From the United States and Canada
The vast majority of travelers reach Puerto Vallarta by air. Flights are frequent and reasonably priced. Competition sometimes shaves tariffs to as low as $250 or less for a Puerto Vallarta low-season round-trip from the departure gateways of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas, Phoenix, or Houston.
Air travelers can save lots of money by shopping around. Don’t be bashful about asking for the cheapest price. Make it clear to the airline or travel agent that you’re interested in a bargain. Ask the right questions: Are there special-incentive, advance-payment, night, midweek, tour-package, or charter fares? Peruse the ads in the Sunday newspaper travel section for bargain-oriented travel agencies. Check airline and bargain-oriented travel websites, such as www.orbitz.com, www.expedia.com, and www.travelocity.com.
Although some agents charge booking fees and don’t like discounted tickets because their fee depends on a percentage of ticket price, many will nevertheless work hard to get you a bargain, especially if you book an entire air-hotel package with them.
Although only a sprinkling of airlines fly directly to Puerto Vallarta from the northern United States and Canada, many charters do. In locales near Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto, Montréal, Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, and New York, consult a travel agent for charter flight options. Be aware that charter reservations, which often require fixed departure and return dates and provide minimal cancellation refunds, decrease your flexibility. If available charter choices are unsatisfactory, then you might choose to begin your vacation with a connecting flight to one of the Puerto Vallarta gateways of San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Denver, Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Chicago, San Jose, or Oakland.
You may be able to save money by booking an air-hotel package through one of the airlines that routinely offer them from Puerto Vallarta gateway cities:
Mexicana: from Chicago direct or many via Mexico City; tel. 800/531-7921
Alaska: from Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, tel. 800/468-2248
U.S. Airways (formerly America West): from Phoenix; tel. 800/356-6611
American: from Dallas, Chicago, and St. Louis; tel. 800/321-2121
Aeroméxico: many via Mexico City, tel. 800/245-8585
Continental: from Houston and Newark; tel. 800/634-5555
Delta: from Los Angeles; tel. 800/872-7786.
From Europe, Latin America, and Australasia
A few airlines fly across the Atlantic directly to Mexico City, where easy Puerto Vallarta connections are available via Mexicana, Aeroméxico, or Aerocalifornia. These include Lufthansa, which connects directly from Frankfurt; and Aeroméxico, which connects directly from Paris and Madrid.
From Latin America, Aeroméxico connects directly with Mexico City, customarily with São Paulo, Brazil; Santiago, Chile; and Lima, Peru. A number of other Latin American carriers also fly directly to Mexico City.
Very few flights cross the Pacific directly to Mexico, except for with Japan Airlines, which connects Tokyo to Mexico City via Vancouver. More commonly, travelers from Australasia transfer at New York, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, or Los Angeles for Puerto Vallarta.
Baggage, Insurance, “Bumping,” and in-Flight Meals
Tropical Puerto Vallarta makes it easy to pack light. Veteran tropical travelers condense their luggage to carry-ons only. Airlines routinely allow a carry-on (not exceeding 45 inches in combined length, width, and girth), small book bag, and purse. Thus relieved of heavy burdens, your trip will become much simpler.
Even if you can’t avoid checking luggage, loss of it needn’t ruin your vacation. Always carry your irreplaceable items in the cabin with you. These should include all money, credit cards, travelers checks, keys, tickets, cameras, passport, prescription drugs, and eyeglasses.
At the X-ray security check, insist that your film and cameras be hand-inspected. Regardless of what attendants claim, repeated X-ray scanning will fog any undeveloped film, especially the sensitive ASA 400 and 1,000 high-speed varieties. Alternatively, pack your film in an X-ray-proof lead-lined film bag.
Travelers packing lots of expensive baggage, or who (because of illness, for example) may have to cancel a nonrefundable flight or tour, might consider buying travel insurance. Travel agents and travel websites routinely sell packages that include baggage, trip cancellation, and default insurance. Baggage insurance covers you beyond the conventional domestic and international baggage liability limits (double-check with your carrier). Trip cancellation insurance pays if you must cancel your prepaid trip, while default insurance protects you if your carrier or tour agent does not perform as agreed. Travel insurance, however, can be expensive. Travel Guard (tel. 800/826-4919, www.travelguard.com), one of the most experienced travel insurers, for example, offers the “savvy traveler” package that includes baggage, medical and air evacuation, and trip cancellation benefits for 30 days for $56 per person. Weigh your options and the cost against benefits carefully before putting your money down. Or contact World Travel Center (tel. 866/979-6753 or 402/343-3621, www.worldtravelcenter.com).
It’s wise to reconfirm both departure and return flight reservations, especially during the busy Christmas and Easter seasons. This is a useful strategy, as is prompt arrival at check-in, against getting “bumped” (losing your seat) by the tendency of airlines to overbook the rush of high-season vacationers. For further protection, always get your seat assignment included with your ticket.
Airlines generally try hard to accommodate travelers with dietary or other special needs. When booking your flight, inform your travel agent or carrier of the necessity of a low- sodium, low-cholesterol, vegetarian, or lactose-reduced meal, or other requirements.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Puerto Vallarta, 7th edition