Wingo is the latest low-cost entry to Costa Rica, starting operations form the San Jose airport on December 2016

Q COSTA RICA TRAVEL – Aggressive strategies by low-cost carriers are poised to overthrow the region’s established airline order. Low-cost airlines flying to and from Costa Rica are now offering never-seen-before rates of less than US$100 to a Central American destination.

The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (ICT) – Costa Rica Tourism Board – classifies low-cost airlines as: Spirit, JetBlue, WestJetSouthwest, Interjet, Volaris, Veca Airlines and Wingo.

For example, Volaris offers one-way flights from San Jose’s Juan Santamaria (SJO) to Guatemala City (GUA)for US$68.42; Wingo to Panama City (BLB) for only US$56.34 (US$18 fare plus taxes); and, Veca to El Salvador (SAL) for US$105.68

With fares sliding, airline giants Avianca and Copa have responded by establishing low-cost units of their own.

Avianca slashed its fares to Guatemala starting at US$117 return and Panama City (PTY) at US$143.80. At Copa Airlines, a one way flight from San Jose (SJO) to Guatemala City (GUA) is US$81.45; to Panama City (PTY),US$93.70.  Only a few months ago these fares were in the range of US$250 one way.

Screen capture of Avianca slashed fare to Guatemala

To compare fares I used flights leaving San Jose (SJO) on Saturday January 14.

But, there are considerations to make before deciding on a low-cost versus the big airlines. The low-cost airlines charge for additional services such as a seat, meals, drinks, checked luggage, and so on, while the big airlines continue with full services, at slashed fares.

Some considerations to take into account before booking with the low-cost airlines include:

1. Food and drinks not included. While some airlines offer complimentary hot and cold beverages, others charge for a soda or coffee and meals. At WestJet a hamburger, fries and a beer can be more than US$15.

2. Limited Luggage. The low-cost airlines limit the number of checked bags, as well as the weight. The right to check bag comes at a cost for each bag, and cheaper if paying online that at the airport counter.

3. Airport Terminal. While all the low-cost airlines fly out of the Juan Santamaria International, Wingo lands at Panama Pacifico not the Tocumen, the most important airport with all the connections.

4. Seat Selection. Veca charges from US$5 for a standard to US$20 for a premium seat. The fare does not come with a seat. At Wingo, the range is US$10 to US$25 for the seat. While Interjet, Jetblue and Southwest do not charge extra for a seat, WestJet does. No Business or Executive Class. Low-cost airlines do away with business or first class or priority passengers.

5. Check-in. At some of the low-cost airlines airport check-in comes at a cost. Spirit and Wingo charge US$5 per passenger at the counter.

6. Cancellations and Refunds. Generally promo rates are not refundable. Before buying check the refunds policy for the fare class.

7. Buying online. The low fares are usually available only for online purchases. On all tickets purchased at airline counter or airport in Costa Rica there is an additional US$25 per ticket.


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