Holiday at home: Domestic flights fall as overseas airfares skyrocket

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Domestic airfares have fallen to almost pre-pandemic levels while the price of international flights have soared about 50 per cent higher than they were in 2019.

It’s a scenario that instantly makes the prospect of exploring our own backyard feel a great deal more attractive than chasing summer sun on the other side of the world.

Flights from Melbourne to the Gold Coast are back to the same levels they were at before the pandemic.Credit: iStock

“Aussies keen for a domestic holiday this winter will be pleased to see that domestic prices are largely in line with pre-pandemic levels,” said Nicola Carmichael, the brand director of travel search engine Kayak, which analysed the average fares this winter compared with pre-pandemic prices.

“Popular beachside destinations such as the Gold Coast, Byron Bay and the Sunshine Coast remain great getaway options with prices flat or below 2019 levels for a return economy flight, while the route between Sydney and Melbourne has seen a decrease when compared to 2019,” she said.

In sharp contrast, the average return economy airfare from Australia to Europe over winter has risen by 46 per cent on the 2022 price and 63 per cent on the pre-pandemic cost, according to Kayak, to $2571. A flight to the Portuguese capital Lisbon will set Australians back a staggering $2963.

Domestic airfares, however, look much more reasonable, with a return flight from Melbourne to Coolangatta costing the same, on average, as it did in 2019 at $227. Sydney to Melbourne flights are down 4 per cent to $177, and the Melbourne to Sydney route is down 2 per cent to $174.

Flights to Byron Bay, on average, cost 13 per cent less than they did pre-pandemic at $265, and those to the Sunshine Coast are down by 6 per cent to $296.

The glaring exception is Perth, with airfares still sitting well above pre-pandemic pricing. The cost of a flight from Perth to Melbourne, for instance, is up 29 per cent – or $523 on average – on 2019; to Sydney up 16 per cent, or $516; and from Melbourne to Perth 32 per cent higher, at $523 more.

That’s helped push the national average Australian return economy flight price up 11 per cent on the pre-COVID level, but that’s likely to fall soon too.

University of Technology Sydney airport economist, Professor Tim Harcourt, says the airlines are still trying to revert to their former schedules and striving to put planes back into service while battling fuel cost rises.

“But they’re not quite there yet,” he said. “Some of their old passengers got used to Zoom during the pandemic and realised that not all travel was necessary, so they’re having to attract them back to flying. We would hope, however, that all domestic prices will be back to their former level by the end of the year.”

There are other developments that will help the price squeeze, with Rex picking up more capital city routes and new entrant to the market Bonza, with 12 destinations and 15 routes.

In addition, Qantas has a domestic sale running until May 3 for more than a million tickets over 100 routes for this year and next, with prices starting from $99 one way in economy from, for instance, Sydney to Ballina for Byron Bay, and Launceston to Melbourne.

Aviation expert Keith Tonkin, the managing director of Aviation Projects, says domestic airfares peaked around Christmas and have been falling gradually since then, coming back “to where they should be.”

Demand is increasing so rapidly now, airlines are struggling to keep up.

“They’re having trouble meeting demand with the number of airplanes and crews and difficulties getting spare parts,” Tonkin said. “The fall in prices is stimulating people to come and fly again, when they might not have done previously and volumes are going up.

“Rex now has (larger Boeing) 737s which it never had before, Bonza has 737 MAX 8s, regional LINK airways has flights to Dubbo, and Alliance Airlines, which was mostly for resources companies doing fly-in-fly-out, is buying a whole bunch of (Embraer) E190s.”

In the meantime, to get the best price deals, Kayak suggests setting price alerts so you know when prices change, try to be as flexible with dates as possible, and to fly mid-week which is cheaper than on weekends.

Fare comparison site Skyscanner recommends mixing and matching airlines to save money, flying out with one and back with another, or to and from different airports.

“And check for a departure flight in the evening after work or overnight,” said Skyscanner expert Jarrod Kris.

“Depending on how long the flight is, you could get an extra evening, morning or full day in your destination and might even make it out for a meal or some sightseeing when you land in the evening. Flying at slightly less popular times means you are likely to get them cheaper, too.”

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