Cheap flights have disappeared

Whether you’re travelling locally or internationally for the rest of this year – and into 2012 – fares are heading north. For cheap fares on the domestic front, I can see a return to the Ansett-Qantas duopoly with any route that doesn’t have “consumer insurance” from a Tiger Airways service likely to be asking considerably more in best fares.

''There is less competition,” airline analyst Peter Harbison, of the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA), told Saturday’s Canberra Times, which is rueing the national capital’s loss of Tiger Airways flights to Melbourne and the arrival of the Ansett-ised Virgin Australia with a raft of new turboprop services on the Sydney route. “Virgin is a different airline.

“They have ceased to be a low-cost carrier and are a full (service) carrier.”

According to the Times, the days of the $100 return flight from Canberra to Sydney are over. In less than a year there has been an almost 50 per cent increase in the cost of the cheapest return flight between Canberra and Sydney.

Harbison said the increase was a result of less competition at Canberra Airport, Qantas and Virgin Australia fighting for a share of the  business travel market.

According to Peter Harbison, in October last year, people could purchase a return flight between the two cities for $229.50, but by September this year, this had increased to $341.31. He expects this to creep up to $350 by the end of the month.

In fact, booking a month out, $99 one-way fares are available on the Sydney-Canberra route and $105-$130 on Canberra-Melbourne, but nothing like Tiger's $49 specials and better.

Tiger Airways has not resumed flights to Canberra despite returning to other cities. It has removed Canberra from the drop-down booking menu on its website.

Meanwhile, Qantas last month secured approval from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for its new joint venture deal with American Airlines using an argument that it would lead to fare reductions on 64 per cent of US destinations for travellers from Australia.

I'm wondering if you have noticed Qantas fares to the US going down when best fares in the past year have risen by around 60 per cent. Using Sydney-Los Angeles as the benchmark, the best you can do as we head into the pre-Christmas low season is around $730 one-way on all airlines, whether you travel non-stop or via China on one of the cheaper Chinese carriers.

Of course, if you wait until the Christmas-New Year peak, there’s little change from $3000 return. Peak fares on this route are almost back to the pre-GFC days in 2006-07, when Qantas was raking in record profits – a far cry from 2011 when the national carrier is crying poor.

Now that we're planning end-of-year holidays, it’s time for a report card.

What have you turned up in your browser searches? Are you noticing a spike in domestic fares as a result of Tiger’s troubles? Can you see any sign of cheaper Qantas fares to the US? What about the Virgin and Air New Zealand alternatives? What sort of prices are you being quoted for Europe, Asia and other world destinations?