Australia's international borders re-opening: Flying out is cheap, but flying back is expensive

The federal government's plan to open international borders next month has resulted in a flurry of Australians booking flights overseas, but flying back is likely to be more expensive.

Qantas announced it would restart international flights a month earlier than planned, on November 14, quoting fares from $1869 return for Sydney to London and $1662 return for Sydney to Los Angeles.

However, fares available are now significantly more expensive due to the cost of the return leg.

Outbound flights to London are available for about $760 in economy class for late November, climbing to between $1200 and $1600 for early December. But return flights are currently about $2200 for November and December, making the cheapest available return flights during the pre-Christmas period close to $3000.

The disparity between outbound and return flights on fares to the US was not as drastic, with outbound flights from Sydney to Los Angeles starting from about $1100 in late November and the return leg about $1300-$1400.

Qantas' routes from other Australian cities, including Melbourne, are not due to restart until December 18 as previously flagged by the airline.

The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, announced on Friday that international borders would open for states that had hit COVID-19 vaccination levels of 80 per cent. NSW and Victoria are likely to hit those targets in November. Fully vaccinated Australians will no longer need to apply for permission to leave the country and can quarantine at home for seven days instead of in a hotel.

Other airlines have little to no availability on return flights, with most airlines yet to announce any additional capacity in the wake of last week's announcement on borders.

A spokesman for Singapore Airlines said the carrier welcomed the federal government's announcement but was awaiting further details before announcing any scaling up of flights. The airline is currently operating 62 flights a week into five Australian cities under the current caps.

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"Once we have clarity on a number of operational matters such as 're-open' dates as well as arrival passenger caps and requirements, we will make further announcements on our scheduled passenger operations to Australia," he said.

Last month the airline announced dozens of flights to Australia for the rest of the year would be cancelled, citing a lack of certainty around the inbound passenger caps. 

An Etihad spokeswoman said the airline was "ready to increase operations to our key Australian gateways once travel restrictions are lifted" without confirming any specific plans. Emirates declined to comment.

Qatar Airways already operates 16 flights to Australia a week, across five cities, and does not have any current plans to increase this. However, current government caps mean these flights normally carry only a small number of passengers, which could increase significantly if home quarantine is implemented. 

However, the uncertainty that remains has not dampened Australians' enthusiasm to start traveller, with Qantas confirming the airline's first flight to London, on November 15, selling out on Friday, the same day it was announced. Qantas has added two more Sydney to London flights for November due to strong demand, a spokesperson said.

Airfare comparison site Skyscanner said visitors from Australia surged 195 per cent in the hours after the federal government's announcement with a 133 per cent increase in bookings.

"Our data shows that trips to loved ones will be high on the list for travellers," said Paul Whiteway, senior director for Skyscanner.

"For example, expats on both sides of the world have kept the UK high on search lists all the way through the pandemic. We know that this new announcement will unlock a wave of pent-up demand, and we expect searches and bookings to increase exponentially as the states reach their vaccine quotas.

"Over the coming months we will see airlines building capacity and schedules to allow the return of international travel at scale. We may see some price fluctuations in the next few days as the market adjusts to this news, however providers have acknowledged that it's in their best interest to make travel accessible and they will likely continue to offer good value in order to meet growing demand."

Qantas passengers will be required to be vaccinated by a Therapeautic Goods Administration-approved COVID-19 vaccine and must return a negative PCR COVID-19 test 72 hours before departure.

See also: Qantas CEO confirms ban on unvaccinated for international flights

See also: ​Record breaker: Qantas rescue flight to be airline's longest ever

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