The airline industry is always evolving, with legacy carriers like American (AAL), Delta (DAL) and United (UAL) revamping their fare and class structures to compete with new, low-cost options. The scaled-down model has been lucrative for airlines like Southwest and Spirit — paving the way for other value carriers to expand into the US.
On Feb. 1, Volaris, the second-largest airline in Mexico after Aeromexico, announced new daily flights from Miami to Mexico City. The low-cost carrier will also begin four weekly flights to Guadalajara.
With tensions between Mexico and the US high, it might seem like a weird time to branch out; the Trump administration is talking about repatriating jobs, building a wall and imposing a 20% tax on goods from Mexico. That said, tourism between the two countries has always been strong. In fact, the National Travel and Tourism Office reported that a record 28 million Americans visited Mexico in 2015. It’s statistics like this that keep Volaris focused on the future.
“Volaris sees the US as its significant market for growth and expansion,” said a spokesperson from GCYA, the airline’s PR agency. “They want to stay above the politics…and build air bridges not walls.”
In addition to Miami, Volaris just announced a once weekly flight from Guadalajara to San Francisco. New routes from Mexico City to Houston and New York City will launch on March 1, and a route from Guadalajara to Milwaukee will begin on March 2. Currently, the Mexico City-based airline flies to 29 US cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Denver.
While this might be the first time you’re hearing about Volaris, the airline isn’t new. Launched in 2006 with $130 million in investment, Volaris has a larger presence in the United States than any other Mexican airline, offering more than 200 daily flights on routes connecting the two countries. Internationally, Volaris flies to more than 60 cities in Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Puerto Rico and the US.
Looking at its business model, Volaris functions like other low-cost carriers. Two personal items, like a small purse or backpack, are included in your fare. If you want to bring on a medium-sized roller bag, it will cost between $25 and $50, depending on whether you’re flying into or out of the US. Customers also have to pay extra for seat selection, snacks and beverages (including water).
Where base fares are concerned, we were able to find one-way tickets from Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles and New York to Cancun and Mexico City for around $160. Keep in mind that many of these routes offer limited flight times with longer layovers. But if keeping costs low is your main concern, then Volaris does the job.
As with many value airlines, cheaper tickets often take the place of comfort and convenience. On the site AirlineRatings.com, Volaris earned 2 out of 10 stars for passenger satisfaction, with many travelers complaining about delayed flights, expensive luggage fees and lackluster customer service. In response, the airline tells Yahoo Finance that it is “working to continuously improve customer service in our ultra low-cost model.”
One area where Volaris does excel is safety. In 2016, AirlineRatings.com highlighted the top 10 safest low-cost airlines in the world, based on operational excellence and safety innovation. Volaris made the list, thanks to its crew preparedness and young fleet of planes.
“Our fleet is one of the most modern in the Americas with an average age of only 4.5 years,” the company said. “Our aircraft have the best and most modern technology to ensure a safe and efficient operation.”
Ultimately, Volaris is just one of many carriers increasing the number of routes between the US and Mexico. In addition to Volaris, Southwest, JetBlue, Alaska Air, and Viva Aerobus have all applied for 24 travel slots (locations to land and take off at airports) in New York and Mexico City with the Department of Transportation (DOT). The DOT will select how many slots each airline will receive by May 17, 2017.
Meanwhile, Southwest just announced nonstop service between San Diego and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico. In December, the airline also started twice daily flights from LAX to Cancun and Cabo San Lucas for $129 each way.
So while Volaris shows no signs of slowing down their expansion into the US market, it will surely face competition along the way.
Brittany is a writer at Yahoo Finance.