Airfares: Do Australians pay too much?

Whether you're talking computers, road bikes, designer jeans or quadcopter drones there lurks a suspicion that Australians pay more than the rest of the world, and so too with airfares. Are Aussie flyers being stiffed with higher airline prices than those heading in the opposite direction at the same time?

Kayak, one of the leading online flight search engines, recently investigated this issue and concluded that Australians pay less for return flights to the US, China and Japan than flyers travelling in the opposite direction on the same dates.

If their destination is one of the  popular European cities, Singapore or Johannesburg, Aussie flyers pay more for flights than those heading the other way, the study suggests. The search engine used in this case was Kayak's own but what happens when you interrogate more widely, including prices offered on airlines' own websites?

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Taking the cheapest return economy prices offered over the websites of two airlines, Qantas and Cathay Pacific, and two flight search engines, Kayak and Momondo, the following methodology compares the cost of flying Melbourne-Tokyo-Melbourne, Sydney-Paris-Sydney, Melbourne-Los Angeles-Melbourne and Sydney-Hong Kong-Sydney. In each case the reverse flights have also been priced for exactly the same dates, with outward and return flights two weeks apart.

Flying Melbourne-Tokyo-Melbourne in September costs more than in the other direction on the same dates if you book using the airlines' websites, by just $26 in the case of Qantas and $236 with Cathay Pacific. However, if you book using either Kayak or Momondo it would be cheaper to fly Melbourne-Tokyo-Melbourne than the opposite flight, by $86 using Kayak and $136 with Momondo.

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Flying Sydney to Paris and back in August is less expensive than flights in the opposite direction with Qantas but more expensive flying aboard Cathay Pacific. With both Kayak and Momondo it costs several hundred dollars less to fly Sydney-Paris–Sydney than travelling in the opposite direction on the same dates.

Flyers travelling Los Angeles-Melbourne-Los Angeles in July pay more than Aussies heading in the opposite direction on the same dates if they book with Cathay Pacific, Kayak or Momondo and $69 less if they were to book with Qantas. The difference ranges from $249 with Momondo to a whopping $834 aboard Cathay Pacific.


The one consistent result is flying Sydney-Hong Kong-Sydney in October, which costs less than a Hong Kong-Sydney-Hong Kong flight whether you're booking flights using the websites of Qantas, Cathay Pacific, Kayak or Momondo.

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Where does this leave you? Confused perhaps, but the results suggest there's no justification for feeling dudded when you shell out for economy-class international air travel, even flying to Paris or Los Angeles in high season. Flyers travelling from Melbourne or Sydney to Japan, North America, Europe or Hong Kong are getting a fair shake compared with those travelling in the opposite direction at the same time.

What the data does emphasise is the price gap between what these two leading full-service carriers charge and what you'll pay booking via a flight search engine. While the prices offered on the flight search engines are attractive, representing a saving of several hundred dollars on some long-haul routes, caution is required if you are considering booking via a flight search engine rather than booking direct with an airline.

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