QCOSTARICA – The more than US$600 cost of flights between Central American countries by Avianca and Copa airlines could soon be a thing of the past, with the increased flights by “low-cost” airline moving international passengers to and from the San Jose and Liberia airports.

Last year, the low-cost airlines moved 13% of the total 4.4 million international passengers using both terminals, according to Civil Aviatiion (Dirección General de Aviación Civil).

In 2011, the figure was 9.2% of the 4.2 million.

The low-cost airlines offer lower fares, but charge for many of the traditional services offered by conventional airlines.

Airfares to Managua (Nicaragua) or Bogota (Colombia), for example, on Avianca or Copa, include meals, beverages (including alcohol) and lax restrictions on the bags and weight. But at what price?

Serving now the San Jose (SJO) and Liberia (LIR) airports, the low-cost airlines include JetBlue with regular flights to Orlando, Boston and Fort Lauderdale; Spirit to Fort Lauderdale; Frontier to Denver; and the most recent, Southwest to Baltimore.

Both Spirit and Southwest have announced they will soon begin flights to Houston.

Flying soon will be a new Costa Rican airline, Air Costa Rica, promising low-cost fares. Alvaro Vargas, director of Civil Aviation, confirmed Mexico’s Volaris will begin to compete for passengers.

Flights on the low-cost airlines can be half or more of the cost of a ticket on a conventional airline.

Pablo Abarca, president of the National Chamber of Tourism (Cámara Nacional de Turismo – Canatur) noted that traditional airlines such as Avianca, now have promotional rates that did not happen before.

For example, last week Avianca was offering flights within Central America for US$249.

Tickets on Avianca and Copa, whose pricing are usually within a few dollars of each other, to Central America can cost over US$600; to Bogota (Colombia) or Lima (Peru) – a distance less that to New York, for example – can be over US$1.000.

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