Are lower international business class airfares back? The signs are good, at least for premium air travel to two of Australia’s most popular destinations, the US and the UK, says travel agency giant Flight Centre Travel Group (FCTG).
As airlines go head-to-head over premium airfares, FCTG Leisure CEO James Kavanagh says some business fares to Los Angeles and London have been slashed compared to recent levels.
This is consistent with a recent fall in international economy fares, some of which have decreased to pre-COVID levels.
“The airfare price wars that we are starting to see are great news for travellers and provide further evidence that airfare pricing is finally starting to normalise,” Kavanagh said.
“In some instances, fares are now comparable to where they were pre-COVID, after an extended period of higher-than-normal pricing after travel restrictions were lifted.
“We are also seeing some very promising signs with economy fares, which is fantastic for travellers whose budgets don’t reach to the front of the plane.
Kavanagh highlighted Qantas and United Airlines Sydney-LA business class airfares for travel between February and November that were currently below $7,300. More than $4,000 less than the airline’s typical business fare and over $3,000 cheaper than the average fare in 2023, he said the Qantas premium ticket was particularly notable.
Elsewhere, Air Canada and Philippine Airlines were among those offering more affordable indirect travel to the US, with business class airfares costing $6,764 and $5,276 respectively.
UK-bound premium also have cause for celebration, with Etihad last week offering ex-Sydney and Melbourne business class airfares for below $6,000. For those content to fly through China, Kavanagh said Flight Centre business fares to London (ex-Melbourne) currently started at just $5,281 for departures in March this year.
Qatar Airways, Emirates and Qantas business fares are a little more, with ex-Sydney flights at around $9,000. But these are still around $1,000 (about 10 per cent) cheaper than typical recent airfares and average 2023 prices.
“Generally, fares are now cheaper to most international destinations and we are starting to see some eye-catching deals through to London, which has been one of the hottest destinations for Australian travellers over the past few years,” Kavanagh remarked.
“As we have seen historically, airlines compete very aggressively on price, so we expect to see further eye-catching deals for travellers in the months ahead as capacity increases and competition intensifies.
“As is always the case, the cheapest fares can be hard to secure so the best advice is to get in early and lock in a deal as soon as you can.
For economy travel, Kavanagh points to a headline fare to London (ex-Sydney) with Air China at $1,202 (for March), which is “less than half the average price travellers paid throughout 2023 and cheaper than the headline $1,590 return fare that we advertised at this time 10 years ago”.
US travel boom
As premium class airfares to the United States fall, FCM Travel and Flight Centre Corporate reports that US-bound business travel is soaring.
“Demand for travel between the US and Australia is evident by FCM Travel’s data, which shows an uplift of more than 60 per cent in bookings in the second half of 2023, compared to the same period in 2022,” Global FCM COO/Flight Centre Corporate MD for ANZ Melissa Elf said.
“We are currently operating at 89 per cent of pre-2019 capacity between Australia and the US. We are anticipating this to reach 96 per cent by November with the welcome news of daily flights between Brisbane and Dallas.
“US carriers such as American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Airlines are all adding capacity, beyond their pre-2019 levels.
They are recognising the demand we have for business and trade between our two countries.”
However, Elf urged Aussie airlines to “follow suit to get us back to seamless, more affordable, and more frequent travel” between Australia and its largest economic partner.
Read about Flight Centre’s year in travel in 2023.
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