Cuencanos have long been complaining about the exorbitant prices of flights to Quito, with fares reaching up to $1,000 during special events. The Airport Corporation is hopeful that a new airline will enter the market this year to introduce competition and subsequently lower prices.
Interestingly, the cost of traveling between Quito and Cuenca by plane can be equivalent to, or even higher than, a flight to an international destination like Quito-Bogotá or Quito-Lima. Basic rates for Quito-Bogotá flights start at $134, while the Quito-Lima route begins at $170. In comparison, the cheapest round-trip tickets on the Quito-Cuenca route range from $120 to $180, according to data from the Cuenca Airport Corporation (CORPAC). These figures represent average costs for regular days as found on the “Google Flights” service and through searches on Avianca and Latam, the two airlines operating that route.
However, there are certain dates when prices escalate significantly. For instance, during the week of the Roger Waters concert on December 6th, people from Cuenca discovered tickets priced between $300 and $1,000, as shared on social media. Such fluctuations in prices have led to frustration among travelers.
Marco Ávila, a former councilor of Cuenca, experienced the wide range of prices firsthand. Initially, he found a ticket for $988 through a virtual travel agency, but when he checked the airline’s website, he discovered another ticket for $404. Similar reports emerged from other users searching for tickets on the same date.
Acknowledging the issue, Cuenca Mayor Cristian Zamora admitted that “sometimes, ticket costs are extremely high,” which restricts air travel for many individuals. To address the concerns raised by passengers, Zamora held meetings with the managers of Latam and Avianca, the airlines operating in Cuenca, to discuss ticket prices and initiated negotiations with other operators.
He also extended an invitation to all airlines willing to connect to Cuenca at lower costs, emphasizing the city’s status as the fastest-growing market of the year.
CORPAC tries to justify prices
The director of the Airport Corporation, José Luis Aguilar, outlined three reasons behind the high costs of flights from Cuenca.
First, he says, is that limited competitiveness among airlines remains an issue, despite the significant increase in flight frequencies at the Mariscal Lamar airport in Cuenca. To reduce costs, greater competition between airlines is necessary.
In addition to Latam and Avianca, Aeroregional is scheduled to join the Cuenca-Quito route by August, and talks are ongoing with Equair. The focus is also on strengthening the Cuenca-Guayaquil route, currently served solely by Latam with eight weekly frequencies.
The second reason Aguilar mentions for high ticket costs on the Quito-Cuenca route is the substantial demand for flights in the Austro region. Due to the poor condition of roads, there has been an increase in passengers choosing air travel, accounting for approximately 80% of the users of the Cuenca airport.
The average monthly passenger count from March to June was 42,000, compared to 34,000 in the preceding six months. In response to this demand, Latam increased the number of frequencies on the Cuenca-Quito route. Projections indicate continued growth, with an estimated 440,000 users at the Mariscal Lamar airport by the end of this year.
The third factor influencing ticket prices is the method of purchase, according to Aguilar.
The cost of a ticket depends on various variables, such as the platform used for search, additional services purchased, and the selected dates and times, explains Marco Subía, president of the Ecuadorian Airlines Association. Each seat on a flight can have a different price, resulting in a multitude of options. When purchasing through travel agencies, there may be a management fee, and digital platforms automatically increase costs when tickets are in high demand.
The timing of the flight also affects the price, with morning and evening flights generally being more expensive.
Tickets tend to be more affordable when purchased directly from the airline’s website or through Google Flights, where users can review price histories and determine whether costs are normal or high. The platform also provides price projections for upcoming months, allowing travelers to plan their trips around periods with lower fares.