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The Best Mexican Airlines for Budget Travel

Can you name more than one or two Mexican airlines? Did you know they fly to more than 100 destinations, including many in the USA?

It turns out there are a whole bunch of them and if you’re looking for cheap flights to Mexico, the best airlines are often budget Mexican airlines rather than ones from the United States.

Mexico budget airlines

Mexico has been a great travel bargain for many years thanks to a strong dollar and weak peso, plus no matter where you go there the weather is better than most states and provinces to the north. In the winter the Mexican beaches are inviting, while in the summer the central colonial highlands are cooler than much of the USA because of the altitude. 

One of the other main reasons that around 35 to 40 million travelers a year flock there in a normal (non-pandemic) year though is that it is relatively easy to fly to Mexico for a good price for your vacation. Plus it keeps getting easier with the proliferation of low-cost carriers. A relaxation of rules over the years has led to more competition at key airports.

With Southwest Airlines flying there plus the Mexican airlines adding capacity, there are sometimes opportunities to go with an airline that charges you less for your vacation luggage when you have already paid for your flight ticket. (Or if you do face baggage charges, the fare difference will usually outweigh that.) 

You can find a flight on the usual suspects like American Airlines and United, plus JetBlue, Frontier Airlines, and Spirit, but your best choice might be a Mexican airline. It’s getting to a point where there are more cheap domestic airlines in Mexico than there are in the post-consolidation USA. You’ve long been able to get there on Aeromexico from many cities around North America, but now there are more alternatives between the two countries for cheap trips to Mexico.

Note – This budget Mexican airlines article was updated in September of 2022.

Alternate Mexican Airlines for Cheap Flights 

Sure, everyone has heard of the largest airline in Mexico, the national airline Aeromexico and that one has been around for ages, but they only occasionally offer prices any better than the legacy U.S. carriers, despite their lower labor costs. Plus you usually have to go through their hub unless you’re going to Mexico City already. They are a partner of Delta so in theory you earn Skymiles on their flights, but I’m still waiting for credit from Delta for 8 segments that happened last year.

Now and then I’ve found a deal on Aeromexico, including once getting business class flights for a great price during the covid crisis, but they’re not known for low prices. You’ll usually find better bargains usually with the budget Mexican airlines below.

f you see “Aeromexico Connect,” figure that’s just a budget airline with small planes coasting on their name. You’ll get hit with extra fees as much as with the low-cost airlines, so you might as well just go with one of those and pay less overall.

Volaris Mexican Airline

Volaris now bills itself as “The ultra low-cost airline offering the cheapest flights” and indeed they do often win the battle for cheap flights to Mexico in destinations they serve. Competing full-on with the other low-cost airlines these days, Volaris adds lots of fees for services you would normally expect to be included. (They have 23 different codes just for all the different kinds of bag fees, but you can still usually bring a carry-on for no charge.)

Volaris is still better than Viva Aerobus (see below) and has a good number of direct domestic flights that enable you to avoid going through Mexico City’s chaotic airport. Since there are direct flights within Mexico for less than $50, you can probably afford the bag fee.

What my wife and I have done before is have one person check a bag and the other not, then put all the heavy things in the checked bag. We flew one-way to Los Cabos like this for $120 one way—for two! 

Mexican airlines - Volaris

Their big advantage though is they fly to an impressive 24 destinations in the USA, including smaller markets such as Austin, Baltimore, Milwaukee, and Portland—along with some big markets like Los Angeles. If you plan ahead those flights are often crazy cheap, especially from Las Vegas.

That’s the base fare though. When I checked a one-way flight from Chicago to Leon a month from now, the base fare was $170 but the fees were $77 more. They bundle these together in three options, which could accurately be called “minimum,” “decent,” and “Southwest amenities plus a seat assignment.” When Interjet was around, it was a better option since they didn’t charge you for a snack or drink, but they’re gone and Volaris has apparently taken most of their market share along with the extra goodies: the airline is up 40% in volume compared to 2019 and they fly at 80% average capacity. 

The airline keeps expanding too: Volaris destinations now include Costa Rica in Central America, Colombia, and Peru in South America.

Aeromar of Mexico

Aeromar is an oddity because it mostly flies prop planes instead of jets. Its original mission was to shuttle oil workers to places people had no reason to visit otherwise, but over the years they have expanded into leisure destinations too.

It feels kind of strange these days to get into a plane with propellers that seats more than 10, but inside it’s like any other modern airplane.

Aeromar Mexican airline

Aeromar has gone from 27 to 19 to 24 destinations the past few years and their only U.S. destinations are Loredo and McAllen in Texas, plus Havana in Cuba. They are sometimes, but not always the cheapest option for second-tier cities they serve such as Zihuatanejo, Puebla, and Oaxaca. They have some odd combos that could be useful for the right person, like Laredo to Puerto Escondido and Merida to Cozumel.

One checked bag and a carry-on are included, giving them a huge edge when comparing prices. Aeromar is now 49% owned by Avianca, so hopefully they’ll be sticking around for a while.

Viva Aerobus

Viva Aerobus Mexico airline

What would happen if RyanAir and Spirit got married and moved to Mexico? Viva Aerobus!

If you don’t mind paying as much in fees as you paid for your fare, this is the Mexican airline for you. They follow the much-hated playbook of charging you for everything that they can get away with, including seat selection, packing a carry-on, or getting a boarding pass at the counter. They are basically competing with the very nice local bus companies—thus the name—but the Mexican buses have more legroom and don’t keep reaching into your pocket.

The total fares can be far cheaper than the bus though, especially for long distances. I’ve seen Mexico City to Cancun on some dates for about $60 round trip. Even if you check a bag, bring a carry-on, and pick your seat, a one-way fare can come in under $100.

As with Allegiant and Spirit, it can be worth it to pony up for the fees to save overall. And as with those airlines and Ryanair, sometimes it is actually cheaper to check a bag than to bring a carry-on. 

They also have a price guarantee that they won’t be undersold, but there’s a lot of fine print.

Their international expansion has been on and off over the years and my wife just had to get a chargeback on her credit card when Viva Aerobus stopped flying the international route she was booked on. We did fly it to Houston once though, squeezed into seats with some of the stingiest seat pitches you’ll find anywhere.

These days they fly to Colombia, Cuba, and 10 destinations in the USA. Often you have to go through Monterrey though, which is not going to be the first choice for many vacationers, especially if they don’t speak Spanish well. I have only flown this one once, but have another flight with them coming up between Cancun and Guanajuato that was $92 all-in with a checked bag. If it’s a short flight and you’re not very tall, consider Aerobus.

TAR Aerolineas

Mexican budget airline TAR

This unfortunately named airline is not stuck to the ground. It reaches 26 destinations from coast to coast across Mexico with its 50-seat jets. From its hub in Queretaro (near San Miguel de Allende) it originally flew to tropical beaches and still does. I took a flight direct from Queretaro to Puerto Vallarta. The only odd thing was my boarding pass, which looked like a receipt from CVS.

TAR Aerolineas adds and drops destinations with alarming frequency, so don’t plan too far ahead. Besides a lot of beach spots among its 19 current destinations, it also flies to Guadalajara, Morelia, and Durango. You can sort of get to the USA with TAR: they fly to Tijuana where it’s a short hop across the border to San Diego.

The website is now in English, though it has a habit of blocking visitors from international locations. You won’t find these flights on Kayak, so you’ll have to pull it up when you’re searching for flights within Mexico. If you do you might connect between two cities you didn’t know had air connections or get a deal like I found for $50 one-way between Guadalajara and Mazatlan. You can check one bag and bring a carry-on with no charge.

Calafia Airlines

This upstart airline based in Los Cabos flies planes as small as 13 passengers up to Embraer jets with 3 seats across. As you’d expect, they’ve got Baja destinations such as La Paz and Loreto covered, but they also fly to San Diego. They scaled back a good bit during the pandemic and now only goes as far east in Mexico as Chihuahua and Guadalajara. 

Just understand the long hauls may require a few stops. You’re allowed one checked bag and a small carry-on, but must pay for anything to eat or drink.

Guanajuato to Los Cabos less than $100

MAYAir

Not to be confused with Maya Island Air of Belize, this Mexican airline based out of Cancun flies to Cozumel, Chetumal, Merida, Veracruz, and Villahermosa. So no international flights, but it gets you close to Belize anyway if you’re headed south and are willing to go overland or by ferry to Ambergris Caye. They’ll get you ready for the Belize experience too because these are all prop planes.

Aerotucán

If you’re wanting to get from Oaxaca City to somewhere else in that region, Aerotucan has monopolistic prices but could save a day or two of your life that you would have otherwise spent on a bus. Until the highway through mountain tunnels the government has been planning for 20 years finally happens.

This airline flies between the Oaxaca capital city and the coastal Mexican destinations of Puerto Escondido and Huatulco. The website is really only in Spanish because all the English pages have text like this on them: 

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You can check a bag up to 15 kilos of weight. These are small planes flying into smaller airports…

What Happened to Interjet?

Great legroom on Interjet Mexican airlineMany considered Interjet to be the most pleasant of the Mexico airlines, especially for an international flight. While others were adding seats, Interjet was removing them to give more legroom than any other airline. Look at this photo to the right. When’s the last time you saw that much legroom in economy class? 

Unfortunately, they did a better job pleasing customers than they did managing their finances and as soon as the pandemic hit, they started a painful slide into bankruptcy that was full of bluster and denial. Along the way they stopped paying employees for weeks and had to cancel some flights because they didn’t have enough money for fuel!

Interjet will be sadly missed because they were often the best value from the right U.S. airports, sometimes selling a sub-$100 flight from Miami to Mexico City. I could sometimes find flights for less than $150 (no checked bag) from my Guanajuato home to the USA. I once flew them with my family from Mexico City to Puerto Escondido. The flights came out to be about $20 each more than the very long bus ride would have been.

This was a big loss for connectivity, so hopefully someone else will jump in to fill the gap–and use up all those planes just sitting idle. 

Final Notes on Budget Airlines in Mexico

There are a few things to note about budget Mexican airlines. First, in-flight entertainment is rare, so bring your own fun. Since you’ll usually pay for a seat reservation, you might as well pay for a good seat because the difference between the worst seat and the best seat is often $12 or less. Seat comfort is going to be lousy usually, so at least get more room by paying for an exit row or bulkhead.

You’ll pay for anything to eat or drink on most of the above, so plan accordingly. Prices for drinks are much more reasonable though than you see on Delta Airlines or other U.S. carriers.

While in theory these airlines have online check-in, the online check-in process is only occasionally straightforward or in English. Sometimes the site just plain doesn’t work and gives you an error message.

Then it can be chaos at the airport, with three employees checking in 400 people, so arrive more than two hours early unless you’ve paid extra to get in the priority line. You often get what you pay for when it comes to customer service online or at the gate, though once in the air it’s usually better than you’d expect.

So there you have it. If you’re looking for cheap flights to Mexico City or a bargain getaway for a Mexican beach vacation, look beyond the legacy U.S. and Canadian airlines. You’ll probably get the same or better service and face similar fees, but you’ll get a better price if you go with one of the Mexican airlines instead.

Jax Bal

Tuesday 16th of October 2018

We're Canadian and flew direct from Toronto to Cancun on Interjet and loved it! You can bring a backpack for your free carry on along with a personal item (ie. a purse), seats were comfortable, plus they give you a drink, snack and sandwich at no charge at a very good price. I just booked directly through their website.

Steve F

Monday 26th of February 2018

I fly from Mexico City to Ciudad Juarez on a regular basis. I think grab an Uber from the airport to the border and then walk across into El Paso. It is a lot cheaper and faster to go this route than to fly directly into El Paso; often for less than $140 each way versus $300 and only takes 3 hours versus a 7 hour flight because a layover. I have flown both Viva Aerobus and Interjet. My wife and I used to prefer Viva Aerobus when we flew up because we would travel to the US with empty suitcases and then return on Interjet with their generous checked baggage policy. Since Viva Aerobus changed their method of charges, we only fly Interjet; in the end, it is cheaper to do that with Interjet versus the Viva Aerobus charges on top of the ticket.

Tim Leffel

Wednesday 28th of February 2018

Thanks for the tip Steve! I have friends who fly to Tijuana for the same reason, crossing into San Diego instead of flying there. I've actually never been on Aerobus. Too much like Spirit Air with a charge for anything and everything. There always seems to be a better alternative where I'm going.

Scoops in DC

Monday 24th of April 2017

This is exceptional - thanks Tim!

Tim Leffel

Sunday 29th of January 2017

Thanks for this---a new option I didn't know about.