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Flying Mexico’s Low Cost Airline Volaris: Worth It or Budget Bust?

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Earlier this spring, my family had the opportunity to fly on an airline that was new to us – ultra-low cost carrier Volaris. Volaris is a Mexico-based airline that also flies to about 20 U.S. destinations.

A lot of Americans – even frequent flyers – have never even heard of Volaris. So how did it end up on our radar? My brother-in-law’s new wife is from San Miguel de Allende, and the happy couple decided to have their wedding in her hometown. The most direct way for us to get there from the San Francisco Bay Area was a non-stop flight from our hometown Oakland Airport to nearby Leon/Bajio Guanajuato International Airport (BJX) aboard Volaris.

Volaris Airplane in Mexico

So, was the Volaris experience a travel success or a budget blunder? What lessons did we learn from our first-hand travel adventures with this lesser-known airline?

If you are like me, you probably pause as soon as you hear the descriptor “ultra-low cost airline.” I’ve flown ultra-low cost carriers before (see my takes on Frontier Airlines, easyJet in Europe, and coming soon – ZIPAIR to Japan), so I had no illusions that the Volaris experience was going to be anything but basic.

Often the key to flying low cost carriers successfully is information. If you do the legwork to know what to expect, you can (usually) avoid being taken by surprise with fees and rules. When I was booking and preparing for our flight, however, I found very little authoritative up-to-date English-language information about Volaris on the web to guide us.

Thankfully, we had family word of mouth to rely on. Both my my brother-in-law and new sister-in-law gave us the scoop, in addition to my cousin who lived in Mexico until recently and flew Volaris regularly with her kids. After flying the airline ourselves, I wanted to pass along this information to other English-speaking travelers – both our own experience as well as the helpful tips that our family shared.

Read on to find out what you need to know if you are considering flying Volaris or if you’ve already booked a trip and want to avoid day-of-travel mistakes.

Volaris Basics

Volaris Airlines Wingtip

So what are the basics that travelers need to know about Volaris? Volaris is hardly new, but still seems like an upstart in the grand scheme of things. Started less than two decades ago, it has grown quickly to become the largest airline currently flying in Mexico.

Volaris only flies to destinations in North, Central and South America. The airline offers about 400 daily flights into 71 airports. The largest hubs are in Mexico City (MEX), Guadalajara (GDL), and Tijuana (TIJ).

In the U.S., the airports with Volaris flights are:

  • Arizona: Phoenix (PHX)
  • California: Oakland (OAK), San Jose (SJC), Sacramento (SMF), Los Angeles (LAX), Fresno (FAT), Ontario (ONT)
  • Colorado: Denver (DEN)
  • Florida: Miami (MIA), Orlando (MCO)
  • Illinois: Chicago O’Hare (ORD), Chicago Midway (MDW)
  • Nevada: Reno (RNO), Las Vegas (LAS)
  • New York: New York (JFK)
  • North Carolina: Charlotte (CLT)
  • Oregon: Portland (PDX)
  • Texas: Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW), Houston (IAH), McAllen (MFE), San Antonio (SAT)
  • Washington: Seattle (SEA)

Volaris had a partnership with Southwest Airlines years ago, but has been aligned with Frontier Airlines for the last few years to provide connecting service to additional U.S. destinations.

Volaris’s fleet is comprised of only Airbus aircraft – all A319s, A320s, and A321s. These are all single aisle planes with three seats on either side of the aisle.

Our Experience Flying Volaris

Volaris Gate at Oakland Airport
Boarding our Volaris flight at OAK.

As I already mentioned, we flew from the (newly renamed) San Francisco Bay Oakland International Airport (OAK) to Leon/Bajio Guanajuato International Airport (BJX).

We started looking at flights more than 7 months in advance, but didn’t end up booking until about 4 months out.

After crunching the numbers, we ultimately booked the “Basic Fare” that included a larger size carry-on bag for all four of my family members. Since we were taking a quick trip from Thursday afternoon to Sunday morning for the wedding, we decided we could manage with carry-on bags only.

Volaris Basic Fare Whats Included

We also purchased seat assignments because we wanted to sit together on the medium-haul flight. That said, we bought the cheapest seats in the back half of the plane (between $10.99-$13.19 each).

Volaris Seat Assignment Cost

Our flights plus extras totaled $484.01 per person roundtrip – not a bargain basement price but also very reasonable for an international trip during a peak season. Note that some of that cost was mandatory fees that Mexico charges to international tourists.

Both of our travel days on Volaris went off without a hitch with only a few minute delay on the outbound. We cut things very close at Oakland Airport on our departure day, arriving at the airport just over an hour before our flight time, as we were trying to let our kids finish the school day before we flew. With no bags to check and TSA PreCheck, the gamble paid off and we made it no problem. Volaris tends to use the gate right next to Oakland’s Terminal 1 checkpoint for most of its flights so that was especially convenient. That said, I recommend arriving 2 hours ahead for most travelers. Do as I say – not as I do!

Related: Tips for Speeding Through Airport Security with Kids

On the return, we arrived much earlier. We found BJX small and streamlined, so we had to kill quite a bit of extra time at an airport lounge before our flight. Our flight home departed and arrived perfectly on time.

Tips for Booking & Flying Aboard Volaris

Volaris Ticket Counters in BJX Airport

What tips did we learn from the travel experience that can help other travelers? From finding and booking a flight, to preparing for your travel day, to the on-board experience itself, here are all the Volaris essentials you need to know.

1. Volaris flights are a bit harder to find and often require travel flexiblity.

Volaris flights only run a few times a week between many destinations in the U.S. and Mexico.

While Volaris is a pretty large airline, you might just miss it if you aren’t really looking for it. It is searchable and findable on Google Flights as well as most major online travel agencies (OTA’s) like Kayak and Expedia. But it isn’t on the ITA Matrix which is where I often start my flight research. So be aware you may need to go looking for it depending on what search tools you use.

Even if you are using tools where it’s available, you still might miss it because of its flight schedules. Between the U.S. and Mexico, Volaris flies some routes only a couple of times a week. If you are searching for a flight on a specific day, Volaris might not come up in your searches at all.

When we were looking at flights, Volaris was only flying one flight a day between Oakland and BJX – and only on five days of the week. But it also flies a few times a week between nearby San Jose (SJC) and Sacramento (SMF). We considered booking one or both flights into an alternate airport had we needed to travel on a different day or at a different time.

Related: Guide to San Francisco Bay Area Airports

The bottom line? You definitely have to work a little bit harder to find Volaris flights but the advantage is savings if your travels are somewhat flexible.

One other note about schedules – thankfully at least, the airline does traditionally release its flight schedules quite far in advance, particularly for an ultra-low cost carrier. As of the date this article was published, flights as late as March 2025 (10 months in advance) are already on sale. So you don’t have to worry too much about overlooking Volaris even if you are planning a trip many months in advance.

2. Pre-purchase the right fares and extras (do the math!)

Volaris Airline Fare Types and Cost

Like many ultra-low cost carriers, Volaris sells a variety of flight bundles and amenities. This can get confusing during the booking process. Nevertheless, it’s really important think through what you really need before you book and do the math.

Yes, this part is time consuming (and you may need a spreadsheet to help), but it can save you big.

Volaris offers three fare types: Zero, Basic, and Plus. These fare types are clearly offered in a straightforward manner during the online booking process.

  • Zero fares are aptly named and include nothing but a ticket on the flight and the ability to bring a small personal item.
  • Basic fares include a personal item and a larger carry-on bag (22 x 16 x 10 cm), as well as the right to “forward your flight at the airport” (which is only useful on routes the airline flies multiple times daily).
  • Plus fares include all of the same features as Basic as well as a 55 pound checked bag, priority boarding, and the ability to refund or change flights at no cost.

Volaris also sells both checked and carry-on bags a la carte as well as seat assignments. Seat assignments vary in price based on location on the plane and based on the route flown, but expect a range from about $10-35 on U.S. to Mexico medium haul routes. Carry-on bags on the same U.S. to Mexico routes are usually around $35-40 a la carte and checked bags are approximately $60-75.

Volaris A La Carte Bag Fees

The difference in price between the Zero fare and the Basic fare tends to be $30 or less, meaning it’s usually cheaper to buy the Basic fare than to pay for an a la carte carry-on bag with a Zero fare. But for travelers who plan to check a bag who won’t also need a larger carry on, it’s cheaper to pay a la carte for the checked bag instead of purchasing the Plus fare (Plus fares tend to cost $100 or more higher than the Zero fares).

For families, the math can get more complicated. A family of four, for example, could save more money buying Zero fares and then paying a la carte for a single checked bag and a single carry-on bag to share compared to each person purchasing a Basic fare and bringing their own carry-on bag.

3. Check-in with Volaris’s app

Volaris App Screenshots
Fully functional Volaris app is easy to use and very convenient.

So many low cost carriers skimp on technology, so my expectations for the check-in process were really low. Much to my surprise, I went to the Volaris app 24 hours before our flight and found it worked as well as (if not better than) many other big name airlines around the world.

I was able to fully check-in for my international trip for four people in minutes. The app was equipped with the ability to photograph and “read” passport information so I didn’t have to manually enter passport numbers and expiration dates.

At the end, the app issued mobile boarding passes for everyone in my traveling family that I was able to add to my iPhone’s Apple Wallet. The boarding passes also had our TSA PreCheck designation on them for the outbound flight so we could use the faster security line in OAK (note: I entered our PreCheck numbers at the time of booking but always doubt whether those things will stick!).

Since we weren’t checking bags, we were able to skip the ticket counter and go straight to our gate both in Oakland and in Leon, making our trip super-speedy.

One word of warning though for carry-on only passengers who skip the ticket counter. We did encounter a bit of a potential snag at BJX on the return. While we were in the lounge, some friends on the same flight texted us and said they were announcing our name at the gate. Apparently, even if you have mobile boarding passes and have already scanned passports in the app to check-in, you may need to make sure you let the gate agent do an additional physical scan of your passports before the boarding process starts on the return flight from Mexico back to the U.S. That’s something I’ve never experienced before so make sure you have completed it before Volaris’s 1 hour cutoff time!

4. Plan for bag limits and rules… but don’t stress this part too much

Volaris Airlines Personal Item Bag Sizer at Gate
Volaris bag sizer – that I didn’t see anyone have to use.

Ultra-low cost airlines are often notorious for super-strict baggage rules. Many of them will weigh and size check every single item you bring in the hopes of making passengers have to pay even more for their carry-ons and personal items.

Our family was carrying on for a short weekend trip, so I paid meticulous attention to the bag weight limits and sizing. We even avoided bringing our usual largest carry-on size rollaboard which was about 3/4 of an inch over the published dimension limits – just in case.

Volaris has two different weight limits for carry-on bags on its website that made our preparation somewhat confusing. When I booked, the Basic fare I selected had this language “The combined weight of the personal item and carry-on bag must not exceed 33 lb.” Volaris’s website FAQ had this language: “The combined weight of the personal item and carry-on bag must not exceed 44 lb.”

I’m still not sure what the weight limit rule is but the good news is that we didn’t see anyone actually having to weigh or size their carry-on bags or personal items. Volaris doesn’t seem to be as strict as some ultra-low cost carriers on this front. I suspect that if you apply a rule of reason and don’t stand out with extra large carry-ons or too many personal items, you’ll likely be fine.

5. Prepare for minimal English

I’ve flown a lot of international carriers over the years and am used to announcements being in two or more languages on flights between different countries. I figured that a flight between California and Mexico would be fully and effortlessly bilingual in both English and Spanish. But surprise – it wasn’t!

Some of the most important announcements like the safety briefing were of course replicated in English, but we were surprised as how little English was spoken at every stage of our journey. This is likely due to the fact that the vast majority of travelers on the airline are Mexican nationals or Americans with family in Mexico who are fluent in Spanish themselves. There are simply not as many Americans traveling on leisure trips who use the airline.

I think this could potentially trip up a very inexperienced flyer who doesn’t know Spanish, especially in a case of irregular operations. We were able to navigate the language barrier okay being frequent travelers and watching for non-verbal signals (my husband speaks passable Spanish, but I was not relying on him so I could note how a non-Spanish speaker like me would handle things traveling alone).

If you don’t speak Spanish, you definitely need to stick close to the gate and pay attention. Know as well that gate agents and flight attendants do usually speak English. So if you are confused, just ask for individual help. Just don’t expect all information to necessarily be communicated more generally by default.

6. Expect a budget-level hard product on board

Volaris Airplane Cabin and Flight Attendant
Volaris A320 cabin.

Volaris advertises that it has the youngest fleet in Mexico, with an average plane age of just 5 years old. But what we experienced in-flight in the aircraft cabin itself felt pretty old – or at least pretty woefully maintained. Travelers truly need to expect that the airline’s hard product is likely to be exactly what you paid that cheap fare for – very basic.

The cabin is economy class only, with no first-class or wider seat option. There are a few extra legroom seats that the airline charges an additional fee for. (Note that these seats often in exit rows or bulkheads and sometimes have a tray table in the arm rest which narrows seat width, which may cancel out some of the comfort of the extra legroom.)

Seat pitch in the standard economy seats on both of our flights was the tightest I’ve ever experienced on a jet aircraft with a 3-3 configuration. My long-legged older daughter’s knees nearly skimmed the seat in front of her (and she’s only 5’6″). A taller-than-average person would likely find it pretty tight.

Legroom on Volaris A320 Airport
Super tight legroom on Volaris.

Thankfully at least, the foot area was unimpeded and we were able to put our personal items (backpacks that were the airline’s maximum size) under the seat in front of us with no problem.

The seat area was definitely not the cleanest, and at least one of our tray tables on one flight looked like it hadn’t been wiped down in a few years. Thank goodness for the travel-sized Lysol wipes I always pack in my carry-on.

Volaris Dirty Airplane Tray Table
Definitely the dirtiest tray table I’ve seen in a long time!

Several of our tray tables were also broken on one or both sides, so they really didn’t lay flat. Plus-size travelers may also find them a tighter squeeze when folded down than on any other airline (likely because of that tighter seat pitch).

Finally, there are also no on-board amenities: no screens, no WiFi (even for purchase), and no power ports or plugs (only one rare aircraft type that is being phased out may have them).

7. Pack your own food and drink

Menu with Food for purchase on Volaris Airlines to Mexico
Volaris on-board menu for purchase.

Last but certainly not least, plan to bring your own food and drinks. Volaris makes up for its cheap fares by selling food on-board, as is common on all low-cost airlines. Even a bottle of water costs extra!

The food prices aren’t heinously expensive and we did buy a snack combo on the outbound flight that was just fine, but the options are pretty limited. If you have extra picky kids, they may not be fans of the spicier flavors in a lot of the Mexican brands.

Snack Bundle on Volaris Airlines Mexico Flight
This snack bundle was pretty reasonable at 140 MXP – about $8.50.

On our return flight, we were frustrated to find the food and drink cart never even came through the aisle (we had not all filled our water bottles in the airport and ran out of drinks). We did have several instances of turbulence, but the flight wasn’t so consistently bumpy that the cart couldn’t have come through over the course of the 3+ hour flight. This was quite surprising to me, as I would expect that getting the ancillary revenue from food sales is important to the airline.

So make sure to bring your own snacks and fill up those water bottles before departure. You may be able to buy on board, but can’t rely on it. Plus, you’ll save more money and have exactly what you need if you plan to manage all food and drink yourself.

Final Thoughts on Volaris

Volaris Ticket Counters in BJX Airport

Ultimately, we navigated the Volaris experience quite well. Volaris is definitely the most bare bones ultra-low cost carrier I’ve had personal experience flying, but it worked.

The price was right, and it was able to provide us a non-stop route option that no other airline offers. While the in-flight experience wasn’t particularly comfortable, Volaris doesn’t fly long-haul routes so we were able to tough it out just fine for a few hours.

And we were actually pleasantly surprised by some features of our trip, such as our seamless experience with the airline’s technology. We were similarly relieved to find that Volaris didn’t seem to utilize many “gotcha-style” ultra-low cost carrier tricks.

I’d recommend that other American travelers definitely consider Volaris in circumstances similar to ours. The airline can also be a great option for short haul intra-Mexico travel. We are certainly planning and hoping to fly Volaris to get back to San Miguel de Allende to see our newest extended family again soon!

Tips for flying Volaris, an ultra-low cost airline based in Mexico, especially for American travelers!

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