Cheap flights, hotels and cruises on offer as coronavirus hits travel industry

As novel coronavirus continues to hit the travel industry hard, airlines are at the front line of attempting to lure customers back with extraordinary sale fares.

Lufthansa is the latest carrier to cut routes, grounding some 25 per cent of its capacity. But it is also one of several full service airlines offering extraordinary prices, such as return flights between Sydney and Europe for as low as $1099. It codeshares via Hong Kong to Australia with Cathay Pacific, another carrier hit hard by COVID-19 and Chinese travel restrictions. (The airline was already suffering pre the virus crisis due to the 2019 political unrest in Hong Kong.)

With the northern region of Veneto at the epicentre of the Italian outbreak, there are return airfares from Melbourne to Venice with Etihad to be found for $1054.

Digging around can also reveal return Qantas fares available to London as low as $1300 and the Australian premium carrier, as well as Virgin Australia, United Airlines and Delta, are offering return flights to the US for less than $900 return.

"That's unusual, we just wouldn't normally see Qantas do that," says finder.com.au's airfare specialist, Angus Kidman.

Chinese travel restrictions are affecting the Australia domestic market with the number of Chinese tourists – Australia's biggest source market – down by as much as 30 per cent at the end of January, a figure that is likely to compound.

That (and the recent bushfires) sees domestic fares slashed on some routes and Jetstar in the midst of a "1 Million Seat Sale" (till March 10) that offers flights to destinations in Australia for as low as $31 one way.

"It's not unusual for Jetstar to have sales and to offer those kinds of prices," says Kidman. "What is unusual though, is the scope of the sale. Jetstar usually targets its promotions to specific regions. This is wide-ranging."

For example, concurrent to the domestic discounts, the airline is offering Vietnam one way from $176 for travel mid-May and Tokyo one way from $294, flying during periods pre- and post-Olympics. According to flight search engine Kayak, the average return Tokyo fare is around $1000.

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In normal circumstances, discount airfares would apply to specific time periods, with extensive blackout dates. "Now, some sales are going into time periods we wouldn't normally see, such as school holidays and Christmas," says Kidman.

Emirates, for instance, is citing return economy airfares between Melbourne and popular destinations such as Barcelona and Paris for around $1300 with travel dates across 2020. Flight Centre currently has Kuala Lumpur-Melbourne return on Air Asia from $437 return with broad availability.

Meanwhile, hotels are aggressively marketing to fill dwindling capacity, such as the

Sofitel in Kuala Lumpur, currently throwing in a massage every day of the stay for each guest, plus breakfast, with a rate from $230 a night for two. That deal applies till the end of 2020.

"I expect we'll see more of this activity across the sector," says Kidman, noting domestic Chinese tourist magnets Cairns and the Gold Coast are subject to strong sales activity, with Virgin Australia among the operators offering cheap holiday packages in those destinations.

This time of year traditionally sees cruise sales, as companies seek to fill capacity for the upcoming season and secure customers for the next. However, with the cruise sector swamped by cancellations since the Diamond Princess COVID-19 outbreak off Japan, it is also offering extraordinary bargains.

For example, a cruise of the Greek islands and Croatia round-trip from Venice on NCL's Norwegian Dawn in May is up to 50 per cent off with further enticements such as free drink packages.

And Viking Cruises is offering savings of up to $4000 a couple on bookings made before March 31. That comes with an alluring assurance: new bookings of Viking river, ocean or expedition cruises made before April 30 are eligible for free cancellation and a Future Cruise Voucher for the full value of the amount paid which can be put towards any future Viking cruise within 24 months.

See also: The Aussie dollar now buys you less in every country (except two)

See also: Even in Antarctica, coronavirus casts a shadow over travellers

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