Although you wouldn’t know it from all the bad airline service news, this is actually a good time to be flying internationally on a budget if you’re American. Fuel prices are still reasonable, the U.S. dollar is strong, and fewer travelers coming to the USA means more empty seats on flights.
The primary reason, however, might just be the fact that we have a lot more international budget airline choices than we’ve ever had before.
“Budget” is in the eye of the beholder in some cases, but there’s no denying we have more options. Some of them don’t show up on Skyscanner or Google Flights, however, so you may have to spend a little extra search time to shave off a few hundred bucks. Here are airlines to check for different regions.
Budget Flights to Europe
There’s been a good bit of press about flights to Europe being less expensive this summer. There are several reasons for this, but a key one is that there are more low-priced airlines crossing the Atlantic than in the past. There are 25% more routes now than there were five years ago. So it’s getting easier to find cheap international flights.
Norwegian Air has had the biggest impact, with flights from Los Angeles routinely falling below $500 round trip and promotions as low as $99 one-way. Unlike most legacy airlines, they don’t try to obscure their low-price days. You can use their low fare calendar to find the best day to fly.
IcelandAir has long been a good deal, especially if you take advantage of their stopover offering. Their low-fare extension Wow Air is bare-bones like RyanAir—you probably have to pay for a napkin or a smile if you ask for one. But the prices can still work out to be cheaper after adding in the basics you’d expect from other airlines. They fly to 7 American cities and two in Canada. Charter operator Thomas Cook Air is worth a look too.
If you live in Boston, SATA International has cheap flights to the Azores,
Boston to Algarve/Faro, Portugal – $595 (Norwegian, with checked bag)
Oakland to London Gatwick – $380 round trip (Norwegian, no checked bag)
Orlando to London Gatwick – $429 round trip (Thomas Cook Air, with checked bag)
Cheap Flights to Mexico
I covered this in detail in the post on budget airlines of Mexico, laying out the different carriers and what you can expect from them.
There’s a spectrum of what you receive and what’s extra, from Viva Aerobus being on par with Spirit and RyanAir, while Interjet is a clear step up. The former only flies Monterrey-Houston anyway, but Interjet goes from New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, and others. Volaris flies to 21 U.S. destinations.
Southwest itself flies to Mexico now too and I’ve found their flights consistently cheaper than the stingier U.S. legacy carriers, especially for a one-way ticket. They fly to Cancun, Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, and Los Cabos. Some flights are direct but most go through Houston. Westjet flies to a lot of Mexico destinations from Canada.
Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta – $235 round trip (Southwest, with 2 checked bags)
Seattle to Guadalajara – $333 round trip (Volaris, with checked bag)
Miami to Mexico City – $128 one-way (Interjet, with checked bag)
Detroit to Cancun – $224 one-way (Spirit, with checked bag)
Toronto to Cancun – $235 one-way (Westjet, with checked bag)
Budget Flights to Central America
Many of the airlines serving Mexico also fly to Central America. So when checking the options you want to do a spot check on Spirit Air, Southwest, and Interjet. Spirit flies to Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Panama. Most of these are via their Ft. Lauderdale hub, but the Honduras one comes from Houston. From any of these countries you can start and overland journey to the others and even down to South America. You might need an onward ticket of some kind though.
Volaris flies to Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and El Salvador. Interjet flies to Guatemala and Costa Rica.
Dallas to Costa Rica – $426 round trip (Southwest, with checked bags)
New York City to Nicaragua – $446 round trip (Spirit, with checked bag)
Chicago to Guatemala City – $221 one-way (Interjet, with checked bag)
The Few Cheap Flights to South America
South America may be a big land mass, but it doesn’t have nearly as much flight traffic as North America or Europe. It’s mostly a land of monopolies and duopolies: try flying to anywhere in Argentina or Chile beyond the gateway city without flying on their national carrier. In general you’ll be on a U.S. carrier, Aeromexio, Copa, LATAM, or Avianca. On routes where two or more of those operate, prices will be lower.
Colombia offers the cheapest entry point, in no small part because Spirit Air supplies some competition. That airline also flies to Lima, though that’s a long flight with such minimal legroom. There’s also an airline there called Viva Colombia that has flights to Miami, plus onward from Bogota to Ecuador and Peru.
Brazil has a carrier called Azul that flies to three cities in Florida, but the prices are cheaper one-way from Brazil to the USA than they are going the other direction. Round-trip prices are on par with the legacy carriers most of the time.
Miami to Medellin – $151 one-way (Viva Colombia with checked bag, seat assignment)
Tijuana (San Diego) to Lima – $280 one-way (Interjet with checked bag)
Ft. Lauderdale to Cartagena – $357 round trip (Spirit with checked bag)