, with flights not only throughout Brazil, but also to several other countries such as Argentina, USA, Bolivia, Paraguay, Venezuela the Dominican Republic and more.
Sample Itinerary: Rio de Janiero, Brazil/Miami, USA, May 23-28, 2014
Carry-On Baggage: Regardless of destination, passengers are allowed one carry on weighing up to 5 kg (11 lbs).
Checked Baggage: Each passenger is allowed the following on the specific flights below:
- Domestic: Any number of bags weighing up to 23 kg (50 lbs) total.
- International destinations in South America: Any number of bags weighing up 23 kg (50 lbs) total.
- International destinations in North America: two bags weighing 32 kg (71 lbs) if departing from Brazil.
One bag weighing up to 23 kg (50 lbs) if departing from other countries.
- International destinations in Caribbean or Central America: One bag weighing up to 23 kg (50 lbs).
The sum of any one item cannot exceed the size of 157 cm (62 inches). If you are part of the Smiles Loyalty Program, depending on your elite status, you can check more luggage or have higher weight limits.
Smiles Frequent Flyer Program: This program allows you to earn miles when you fly on GOL. You can also get upgrades, discounts, higher baggage allowances, and visit the lounges, depending on status level. There are four levels, Smiles, Smiles Silver, Smiles Gold and Smiles Diamond. Smiles is partners with Delta SkyMiles, meaning if you have elite benefits on one, you may be able to enjoy elite benefits on the other. You can redeem GOL miles not only on GOL Airlines but also on Iberia, Delta, KLM, Air France and Qatar Airways.
Interjet is a low-cost carrier operating out of Mexico City, Mexico.
Routes: Interjet flies throughout Mexico and to a few other Latin American cities such as Bogota and several destinations within the US, like Miami, New York and Las Vegas.
Sample Itinerary: Mexico City, MX/New York (JFK), USA, May 23-30, 2014
Carry-On Baggage: Two carry on bags per passenger are permitted, with a total weight of 10 kg (22 lbs).
Checked Baggage: Two checked bags per passenger are permitted on either international or domestic routes within Mexico. The total weight of both bags cannot exceed 110 lbs (55 lbs maximum for each one).
Club Interjet: Club Interjet is a loyalty program that gives you "cash" to use towards future flights. Every time you purchase a flight, as a club member, you will get 10% back into your electronic wallet. Use it as a discount on your next flight, or let it accumulate to cover a future flight in full.
Peruvian Airlines is a small low-cost carrier that operates only within Peru. The airline started flying in 2008.
Routes: Peruvian Airlines flies between Lima, Arequipa, Cuzco, Iquitos, Tacna, Piura, Pucallpa and Tarapoto, Peru.
Sample Itinerary: Lima to Cuzco, Peru, May 23-28, 2014.
Peruvian Airlines: $216
Carry-On Baggage: Each passenger is allowed one carry on item weighing up to 5 kg (11 lbs).
Checked Baggage: Each passenger is allowed to check two pieces of luggage with the total not exceeding 25 kg (55 lbs). There is an excess baggage charge of $ 1.77 (tax) included per each kg over weight.
Peruvian Pass: This is the loyalty program for Peruvian Air, where passengers can earn kilometers (not miles) to later obtain free flights. There are three levels to the program: Classic, Gold and Platinum. You can move up status levels depending on the number of kilometers you have flown.
*Another option for flights within Peru is the tiny low-cost carrier Star Peru, which operates flights within eight Peruvian cities.
Sky Airline is a Chilean low-cost carrier based in the Santiago, Chile. The airline considers itself to be "semi low-cost".
Routes: The airline flies mainly to destinations within Chile, but also operates a few flights to Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Peru.
Sample Itinerary: Santiago/Iquique, Chile, May 23-28, 2014
Sky Airlines: $248
Carry On Baggage: Each passenger is allowed one piece of carry on baggage to 43 x 41 x 23 cm (17 x 16 x9 in), including the handle, pockets and wheels. The maximum weight allowed is 5 kg (11 lbs) on domestic flights and 8 kg (17 lbs) on international flights. Additionally, each passenger may carry one of the following personal items: a purse, small backpack, video camera, laptop or diaper bag (if traveling with an infant).
Checked Baggage: Each passenger is allowed to check one bag and will receive at check-in a baggage tag that MUST be shown at the final destination, so don't lose it! The maximum weight of the bag is 20 kg (44lbs) on domestic routes within Chile, and 32 kg (70lbs) for international routes.
*Another option for low-cost Chilean service is PAL Airlines, which operates within just six cities in Chile.
Volaris is a Mexican low-cost carrier based out of Mexico City. They also offer a codeshare partnership with German airline, Condor.
Routes: Volaris flies throughout Mexico and to a number of US destinations, such as Chicago, LA, Phoenix, San Jose, Orlando, Fresno, Denver and more.
Sample Itinerary: Mexico City, MX/Chicago ORD, USA, May 24-31, 2014
US Airways: $506
Carry-On Baggage: Each passenger can bring one carry on item, with a maximum size of 9.8 x 15.7 x 15.7 inches and a maximum weight of 15 lbs. Additionally, a small personal item can be taken on the plane. This is valid for both domestic and international flights.
Checked Baggage: Each passenger is allowed to check one bag of 55 lbs maximum on both domestic and international flights. The total size cannot exceed 62 inches.
VClub: VClub is a yearly membership club in which you pay $49 per year to join. With this membership, you get discounts on flights, promotions and offers. For example, in the sample itinerary priced above, a regular fare round trip Mexico City to Chicago would be $304. The VClub price offered was $264 which is almost the entire membership fee covered in one round trip. If you plan on flying at least a few times a year with Volaris, this could be a useful club to join.
Volaris Invex Visa: This credit card gives cardholders benefits like lounge access in the Mexico City airport, extra baggage allowance, discounted parking at the Mexico City airport and priority boarding.
VivaAerobus is a Mexican low-cost airline co-owned by the founders of everyone's "favorite" low-cost airline, Ryanair, and the biggest bus company in Mexico, IAMSA.
Routes: VivaAerobus operates flights throughout Mexico and also to Houston, Texas.
Sample Itinerary: Mexico City/Cancun, MX, May 24-31 2014
VivaAerobus: $62 (no checked bag) $72 (one checked bag 15 kg)
Fare Types: Viva Light, Viva Basic and Viva Plus.
- Viva Light: One carry on weighing up to 10 kg (22 lbs) with a maximum size of 55 X 40 X 20 cm (21.6 x 17.7 x 8 in), no checked baggage
- Viva Basic: One carry on weighing up to 10 kg (22 lbs) with a maximum size of 55 X 40 X 20 cm (21.6 x 17.7 x 8 in), 1 checked bag weighing up to 15 kg (33 lbs) with a total maximum size of 158 cm (62 in).
- Viva Plus: One carry on weighing up to 10 kg (22 lbs) with a maximum size of 55 X 40 X 20 cm (21.6 x 17.7 x 8 in), 1 checked bag weighing up to 25 kg (55 lbs) with a total maximum size of 158 cm (62 in). This also comes with Viva Express.
Viva Pass: You can purchase the Viva Pass with any fare class, which costs $11 and allows you to have priority boarding.
Viva Express: For $6, you can purchase the Viva Express which allows you to have priority check in.
Viva Colombia is a Colombian low-cost carrier, as it's name suggests. The company's headquarters are located in Medellin.
Routes: This low-cost airline flies between 11 destinations in Colombia.
Sample Itinerary: Medellin/Bogota, Colombia, May 23-28, 2014.
Viva Colombia: $51
Carry-On Baggage: Each passenger is allowed one carry on item with a maximum weight of 6 kg (13 lbs) and a maximum size of 40 x 35 x 25 cm (15.7 x 13.7 x 9.8 in). This bag must fit underneath the seat in front of you. If you want to put a bag in the overhead bins, you must pay extra. The dimensions of this second must not exceed 55 x 45 x 25 cm (21.6 x 17.7 x 9.8 in) or weigh more than 12 kg (26 lbs). The cost if purchased online for the second bag is just over $10 one way. If you wait until you arrive at the airport, it will cost double.
Checked Baggage: Each passenger is allowed to check bags for a fee. One bag weighing up to 20 kg (44 lbs) with a total size of 158 cm (62 in) costs just over $10 one way. The second bag is just over $20. This will double if you don't reserve the bags online ahead of time and do it at the airport.
Check In: If done online, check in is free. If you need to check in and print your boarding pass at the airport, the cost will be $13. If you only need to print your boarding pass at the airport but have already checked in, the cost is just over $10 to do so.
Priority Boarding: Priority boarding costs $2.59 if booked ahead of time, per flight.