The Crazy Price Of Returning To Australia During The Pandemic

Already high airfares to Australia are spiking after the Australian Government announced it would halve the number of weekly passenger arrivals allowed into the country from mid-July. Tight controls on how many passengers airlines can bring in already see high fares charged as airlines attempt to recoup operating costs from just a handful of passengers. Those high fares are now climbing higher.

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Flying to Australia has become even more expensive. Photo: Getty Images

Five figure airfares becoming the norm

Several Australian media outlets have revealed instances of ridiculously high prices to fly between the United Kingdom and Australia. According to news.com.au, the cheapest one-way fare on July 14 is AU$36,499 (US$27,530). Shortly after, Australian Aviation found an AU$43,367 (US$32,710) fare on July 15. That little beauty involves four flights over 44 hours and a ticket from a little-known online travel agency.  On the plus side, the flights are in business class.

These are outlier fares, and fares remain highly dynamic. But a look at Google Flights over July and August between London Heathrow and Sydney shows minimum one-way fares in US dollars currently exceeding $11,000 on July 13 and 24, with $5,000 plus fares across multiple dates over the next two months.

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London (LHR) to Sydney (SYD) fares (shown in US$) across July and August. Source: Google Flights

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$15,400 from New York doesn’t even get you business class all the way

Coming from New York? Rub your Amex card for luck because there are 12 days over the next two months when the minimum one-way fare between JFK and SYD is US$15,400 and 23 dates when the fare comfortably exceeds US$10,000. So what does a $15,400 fare get you?

On July 20, it involves an economy class ride on an American Airlines A321 between JFK and LAX. After an 11 hour plus layover in LA, you’ll switch to business class on an American Airlines Dreamliner for the 15 hour run down to Sydney. Then when you arrive, it’s a couple of thousand dollars more for the mandatory self-funded 14-day quarantine in a Sydney hotel room. On the bright side, the American Airlines lounges at LAX are open.

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The cheapest flight between JFK and SYD on July 20 (price in US$). Source: Google Flights

Want to fly a route where there are fewer flights? Say between Rio de Janeiro and Sydney? Flights are only available on 18 days over the next two months. The cheapest fare between the two cities is US$4,960. That is a bargain compared to the US$18,982 one-way fares asked on July 10 and 24.

Does this mean Australia is open if you can afford it? No. Australia’s borders remain closed and will stay so for some time. Who are these flights for? Australians abroad lucky enough to afford the fares who manage to snag a quarantine bed. The well-connected and wealthy, Australians and otherwise, are also proving adroit at securing travel exemptions.

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Flights between Rio de Janeiro and Sydney (prices in US$). Source: Google Flights

Too few passengers share a flight’s operating costs

What’s behind the pricing madness? With airlines only allowed to fly as few as two dozen passengers on a flight, the cost of the flight is split between very few passengers. Often, you’ll find cheaper airfares on certain days, but if the airline has to cull passengers to meet dynamic passenger limits on your flight, invariably, the first to go are those on the cheapest tickets.

The Australian Government has warned airlines against price gouging. But airlines aren’t really doing that – they are recouping operating costs. The high fares are a consequence of Australian Government policy. The irony seems to escape some Australian politicians bleating on about it.

Meanwhile, Qantas repatriation flights continue to operate. After 15 plus months, tens of thousands of Australian citizens are still trying to get home. The repatriation flights can carry more passengers than the scheduled commercial flights. Ticket prices are more reasonable.

Qantas operates the flights at cost, and the Australian Government kicks in some assistance. There are plans to increase the number of repatriation flights. That is largely contingent on the Australian Government getting its act together and ramping up the quarantine infrastructure. Nobody is counting on that happening anytime soon.

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