Airfare prices for international flights from Australia soar as booking on points becomes difficult

The cost of airfares to popular international destinations has soared to more than double pre-pandemic levels, while those wanting to use frequent flyer points to book are unable to find seats.

Australians looking to fly to Europe next month will be hard-pressed to find fares for less than $3000 return, while business class flights are well over $10,000.

Those looking to save money by using frequent flyer points will struggle to find any seats available due to unprecedented demand.

Dr Christopher James, a Port Melbourne-based paediatrician, said his "heart sank" when he was quoted $60,000 for business class flights to Europe for his family of four to attend a wedding. So he got creative.

"I discovered that it was possible to fly to Europe in business class during the peak season using points if you are organised, flexible and determined," said James.

"For us that meant flying Melbourne-Sydney-Tokyo, spending a night at an airport hotel, and then flying onto Italy via Helsinki or Amsterdam. And then the same in reverse," he said. "Total cost was 1.2 million Qantas Frequent Flyer points, plus taxes."

Michael Vikatos, a top-tier frequent flyer member across all three airline partner alliances, said he searched far and wide for June redemption flights, but didn't have any luck.

"Compared to pre-pandemic, I have never seen so little availability for premium cabins in early June or even September-October for northern hemisphere destinations," the Sydney bank manager said. "I gave up on Europe and decided on a quick getaway to Da Nang, Vietnam instead."

The pivot paid off, with Vikatos scoring premium seats each way on the less sought-after route, using Air France points to book with the French carrier's partner Vietnam Airlines.

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"The return flight was only 70 per cent full, so we had the whole front row of four seats to ourselves to spread out," said Vikatos.

Daniel Sciberras, editor-in-chief Points Hacks, said the current lack of rewards flights is the result of reduced route capacity colliding with pent-up demand.

"That combination of higher demand, lower supply is making it much harder to find those reward seats at the moment, but in terms of the number of reward seats on offer, it's probably the same [as pre-pandemic]."

The frequent flyer expert noted a common misconception around redemption rates right now, amid claims rates have quadrupled in some cases.

"When people are saying 'it's four times more than I remember', probably what's happened is they're confusing a classic flight reward or cheap reward with the 'any award seat' amount, which is the number of points you need if you're going to pay the equivalent cash fare. That might cost as much as 1.1 million," Sciberras said.

Qantas last hiked its points redemption rate in 2019, with points required for premium cabins increasing by 15 per cent, and points required for upgrades going up by 9 per cent.

For travellers still keen to score a rewards flight amid global fare hikes, Sciberras suggests booking as early as possible and being flexible.

"They always release a certain number of seats – I managed to score round-trip rewards business class seats to London but I had to grab it very, very quickly," said Sciberras.

It's worth noting how far in advance airlines release their rewards flights.

A Virgin Australia Group spokesperson said: "Velocity members can be savvy by taking advantage of discounted fares during sales and booking ahead with reward seats available more than 300 days in advance."

The two main Australian frequent flyer schemes, Velocity and Qantas Frequent Flyer, have recently reported record points redemption rates.

In March, Velocity recorded its highest monthly intake in points redemption in two years, with over two billion points spent across the program.

Qantas loyalty members have also been using up points in record numbers, according to the airlines, with over 40 per cent of points doled out on premium cabin bookings.

"There are still millions of reward seats available across domestic and international routes for the remainder of the year on Qantas, Jetstar and partner airlines and we will continue to release more reward seats in all cabins," a Qantas spokesperson said.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce last week acknowledged airfare price hikes in an interview on 2GB.

"Fuel prices have spiked and our fuel bill next year will be $1.8 billion more than it was before COVID," said Joyce. "At the same time, there's still unbelievably low airfares out there. Jetstar had a $29 airfare sale yesterday [June 15], so you still can get very low air fares, but air fares will have to go up with the oil prices."

SKY-HIGH-FARES

  • Sydney-Queenstown, economy (Jetstar) from $566
  • Sydney-Queenstown, business (Qantas) from $2991
  • Sydney-London, economy (Emirates/Qantas) from $3116
  • Sydney-London, business (Qantas) from $11,200
  • Sydney-Los Angeles, economy (Qantas) from $2604
  • Sydney-Los Angeles, business (Qantas) from $17,486
  • Melbourne-Denpasar, economy (Qantas) from $1076
  • Melbourne-Denpasar, business (Jetstar) from $1930
  • Melbourne-London, economy (Qatar Airways) from $3616
  • Melbourne-London, business (Etihad) from $11,852
  • Melbourne-Los Angeles, economy (Virgin Australia/United) from $2541
  • Melbourne-Los Angeles, business (United/Virgin Australia) from $12,776

Cheapest return fares on specified airlines for July, based on Google Flights data

See also: 'Prefer non-stop': Qantas' second non-stop Europe route takes off

​See also: Why this Qantas flight to Melbourne made a huge 870km detour