Keen to leave? Advice for Australians facing high travel costs | Travel

IIf you want to get from Australia to Europe in June or July on a long or multiple-stop non-stop route, an economy return flight will cost you at least $4,500, and on many dates, over $6,000. The cheapest rates, which include extended or multiple layovers, and travel time over 40 hours, are around $3,000. To get to the US, a direct return flight to Los Angeles costs $4,300.

It’s a staggering increase from pre-pandemic to mid-pandemic levels. What would have covered an entire holiday, with money saved, is now the cost of a plane ticket alone.

General Manager of the Aviation Center Andrew Stark says increased fuel costs, a lack of competition and limited flights to Australia are the main reason behind the exorbitant prices.

The fact that Australians want to leave the country after more than two years of travel bans and uncertainty is exacerbating the problem, says Naomi Hahn of price comparison website Skyscanner. “Strong demand meets and sometimes even exceeds available seats, which leads to higher ticket prices.”

Domestically, vacationers are also facing cost increases, with Stark saying accommodations are more expensive and bookings faster. “Now that international borders are open again, a lot of Australian holiday destinations are booking…in some cases for the rest of the year.”

Add to this the general cost of living pressures from soaring fuel, grocery bills and higher interest rates, and a much-needed winter getaway – or a long-awaited reunion with family and friends abroad – is out of reach for many Australians.

Right now, traveling on a pre-pandemic budget can’t be done without compromise – in location, itinerary, advance planning time, or all three. But travel experts say that with some strategic compromises, there are still value-for-money trips out there.

For any trip: Plan well ahead

The uncertainty we currently face means that “customers are generally booking closer to their travel dates than ever before,” Stark says. While this is understandable, it also means paying more. “Our advice is once you know where and when you want to go, to book, the further away, the better deal you’ll get.”

Skyscanner data shows that the cheapest time to book a flight to London is, on average, 18 weeks before your scheduled departure date.

This also applies to the United States, where data from the Hopper flight comparison tool shows above-average or significantly above-average prices for flights to Los Angeles through September, with direct flights costing a minimum of $2,000.

The prices for the maximum travel times in December and January are also very high.

Venice Beach in Los Angeles. Photo: Ringo Chiu/Zuma Press Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

Domestic flights also require advanced planning, especially during peak periods such as school vacations and long weekends. “For school vacation bookings, for example, you’ll want to look at this right after the previous school vacation period,” Stark says.

Book Lock!

Since early Covid infections can sabotage last-minute travel plans, Stark suggests booking “high-quality travel insurance once you’ve booked your first flight, so if things change, you’re covered.” While this does add to the overall cost of the trip, you may end up paying for the same multiple times if things go wrong.

Many travel insurance policies will not cover the cost of canceled plans booked more than 48 hours before you purchase the policy, so book your insurance at the same time or before the rest of your trip.

For short breaks: stay close and stay midweek

Poroca lookout in Grampians National Park in Victoria.
Poroca lookout in Grampians National Park in Victoria. Photo: ms_pics_and_more / Shutterstock

Although the price increases for domestic flights are not very high, the best option for a short vacation is to cut the cost of flights and rental cars entirely, and choose a destination that can be reached by car or public transportation.

As for Melbourne, Daniel Finch of Otief says the Grampians have “some of the best accommodations in the country, with accommodation prices averaging under $200 a night.” The area has also just unveiled a new mural by artist Sam Bates as part of its 200-kilometer art trail.

In New South Wales, a break that tends to the chill of winter offers the best value. Wotif recommends Orange as a good option, with accommodations averaging $172 per night. Albury and the Murray area also have good availability and reasonable rates, while in South Australia, Limestone Coast, a three-hour drive from Adelaide near the Victorian border, averages $158 per night.

Queensland’s Fraser Coast tops Wotif’s suggestions for a warmer escape, with good accommodations available, and an average price of $174 per night.

Finch says off-peak travel – eg in the middle of the week rather than weekends – is likely to result in better prices.

Weekend app

For long local stays: go where there are no tourists

Packages that combine accommodation and travel can be more affordable than booking separately.

The best value for money within Australia right now, Stark says, are “destinations that are not necessarily popular with international visitors. Areas like the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia have some great deals”.

He also recommends looking for flight sales, which are “as if they weren’t more frequent than pre-Covid.”

Wotif hints at North Queensland as the best place for a warm winter holiday, with the best rates and availability in Mackay and Townsville averaging $149 and $154 per night respectively, and Cairns also offering affordable availability and rates.

Townsville Marina in Queensland.
Winter Escape: Townsville in North Queensland. Photo: Shelley Dempsey/AAP

Darwin and Catherine are also good choices for warmer weather, although you’ll need to factor in rental car costs, which start around $100 a day, according to price comparison site Kayak.

In Western Australia, Wotif says there is still good availability (and good weather) on the Coral Coast, even though accommodation rates average around $209 per night.

It’s also worth considering turning the cost of the rental car and accommodation costs into one by renting an RV or RV. Prices at caravan parks tend to be much cheaper than hotels, or even free. Vans can be booked through traditional car rental services, or through peer-to-peer car rental site Camplify.

For more affordable campers, try Hipcamp, which has both powered and non-powered camping sites, pre-packaged tents and even tiny homes on private properties across Australia.

Ningaloo Reef, near Exmouth on the Coral Coast of Western Australia.
Ningaloo Reef, near Exmouth on the Coral Coast of Western Australia. Photo: Nature/World Photo Library

For international flights: be flexible

If you can be flexible with dates, Hahn suggests using Skyscanner’s “whole month” and “cheapest month” search tools.

For those interested in taking more than one destination, Hahn also recommends using the “everywhere” search, which shows the cheapest flights available domestically and abroad throughout the month. In July, economy return flights are available to Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, New Zealand and Indonesia for less than $400.

“Destinations that were known for their value and ease of experience, such as Bali, Fiji and even Hawaii, are still great places for a good value-for-money vacation,” says Stark. He says prices are likely to come down as more destinations ease travel restrictions, and this will increase competition in the market.

“Mixing and matching the airlines and airports you choose to fly with and to can significantly reduce costs,” says Stark. “Traveling with one airline and back with another, or from one airport and back to another, can save money.”

Andrew Stark, Managing Director of The Flight Centre, says Fiji still offers good value-for-money vacation.
Fiji Aviation Center Managing Director says Fiji offers value-for-money vacation Andrew Stark. Photo: 7Michael / Getty Images / iStockphoto

If you plan to pool your own route, good travel insurance is even more important, as booking through multiple airlines will increase your back office work if you need to cancel or change plans.

It can also help to set up alerts to track prices over time if you’re booking in advance. This can be done on most major travel comparison sites as well as via Google.

When you arrive at your destination, you can also save on accommodation costs by considering programs such as a home exchange, the non-profit Be Welcome network, home exchange, pet care, or a volunteer vacation.

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