International airfares on key routes from Australia look set to stay at bargain levels this year as full-service carriers battle it out in a competitive environment that includes an increased presence by Chinese airlines.
Travel agent Flight Centre is advertising return economy fares as low as $1136 return between Sydney and London, $899 return to Los Angeles and $1099 to New York.
Perth people get an even better deal with advertised fares as low as $879 return to Los Angeles, $1079 return to New York and $1089 to London.
Dubai-based Emirates joined the fray today with a New Year sale offering return economy class fares from Australia as low as $1299 to Europe and $1399 to the UK.
The Emirates fares, for travel from February 1 to November 30, come as the International Air Transport Association has predicted that global air fares will continue to fall in real terms this year as increased global flight frequencies see 73 aircraft depart each minute.
IATA is predicting the average return fare this year will be $US351 before surcharges and taxes, or 63 per cent lower than 22 years ago when adjusted for inflation.
That compares with an average return fare of $US363 in 2016 and $US407 in 2015.
Chinese carriers remain the full-service fare leaders on European routes with pricing only a few hundred dollars more than the no-frills economy launch fares to Athens — $738 return from Perth and $838 return from Sydney — offered by low-cost carrier Scoot. Singapore-based Scoot is due to launch European services in June, followed by Kuala Lumpur’s AirAsia X in October.
Top-tier airlines such as Emirates, Etihad, Singapore and Qantas are not far behind with all of them offering attractive economy fares below $1500 return.
As with all great deals, however, there are caveats.
The most important is the likelihood of limited availability —sale fares come on a first come, first served basis and those that tarry miss out. Travelers often discover that those tantalizingly cheap advertised prices are impossible to find.
Nonetheless, two booking queries on flights to London from Sydney and Perth in May showed a good choice of airlines offering economy tickets for less than $1500 return. The bookings were not finalized so a final check on availability was not done and the fares, rounded to the nearest dollar, are indicative only. They also do not include the website’s fees.
For a Perth-London trip leaving on May 9 and returning May 25, China Southern was offering a return economy fare of $1092, Etihad started at $1215, Virgin Australia/Singapore Airlines came in at $1277, Thai International at $1430, Malaysia Airlines $1438, Qantas $1459 and Emirates $1475.
For the same trip to and from Sydney, Air China came in at $1062, China Southern started at $1147, Air India was $1232 and Singapore Airlines/Virgin Australia were at $1295.
Korean Air offered a return fare of $1342, China Eastern $1395 while a group of airlines, including Emirates and Qantas, were in the band between $1400 and $1500.
Travelers also need to check restrictions on the dates or the routes you can fly and the time you have to wait between connections. The latter can make a considerable difference to the time spent travelling — a one-way, outbound leg on a Sydney-London trip estimated to take just under 23 hours on Singapore Airlines was listed as almost 43 hours on Korean Air.
Other pitfalls include seats that are more cramped than expected, fares that may not cover some “extras” and aircraft changes at hubs.
An Emirates Airbus A380 is a comfortable way to fly but it can be a shock to then switch to the 10-across seating on one of its Boeing 777s. It can be even more disturbing to discover that big US airlines have small regional commuter planes on unexpected routes.
Then there’s safety. Airlines servicing Australia are required to meet minimum safety standards but some have better track records than others.
AirlineRatings has a comprehensive database assessing airline safety and has picked the 20 safest from the 425 it monitors.
By Steve Creedy