Flights for winter school holidays: Airlines increase domestic capacity and lower fares for July

Flights between Sydney and Melbourne are much cheaper during the July school holidays than they have been in April and May as travel restrictions ease and airlines try to lure passengers back on board.

With all state borders closed except the one between NSW and Victoria, travel between the two states looks set to be the only option for residents seeking domestic travel during the mid-year school break.

Despite the warnings of exorbitant prices for flights post-coronavirus, there are some reasonable fares on the horizon.

Flights between Sydney and Melbourne are still limited to a handful a day with some return fares above $1000. Prices remain expensive through June despite the easing of restrictions before cheaper fares become available in July.

For example, there is only a single one-way flight available from Sydney to Melbourne this Friday and a ticket costs $799 with Virgin Australia. There are no Melbourne to Sydney seats available on Friday and no seats in either direction available with Qantas.

Next weekend a return ticket from Sydney to Melbourne with Virgin costs $1158.

But come July, flights are much more affordable. Virgin is selling one-way tickets between Sydney and Melbourne from $149 while Qantas flights start at $160 and Jetstar at $79.

Qantas and Virgin have been adjusting their flight schedules on a rolling basis. While both airlines were advertising frequent flights between Sydney and Melbourne by July, they will reduce their schedules in the coming days. But the price of any tickets purchased will be honoured and passengers will be moved to the next available flight.

Industry expert Peter Harbison from CAPA - Centre for Aviation said the cheaper fares were "not sustainable in the longer run".

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"Initially they'll have to be pretty cheap to get people back in the air - that's inevitable," he said.

Mr Harbison said airlines would be experimenting with price and "testing the water" to assess how much demand is in the market.

"You're essentially restarting the whole pricing activity from the ground up - it's just a whole new world.

"The overriding factor here, with a few exceptions, will be 'Do I feel safe flying? And while I'll be obviously attracted by lower fares, if I don't feel 100 per cent safe I won't be attracted by anything.'"

The federal government has underwritten the flight networks of both airlines to maintain connectivity between major cities and regional hubs to ensure essential workers can move around.

The absence from the skies of Tigerair, Virgin's budget carrier, means the cheapest tickets are not available.

Industry expert Neil Hansford of Strategic Aviation Solutions believes that by July "Australia will be very much coming alive".

"By that time business activity will have picked up and there will be this backlog [of demand]," he said.

"All the research I see is people have had enough of lockdown and not being able to travel."

Mr Hansford said while future flight schedules will likely be adjusted based on demand, the price you paid won't change.

"If they sell you a ticket at $150 and it's ticketed, that's what you're going to pay.

"If you book it on a credit card and the flight is cancelled and you're not provided an alternative you go back to your credit card issuer and say the service hasn't been provided - it's a straight chargeback. To me there's no risk in it so long as you're booking it on a credit card."

See also: World's busiest flight routes: Sydney-Melbourne disappears from ranking

See also: Record breakers: The unusual airlines flying into Australia due to COVID-19

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