Half-price flights: Accommodation books out as cheap fares snapped up

Hotels in some of the country's most popular destinations are reporting no vacancies for the next three weeks as holidaymakers race to snap up half-price airfares, smashing pandemic travel records.

"There's just nothing available; we're fully booked till the end of the holidays," said Tracey Harris of the Caloundra Holiday Centre on the Sunshine Coast.

"After that, there's some availability, but things are being booked really fast, so you have to get in quick. I think prices have risen by about 10 per cent because of demand."

On the Gold Coast, many hotels says they only have a few vacancies left in the coming weeks, while bookings platform Wotif.com saw accommodation searches for the destinations in the cut-price airfare bonanza soar by 55 per cent, and advise travellers, if they can, to avoid long weekends and the winter school holidays.

"It's fantastic to see Aussies are making the most of the great-value on offer and locking in their 2021 travel plans now," said Wotif managing director Daniel Finch.

"[But] employing a bit of flexibility will go a long way. Our advice is to mix up dates, destinations, the amount of time you plan to be away and accommodation preferences in order to make the most of great deals."

Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin and Rex sold more than 200,000 tickets in the first 12 hours of the federal government's controversial $1.2 billion campaign, with Virgin seeing ticket sales up by 600 per cent and Flight Centre reporting transactions online 32 per cent up on the previous post-COVID-19 record when borders were reopening in December last year.

The sale of the 800,000 discounted tickets, which started on Thursday April 1 at 12.01am, will continue until either sold out or July 31, whichever comes first, for travel from mid-April to September 30 2021.

Some of the most popular destinations in the sale are proving to be Maroochydore for the Sunshine Coast, Cairns, the Gold Coast, Adelaide and Darwin.

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The half-price economy fares include, on Virgin, Sydney to the Gold Coast from $60 and Melbourne to Cairns from $133, Melbourne to the Sunshine Coast from $88; from Qantas Sydney to the Sunshine Coast from $92, and Adelaide to Melbourne from $88; and Jetstar Melbourne to Launceston from $35 and Sydney to the Gold Coast from $35.

At the same time, all the airlines have launched their own sales for various other destinations, taking advantage of the surge of interest in booking.

Many people as a result are booking their flights now, however, and thinking they'll look for accommodation later.

"A lot of people are seeing the bargains, seeing the Queensland lockdown lift and booking a flight immediately without thinking about where to stay," said one spokesperson from a travel company who didn't want to be named.

"So we're predicting a lot of frustration in the coming days and weeks. We're suggesting people should look at booking flights for the less in-demand times."

In addition, the price of hire cars in most destinations has soared with many companies having sold off large parts of their fleets during the pandemic.

But travellers are keen to take advantage of the flight offers – that allow dates to be changed later, too – with records for online airfare searches, transactions and the value of those bookings all being smashed since COVID-19 began just over a year ago.

"We've had an overwhelming response to the government's subsidised half-price flights with website traffic and transactions at record post-covid highs," said James Kavanagh, managing director of Flight Centre Australia. "It's a welcome sign that Australians are excited and raring to travel again.

"However, border closures are still having a detrimental effect on traveller confidence as we've seen with each state's response to the Brisbane lockdown."

At Booking.com, where a recent study found that 63 per cent of travellers are now much more price-conscious about their plans, the company was predicting a continued "frenzy" over the cheap fares, and then a hunt down of promotions for accommodation.

But many may find it hard to book accommodation for their chosen dates, with some of the most popular destinations reporting vacancies only in the coming months.

In Tasmania, The Sebel at Launceston said it's full for the time being, the Crowne Plaza at Alice Springs is also extremely busy and The Seahaven Resort in Noosa is heavily booked "with only some spaces in the winter months".

Meanwhile, on Kangaroo Island, at the Aurora Ozone Apartments, Bonnie Warren said, "We've had so many emails making bookings online since the airfare sale started, it's incredible."

Short-stay platform Stayz has seen a bounce in demand for accommodation across the country while at Uluru, there's been a stampede of bookings at the three hotels of the Ayers Rock Resort, with another hotel reopening in late June.

"We're enjoying strong occupancy and the outlook over the next few months is picking up positively," said Matt Cameron-Smith, CEO of Voyages Indigenous Australia. "We encourage travellers to make their bookings well in advance."

Hot tickets

Sunshine Coast

Jetstar $53 from Sydney, $72 from Melbourne; Virgin Australia $70 from Sydney, $88 from Melbourne; Qantas $93 from Sydney, $100 from Melbourne.

Cairns

Jetstar $83 from Sydney, $92 from Melbourne; Virgin Australia $108 from Sydney, $133 from Melbourne; Qantas $122 from Sydney, $154 from Melbourne.

Gold Coast

Jetstar $44 from Sydney, $49 from Melbourne; Virgin Australia $60 from Sydney, $78 from Melbourne; Qantas $77 from Sydney, $97 from Melbourne.

Adelaide

Jetstar $63 from Sydney, $49 from Melbourne; Virgin Australia $70 from Melbourne, $90 from Sydney; Qantas $88 from Melbourne, $108 from Sydney. 

Darwin

Jetstar $102 from Sydney; Virgin Australia $145 from Melbourne; Qantas $177 from Melbourne, $179 from Sydney.

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