If you haven’t heard, the Dominican Republic has launched the Caribbean region’s first-ever low-cost airline.
On Monday, Arajet finally opened up its online reservation system for nine direct routes from Santo Domingo, and it’s a game changer in the aviation industry out of the Caribbean. The airline is kicking off with a special of $150 roundtrip direct fares to any of its current nine destinations in Central America and in Latin America, including: Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, El Salvador, Colombia (Cali, Cartagena), Aruba, Curacao, St. Martin, and Guatemala City.
“We promised low fares, and we’re going to have the kind of fares never before seen in the country,” said Victor Pacheco, president of Arajet airlines in an interview with Bloomberg, adding that starting in September, Arajet will convert Santo Domingo into the new airline hub of the Caribbean with the newest and most efficient planes in the market.
Unbundled Fares, Shorter Routes
If you’re thinking there’s a zero missing in the above $150 roundtrip fare per person, there is not. Luis and I have booked our first roundtrip tickets to a new-to-us destination in Central America (stay tuned) for a long weekend and it cost us $369 total, only because I added a few extras. A regular fare outside of the launch special will hit close to $300 per person — still cheap.
How do they manage to do that? The fares are fully unbundled, and when you look closely the taxes are the highest portion of the ticket. There are three types of fares: smart, comfort and extra. You’ll pay lots of small extras if you want the usual conveniences such as an assigned seat ($11 on our flight for the lowest), a carry on on board, or a checked luggage. If you’re choosing the most basic fare, you basically get to check in online, bring a personal item (described as backpack of up to 20lbs fitting under seat or a purse), and that’s it, just show up on the day of your flight.
Check out this sample basic $150 roundtrip fare below from Santo Domingo to Costa Rica, another one on our must-see destination list.
Democratizing Caribbean Skies
For too long folks in the Caribbean and in Latin America have been unable to explore each other’s backyards because of the cost of airfare. Despite numerous promises and pledges from CARICOM leaders, no affordable flight options ever emerged and in fact, LIAT met its final demise this summer.
Enter Arajet and the game is about to change completely. The skies will open up not just to more Dominicans but also to more Latin and Central Americans wishing to visit the Caribbean at an affordable rate, and more Caribbean citizens to explore their region as well. No more expensive and nonsensical zigzags across seas or difficult visas for non-U.S. citizens to get from A to B in the region.
Dominicans can visit their neighbors in Jamaica soon and vice versa — how crazy and unacceptable is it that that was so complicated in the past? Unfortunately it points to a recurring lack of unified leadership from CARICOM as well as the missing entrepreneurial vision. The pandemic has now provided the perfect scenario, when folks are more eager than ever to travel across their own regions and when demand meets savvy entrepreneurs. Kudos to the Dominican Republic for seeing the gap, valuing this market and their own people, and leading the way.
JetBlue will want to look out when Arajet’s U.S. routes open — years of complaints and mistreatment of its most valuable Caribbean flyers, Dominican Americans, may just be a boon for Arajet (not may, they will).
Equity in Aviation for the Caribbean Is Here
As a travel journalist who has traveled around the Caribbean since 2008 and who is all too familiar with the expensive fares and the re-routing through U.S. to make it to Central America or to neighboring Caribbean islands, I am just *reeling* with excitement for myself and for others. Even tourists and remote workers will now have the option of seamless onward travel from the Dominican Republic onto other Caribbean or Latin American destinations — a huge competitive advantage for the DR’s local economy and for its tourism industry.
Arajet plans to open up additional direct routes in October to Kingston, Jamaica (yes, man!), San Jose, Bogota, Quito, Guayaquil, Toronto and Montreal (Canada) and the U.S. by the end of the year. Five brand new 737 Max-800 planes will be in use to start. These planes are said to burn 14 percent less fuel, which allows the airline to pass on those savings to the customer. Arajet projects transporting up to seven million passengers a year in the next five years.
Today friends, is a great day for equity in aviation. We all have a right to be able to explore our backyards and the world, and the choice to do so shouldn’t be limited to those of us who are in the “West.”
As always, I’ll keep you posted on the actual experience of flying with Arajet. Subscribe to my newsletter and join me over on Instagram. Can you guess which destination in Central America we will be visiting soon thanks to Arajet? The cover image on this post, by Rosie Cisneros, is a hint.