The Easter bunny is inspiring a giant leap in the number of short-hop flights over the holidays as airlines lay on extra routes, planes and special prices to tap into the enormous pent-up demand for travel.
With most predicting international borders are unlikely to re-open until later this year with local lockdowns lifting and the start of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, a record number of Australians are planning to celebrate the Easter holidays by congregating in different parts of the country.
"With international travel still off the cards for Australians for the time being, we've seen domestic flights searches and bookings increase as Australians' desire to get away for Easter and upcoming holidays turns into action," said a spokesperson from search platform and travel agency Skyscanner.
"Flight prices are historically always affected by seasonal supply and demand, especially during peak seasons. But recently we've seen providers looking to stimulate bookings with attractive pricing and flexible booking policies. Whilst this past year has been anything but normal for travellers, and we haven't experienced the usual price flux we see, there are good deals to be had for this time of year."
While flights out on peak Easter days, like Thursday, April 1 and Good Friday, April 2, and back on Easter Monday and Tuesday, have higher fares, there are good deals at other times.
Webjet Online Travel Agency CEO David Galt said: "A top tip for those keen to get away but still yet to book is to plan their flights a few days either side of the main Easter weekend, as it can make a significant difference to airfare price.
"There are still good value airfares available, departing on Tuesday, March 30 or Wednesday, March 31, on routes such as Sydney to Byron Bay, Sydney to Gold Coast, Brisbane to Cairns, Adelaide to Gold Coast, and Hobart to Melbourne. Easter is always one of the busiest travel periods of the year – especially as it often falls within school holidays – and this year is proving no different."
More travellers than ever before are booking at the last possible minute, and the extra competition between airlines determined to capitalise on local travel is pushing down fares.
Rex, for instance, is set to start flying from Sydney and Melbourne on March 1 and will offer nine flights per day between the two cities. Not only has this seen other airlines forced to offer cheaper airfares, including less than $50 one-way on some services, but it also means there is plenty of capacity for the Easter and school holiday period.
Virgin Australia too is adding new routes for Easter, including Melbourne-Ballina Byron up to six times a week and Adelaide-Sunshine Coast four times a week, as well as increasing flights to popular holiday destinations like Cairns, Hamilton Island, the Whitsundays, Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast, Ballina Byron and Hobart.
Qantas, meanwhile, is adding 10 new routes: Sydney-Griffith, Melbourne-Newcastle, Melbourne-Merimbula, Melbourne-Mount Gambier, Melbourne-Wagga Wagga, Melbourne-Albury, Melbourne-Coffs Harbour, Brisbane-Coffs Harbour, Canberra-Byron Bay and Adelaide-Mount Gambier.
That brings its total destinations around Australia to 62, rather than the 57 it was flying pre-pandemic, and it's also offering extra flights on regular holiday routes, like Sydney-Coffs Harbour.
"With international borders closed, we want to make it even easier for travellers to holiday around Australia," said QantasLink CEO John Gissing. "The beautiful coastal hubs of Byron Bay and Coffs Harbour continue to be incredibly popular with travellers, so it makes sense to provide direct connections from other capital cities to make them even more accessible."
Jetstar, too, is increasing the number of seats it's offering to different destinations. "We're increasing them to a lot of markets, and they'll be pretty similar prices to before," said a spokesperson.
Skyscanner data shows that prices of some Easter flights – outside those peak days – are, on average, cheaper than in April 2019. Sydney-Melbourne return, for instance, was $190 in April 2019, and there are deals now for $159; Sydney-Gold Coast is $125 – as against $155 in previous years – and Sydney-Hobart is $186, $18 cheaper.
A Webjet consultant advises even further savings can be made. "Savvy Aussies can take advantage of cheap flights by mixing and matching one-way airfares into one return trip," he said. "This trick often leads to the best deals and allows travellers the flexibility and convenience to book the flights with their preferred departure times and fare inclusions.
"Plus, more savings can be had when travellers combine their flights and accommodation into a holiday package – an average of $237 per booking."
The best prices on popular routes for Easter
- Sydney-Melbourne $81 ( Jetstar)
- Sydney-Ballina-Byron $171 (Virgin + Jetstar)
- Sydney-Sunshine Coast $327 ( Jetstar)
- Melbourne-Coffs Harbour $445 (Rex)
- Melbourne-Hobart $144 ( Jetstar)
- Melbourne-Gold Coast $250 ( Jetstar)
- Brisbane-Launceston $336 (Virgin)
Cheapest return flights, departing March 31, returning after April 6 (Easter Tuesday). Data: Skyscanner