Flights to and from Australia: Flying into Australia is expensive, but flying out of the country is cheap

Last weekend, if you wanted to book a one-way flight from London to Australia leaving in two weeks with Emirates, you'd be having to pay about $11,000 at the cheapest. With Qatar, you'd have to fork out almost $14,000.

If you were looking to book a one-way fare from Sydney to London around the same time, on Qatar you'd get economy for around $1000 with business class about $3000.

Even in a month's time, the discrepancy remains significant, if not huge.

On Qatar, London to Melbourne would cost $5169 for a mid-April departure; coming the other way, $1014. On Etihad, the price would be $5891 leaving Heathrow, compared with $1015; while on Singapore, a more reasonable $2044 into Australia was on offer, against $984 out.

And these were the cheapest fares available.

That's because the airlines such as Qatar, which since March last year have carried more than 250,000 Australians and international travellers home, including 92,000 to and from Sydney, are mostly going the other way with plenty of empty seats. While international arrival caps have meant airlines have been flying planes into the country with less than 20 per cent of seats taken, outbound there are no such restrictions on the number of passengers they can carry. 

And with the federal government recently extending the international border closure until June, with the likelihood of a further extension high, the immense difference in fares seems set to continue, with most pundits predicting we won't be freely able to take to the overseas skies till some time late this year, if not early next year.

However, for those willing to gamble on leisure travel again being allowed, and if London is calling for Christmas, there are return fares as low as $1767 for the traditionally peak-price time frame.

Even on premium carrier Singapore Airlines you could buy Melbourne-London return tickets for $2237, departing December 17 and coming back just after New Year. Earlier this week, Qatar Airways had a sale offering return flights to London from $1300, for travel up until the end of January next year.


A spokesperson for search engine Skyscanner says: "We've seen providers looking to stimulate bookings with extremely attractive pricing and flexible booking policies. Whilst this past year has been anything but normal for travellers, increased flexibility, policies like unlimited flight changes, coupled with airline ticket promotions, are unlocking pent-up travel demand.

"We anticipate that airlines and travel providers will continue to offer flexibility and competitive pricing with tickets for the time being as there remains a degree of uncertainty for those planning travel."

Adds travel search platform Kayak marketing executive Ben Connell: "For travellers who want to start planning early for the possible return of international travel in late 2021 or early 2022 there are some deals to be found, with potential savings of more than 20 per cent on some routes to locations including Vietnam, Japan, Indonesia and New Zealand."

Kayak has a Flexible Filter setting, which allows potential travellers to compare current airline policies – because there are, of course, catches.

Singapore Airlines has complimentary rebooking for all SIA and SilkAir tickets issued until June 30 this year. However, the airline says "Top-up fees may still apply for fare differences in the new itinerary."

The same goes for Qatar, for tickets issued by April 30 this year for travel completed by December 31.

But be warned: should air travel suddenly halt again, there's the possibility of a very costly return, perhaps akin to the current inbound pricing.

Says Skyscanner: "Those booking now could secure a good deal but the cost of a ticket will still remain one of the key pieces of the puzzle, along with clear, straightforward and timely information relating to ongoing restrictions and new traveller safety requirements."

Inbound vs outbound

London to Sydney, one way

Qatar Airways $5189

Etihad $7169

Singapore AIrlines $3810

London to Melbourne, one way

Qatar Airways $5169 

Etihad $5891

Singapore Airlines $2044

Sydney to London, one way

Qatar Airways $1016

Etihad $996

Singapore Airlines $1229

Melbourne to London, one way

Qatar Airways $1014

Etihad $1015

Singapore Airlines $984

Cheapest fares available for direct bookings with airlines for April 15 (or closest available date).

See also: Overseas travel won't happen unless Australians demand it

See also: It can't last: Airline change and cancellation fees will be back soon