Q TRAVEL / In much of the globe, air travel has been completely revolutionized over recent years as budget “no-frills” airlines have sprung up. In places like Europe and Southeast Asia this has brought the cost of international air travel crashing down and made it far easier to just hop on a plane and go explore somewhere new.
If you’re used to these sorts of travel markets, then you’re going to get a bit of shock when you start looking into flights in Latin America. Though internal flights within a given country can be reasonably priced (and sometimes even positively cheap), things get a lot more expensive as soon as you start looking at cross-border journeys.
Look up a short-haul flight between two Latin countries and you’ll face the unpleasant surprise that a trip of just a couple of hours can cost several hundred bucks. All this means that it probably isn’t as feasible as you might hope to fly between countries to avoid marathon bus journeys. If you’re only just finding this out now, it could be time to adapt your travel plans to take this into account.
The obvious answer to the problem is just to avoid getting flights as far as possible and stick to overland travel. But, sometimes flights are really the only way to get where you want to go. While we cannot promise to make air travel within Latin America cheap overall, there are a few tricks which you can try to keep flight prices down as low as possible:
1. Put Airline Websites into Spanish
Incredibly, a number of flight operators have a two-tier pricing structure for local and international users. As a result, foreigners can get charged more, sometimes much more, for making the same journey as a Latin American national.
The best way to work round this system when searching online for flights is to try and pretend that you are indeed a local. This means changing the site language to Spanish (usually offered as an option at the top of the page) and altering the currency of flight quotes from US dollars to the local equivalent. On some airlines this small trick can generate substantial reductions in the price of the flight.
2. Use Incognito Browser (Private Browsing) on Airline Sites
A similarly underhand trick of some airlines is to increase the prices for returning visitors to their website. Their logic for this is as follows: if you’ve previously come to their website, searched for a specific flight and then left before buying, the next time you come back to look for the same journey, it is because you now have your card in hand and are ready to make the reservation.
Because you’ve already mentally committed to buying, some airlines put the price up a bit on your second visit, knowing that you will very likely proceed with the purchase anyway.
To avoid such extra charges, you will need to hide your identity a bit when returning to their webpage. You can do this either by searching for the flight on a different computer, or by using the “incognito mode” in the Google Chrome or “Private Browsing” in Firefox web browser. Other browsers also have similar privacy options. This prevents the firm from accessing any information that it had previously stored on your computer about any prior visits, meaning that the surcharge will not be applied.
3. Look for Budget Carriers
Admittedly, these companies are still pretty thin on the ground, but there are a couple of no-frills flight operators in Latin America. They mainly operate domestic routes, but some international options are emerging. Colombia’s VivaColombia, for example, now operates routes between Bogota and Panama City, as well as with Quito in Ecuador. Chile’s SkyAirline also runs flights to Argentina, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil, while Mexico’s Interjet operates flights to a few different destinations in Central America and the Caribbean. Between these options, there may be a no-frills carrier offering cheap flights on the particular route you are looking at.
In Costa Rica, Volaris, Wingo and Veca airlines are now offering “low-cost” regional flights from the San Jose airport to destinations such as Panama, El Salvador and Guatemala. This has forced the “traditional” carriers such as Avianca and Copa airlines to offer deals on these destinations and others.
4. Use Flight Comparison Websites
There are a number of flight comparison websites which you can use to help keep costs down. The best we’ve used is SkyScanner, which allows great flexibility to help you track down the cheapest option. The advantage with this site as opposed to others is that if you set the search to display all flights within a particular month, it will give you a clear overview of what the cheapest possible days would be.
Those with even greater flexibility can also select the option ‘search for cheapest month’ and the site will return the cheapest dates in the whole year to make your selected journey. This really appears to be the optimal way to find the cheapest possible time to fly.
The Silver Lining
If you’ve tried all the above tricks and nothing has saved you much money, then never fear: other decent transport options are still available.
In fact, one positive outcome of Latin America’s comparatively expensive air travel, and the near complete lack of regional rail infrastructure, is that the local buses have had to up their game significantly. The result is that in some parts of Latin America (and particularly in Peru, Chile, Argentina and Brazil) luxury overnight coaches represent a surprisingly comfortable alternative to flying.
The best of these companies offer their passengers fully reclining chairs, in-journey stewardess service, food and drinks, and a wide selection of films to help while the hours away. OK, the journey may take some order of magnitude longer than a flight would, but it will at least be much more comfortable than cramming yourself into an economy class plane seat.
Original article appeared on Latintravelguide.com, with editing by the Q.