I initially intended to use Spirit Airlines to fly to Medellin in 2010, however with the strike that was occurring days before my scheduled departure, I decided to go with the Colombian discount airline, Aires, instead.
After flying from Aires to Cartagena last year, as well as using them for two trips to Cali, I was happy to use them again in 2011.
Unfortunately, their flights out of New York City were sold out at least two months in advance for February. And checking the website now, it appears the route is no longer being offered.
I checked Spirit Air, and found a rate of about $157 one way from Ronald Reagan National airport in northern Virginia to Medellin, via a short layover in Fort Lauderdale.
The price was too good to pass up, and even after adding a $33 charge for one checked bag, it was still cheap at about $190.
In 2010, I’d paid for a return flight on Aires as proof of onward travel should I need it upon arrival in Colombia. I didn’t, and later turned that ticket into a credit I applied toward my return flight last December.
Neither time that I entered Colombia was I asked for proof of onward travel, nor had it ever been a sticking point when renewing my tourist visa. This time, I decided to skip the expense and leave myself flexible.
The Spirit Air flights to Medellin starts with the first departure from DC at 7 am EST, so I made sure to arrive at the airport by 4 am. There was nobody at the Terminal A ticket counter until about 4:30 am.
When it was my turn, I was told I needed to purchase a return flight. I resisted, but the rep was quick to mention they were fined the prior week over this issue.
I asked him to pull up a flight from Medellin to Fort Lauderdale for 6 month’s from that date. He did, and I forked over another $223 for the return flight.
Once my ticket info was squared away, I went through security, and waited to board the flight. It was an orderly process, as the plane was split up into zones.
My seat was the second to last on the plane, and during some turbulence, I felt especially uneasy all the way back there. I’m use to sitting over the wing, which I imagine is a spot that feels more stable.
The legroom on the plane was minimal, but it was only about 2 hours to Florida so you suck it up because that’s part of why the prices are so cheap. I was really tired, and the flight seemed to go by quickly.
When we disembarked in Fort Lauderdale, we emptied into the Spirit Air terminal and it was filled with people coming and going from planes.
Families, kids playing on the floor, a long line to buy snacks and use the bathrooms.
It’s not a terminal I’d want to go through often. Spirit Air flies to several locations in Colombia, besides Medellin, including Bogota, Cartagena, and Barranquilla.
After an hour on the ground, we boarded the second flight in the same orderly manner. This flight was about 3 hours, as we were aided by a tailwind.
We passed pretty blue waters in the Caribbean Sea, and on approach to the Medellin international airport, dropped out of the clouds and zoomed through some large green valleys.
The verdent land was scarred by numerous landslides, leaving tracks of exposed red mud drifting down the mountainsides.
2010 was a record year for rains, and landslides caused many deaths and road closures throughout the country.
And while I thought the final approach through the mountains, with limited visibility due to clouds was a little sketchy (in other words, I imagined us smashing into a mountainside at any moment), the plane landed perfectly, and taxi’d to the gate.
Going through Immigration was a breeze, I collected my bag, and hopped on the shuttle bus back to central Medellin.
Overall, I’d fly Spirit Air again because of their low rates.
The service was friendly too, but the legroom and personal space was severely lacking, especially if the person in the seat in front of you chose to recline it (which most did).
I’m not sure if this is actually the case, but I feel as though there was more space on the Aires flights.
I flew Spirit Air with my family once between National and Ft. Lauderdale. Unfriendly service, dirty craft, and cramped seating. Indeed, they often have dirt cheap fares (and, I know, to Colombia). I would fly again on Spirit by myself but not with anyone else in my party. Just my thoughts…
Hola Charles, thanks for sharing your experience. My biggest issue was the lack of legroom, but I could remedy that by paying for one of the seats that offer more space. I also don’t like having to pay for a checked bag on an international flight.
May also check American (direct online – not with travel agent) for specials as many times have fares as low as $75 MIA – MDE.
Whoa, seriously? I’ve flown American to Central America before — Costa Rica and Belize, so I’ll have to keep them in mind next time I’m looking.
My dad & brother visited in January. They flew Aires from Ft. Lauderdale to Cartagena and then back from Cali to Ft. Lauderdale. They complained a lot about the leg room, so maybe it is terrible on any airline these days?? Aires also has pretty terrible customer service, but I continue to fly them because of their low rates. At the end of the day, Aires to Ft. Lauderdale is usually my best bet since they fly from Cali to Ft. Lauderdale and Spirit airlines couldn’t get me all the way to Minnesota anyway…
Great post, thanks Dave!
Spirit is indeed more cramped than other airlines. Their distance between seats (called “seat pitch”) in economy is 28″. Most airlines have 31″.
I would have a really tough time with that for a flight of any length, let alone FLL-MDE.
Thanks for the confirmation John.
I am flying Spirit from LAX to ODR in April and a bit worried as they were like dirt dirt cheap. Glad to see if you budget your time well, they are not too bad (they sound like Tiger Air with their lack of legroom!)
Haven’t flown Tiger Air, but I think my worst discount flight experience was on the Asian affiliate of Jetstar (Australia). Think it was Singapore to Hong Kong. I couldn’t even get a free glass of water.
Oy, sounds like VirginBlue in Australia. No free water either! I could not believe that. We might complain to no end about all the extra fees in the US, but if they ever canceled free water service, that is something I will fight for.
Aries is really cool, sadly that they wont fly to ny anymore. every time i fly to colombia, i use aries for all the inbound flights.
Darn, that sucks about the NY route. Guess there was too much competition?
i usually fly ft lauderdale-armenia, colombia, i don’t like that flight! The seats are too close, the flights are always delayed, you have to pay for food and uggage, and last time, when i tried leaving colombia, they were about to not let me go! so this year i am fling aires to test it out. In december, i am flying ft lauderdale-bog and then a connection to pei,colombia! But, i am not sure if i should pay 15 dollars for an up front seat???
The way I see it, all the Spirit Air flights to/around Colombia are short enough that I can grin and bear it in the economy seats. I lucked out flying back to the US last week and when I asked for a window seat at check-in, they offered me the emergency exit row. It was super spacious. So try saving the $15 by asking for one of those seats instead.
It stinks I’m flying back so close to Christmas, meaning my flights are naturally more expensive, but things you have to do to placate your parents when you throw out the “…I’m moving to Colombia” statement! haha Thanks so much for this article though – didn’t know about Aires and those prices are MIND-BLOWING!
My favorite website is usually STAtravel for people under 26 or students, but they aren’t making me very happy with their prices from FL to Colombia… Really liked the despegar.com website quotes tho – anyone flown with them before? reviews? Thanks guys!
Flights out of Colombia to the USA are (almost) always mor expensive then flights from the USA into Colombia. And yes, holiday flights are often more expensive.
I recently booked my flight from Medellin to Ft Lauderdale on Spirit for about $230 one-way. It’ll cost me another $30 if I decide to pay for a checked bag, but this is still cheap in my book.
@Dave, how was the service/timing/legroom of the Ft Lauderdale to Medellin flight? Did they offer/sell refreshments??
[…] found out about Spirit from the popular Medellin Living blog, a very well organized web site with a large group of followers. David Lee is a young single […]