Abstract For the past decade, extensive mathematical modelling has been conducted on the design and optimization of liquid-feed direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs). Detailed modelling of DMFC operations reveals that a two-phase flow phenomenon at the anode and under-rib convection due to the pressure difference between the adjacent channels both contribute significantly to mass-transfer in a DMFC and its output performance. In practice, comprehensive simulations based on the finite volume technique for two-phase flow require a high level of numerical complexity in computation. This study presents a complexity-reduced mathematical model that is developed to cover both phenomena for a realistic, but fast, in computation for the prediction and analysis of a DMFC prototype design. The simulation results are validated against experimental data with good agreement. Analysis of the DMFC mass-transfer is made to investigate methanol distribution at anode and its crossover through the proton-exchange membrane. From a comparison of the influence of two-phase flow and under-rib mass-transfer on DMFC performance, the significance of gas-phase methanol transport is established. Simulation results suggest that both the optimization of the flow-field structure and the fuel cell operating parameters (flow rate, methanol concentration and operating temperature) are important factors for competitive DMFC performance output.