Half-priced flights have landed, Australia: Here’s what you need to know

The Morrison government's half-priced flights are now on sale.

The Morrison government's half-priced flights are now on sale.

This is no April Fools’ joke: 800,000 government-subsidised half-priced domestic flights to holiday spots around the nation are now on sale.

Australians are being urged to help out the nation’s struggling tourism sector by booking cut-price trips from airlines including Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin Australia and Rex.

Targeting interstate getaways, the Morrison government hopes the discount flights scheme will encourage domestic tourists to pick up the shortfall left by international border closures.

The $1.2 billion stimulus package has not been without controversy, with some accusing the government of bailing out airlines while ignoring struggling tourism and accommodation operators.

There have also been complaints about the government’s choice of flight routes, as well as warnings from some tourism operators that the pandemic-hit industry is ill equipped to cater to a sudden influx of tourists.

The 800,000 half-priced tickets will be available to buy from April 1 to July 31, for travel from mid-April to September 30.

The government has not ruled out bankrolling more tickets if demand is hot.

Virgin, Qantas and Jetstar deals and conditions

Airlines participating in the government’s scheme got in early, with tickets landing as the clock ticked past midnight on April 1.

Qantas and sister airline Jetstar released half-priced fares to 15 destinations.

“Most fares are outside peak times, which is when these regions need more tourists to visit,” Qantas domestic and international chief executive Andrew David said.

“They mean more people will stay in hotels, go to restaurants, and book tours – and they also mean we can get more of our people back to work.”

When it comes to flexibility, Qantas is offering unlimited flight changes through to at least February, for flights booked before the end of April.

For Jetstar tickets, customers looking for peace of mind will need to pay extra for a ‘FareCredit’, which allows passengers to cancel flights for any reason.

Qantas and Jetstar also took the opportunity to launch a ‘network-wide sale’ dubbed the ‘everywhere else sale’, with discounted fares to more than 50 destinations across more than 200 routes.

The network-wide sale starts at midnight and runs until April 8 for travel until the end of the year.

Virgin Australia released 260,000 half-priced interstate tickets spanning 25 destinations, with economy fares as low as $55 (Melbourne-Launceston), $60 (Sydney-Gold Coast), and $120 (Adelaide-Alice Springs).

The seats have been discounted by 50 per cent off Virgin Australia’s February lead-in price, the airline said.

Virgin also moved to ease fears of border closures wreaking havoc on holidays by extending its flexible flying policy to “enable customers who book travel under the program the ability to change their booking or cancel to travel credit without fees”.

“While there are short-term constraints around travelling to some destinations at the moment, the good news is that our half-price tickets can be used for travel up to the end of September,” Virgin Australia Group CEO Jayne Hrdlicka said.

“These half-priced fares will support jobs and the nation’s economic recovery over the next six months. There’s never been a better time to plan and get on with travelling around Australia.”

How to nab a bargain

To find the best deal for them, would-be travellers should shop around and compare the offerings.

Prices “may vary significantly”, ranging from just above $100 to more than $500 one way as “demand, time and day of flight, airline and cabin class impact fare prices”, RMIT aviation expert Chrystal Zhang said.

“While each airline has its own money-making strategies, they all want to maximise the margin on each seat,” Dr Zhang said.

If you’re not ready to book straight away, it doesn’t mean you’ll miss out on the best deals, either.

“Likely, only a limited number of half-price fares will be available for travel in the immediate few weeks after they go on sale, as airlines have justified grounds to optimise revenue,” Dr Zhang said.

“Travellers will have the best chance of getting a cheaper fare if they travel later in the eligible time frame (July, August and September) but avoid school holidays and weekends.”

Bargain hunters should check out routes including Darwin to Cairns, Adelaide to the Gold Coast, and Avalon to the Gold Coast, with one-way fares tipped drop to as low as $50, she said.

Dr Zhang reassured travellers worried that airlines won’t go far enough with their discounts.

“Since the stimulus package was announced earlier this month, Qantas and Virgin Australia have said they won’t increase airfares but will pass the benefits on to consumers,” she said.

“Therefore, these airlines could be held accountable for their behaviour to ensure that travellers really benefit from the government’s policies and collectively contribute to reviving the economy.”

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