In this series, Lonely Planet’s team of writers and editors answers your travel problems and provides tips and hacks to help you plan a hassle-free trip. This week, Chris Zeiher – one of our best correspondents and brand ambassadors down under – explains why Australian holiday-season airfares are so high, and shares tips about how to get the best value on peak-demand flights.
Question: I’m in Australia and was hoping to fly from Sydney to Adelaide for Christmas, but flights are so expensive. I’ve seen prices in excess of AU$1000 ($670) round-trip. Is this normal? What’s going on?
Chris Zeiher: Australian domestic airline prices do tend to spike during the month of December as Aussies look to visit family and friends over the Christmas holiday period – which is also peak summer. Additionally, domestic flight prices have been consistently high all year, making what is a traditional spike in cost more acute as the year ends.
There are three factors playing into the price surges.
1. Pent-up demand. This is the first holiday season since 2019 with no internal border closures. Australians are understandably keen to travel far to see family and friends.
2. Reduced capacity. Australia has fewer planes flying domestically than before the pandemic. Realistically, we won’t see this change before another 12 to 18 months, resulting in prices staying on the expensive side.
3. Soaring fuel prices. The cost of fuel has risen all over the world. Airlines are passing these increases onto the traveler via higher prices.
All is not lost, however. Here are a few tips to help mitigate these costs.
1. Redeem airline credits or vouchers. Many Aussies are sitting on airline credits or vouchers with carriers such as Qantas and Virgin Australia (accrued, for example, from flights cancelled during the pandemic). Now is a good time to check the expiration dates on these credits – and use them up. Remember, this is money you’ve already spent and are entitled to redeem.
2. Where possible, be flexible on your dates. If you’re able to, try to fly on a day or at a time outside of peak demand – avoiding, for instance, morning and early-evening flights. Additionally, if you have flexible work arrangements consider flying well before the traditional Christmas–New Year break and working remotely for a bit on either side of it.
3. Consider postponing your travel until January. If you can, book your travel for mid to late January, when domestic fares become much more competitive. This is still the height of the Australian summer and smack-bang in the middle of the school holidays.
4. Book as far in advance as possible. The age of cheap travel in Australia really is a thing of the past (alas!) – so the further out you book the better your bank balance will be for it.
5. Pack up the car and hit the road. The great Aussie summer road trip is a fantastic way to explore the country. Carpooling with friends and family can also help bring costs down, and share driving duty.
6. Consider the train or bus. Buses and trains connect most Australian capital cities – yet given high holiday demand, book your tickets as soon as possible.
7. Check every airline. Though Australians tend to be loyal to their carrier of choice, it’s worth comparing fares on all the major airlines, and considering a layover if that brings down the price. Qantas, JetStar, Virgin Australia and Rex Airlines offer a variety of services between Australian capital cities and major regional centers.