Travelers unhappy with skyrocketing airline ticket prices

Air New Zealand is warning travelers to book their holidays early as the combination of rising fuel prices, inflation and high demand has forced it to review and increase its air fares.

By Leonard Powell for

International and domestic passengers are crying foul, complaining of airfares costing two or three times what they did before the pandemic.

But Air New Zealand said airlines were pricing higher for the last seats on planes to ensure those who needed to travel urgently could fly.

RNZ went to Auckland airport to find out how much people were paying.

One traveler said airfares had become unaffordable.

“Flights have almost doubled or tripled. I just got back from India last night. The normal price for a flight would have been under $2,000 and I paid over $4,000.

“Even domestic flights from Wellington to Auckland now cost around $300 return all the way and usually they were under $150.

“You’re paying almost 200% more than you would typically pay. I understand the cost of things has gone up, but not 200%.”

The disgruntled flyer had a theory about where the cost came from.

“I think the airlines are now trying to make more money because they lost in Covid, so they’re trying to overcharge [because] they know people have to travel. There’s not that much competition in New Zealand, so they can overcharge.”

Another man had recently traveled to New Zealand from the UK, which he said would not have been possible had his family not paid for the flight.

“It was £3,000 (NZ$5,987) to come from the UK and the flight I wanted was £7,000 (NZ$13,971).”

He said the flight usually cost him around £1,500 ($2,993 NZ).

“If it wasn’t for my dad paying for my ticket, I definitely wouldn’t be traveling.”

In a statement, Air New Zealand chief sales officer and customer Leanne Geraghty said that since the pandemic she had experienced unprecedented travel demand.

This, combined with a shortage of some aircraft, rising fuel prices and inflation, had forced the airline to review and raise prices.

Geraghty said that while the company has worked hard to offer affordable and competitive airfares, comparing a seat on a day does not reflect its pricing structure.

She cited examples of preferential fares for domestic flights priced between $59 and $99 – and a one-way flight from Auckland to Honolulu for $378.

First Up couldn’t find $378 plane tickets between Auckland and Honolulu until next October. The cheapest we could find was $484, with one-way flights costing up to $1,482 during school holidays.

“People are willing to pay”

It’s not just international passengers who are being left out.

“There is no competition there. [so] we have no choice but to pay what they ask, a domestic passenger told RNZ.

Another remembered the good old days when you had to make a deal.

“You can’t get these cheap rates anymore, you have to book at least three months, two months in advance.

“Back then, two weeks, three weeks before, you could get a cheap rate, but it doesn’t seem to be the same anymore.”

Aviation commentator Irene King, former chief executive of Aviation New Zealand, said after two years of restricted travel, demand was high.

“People are willing to pay the fares, that’s a big deal. If people weren’t willing to pay the fares, clearly the air fares would go down.

“But people are willing to pay the fares – demand is pent up and they want to travel.”

King said the rise in airfares was also partly due to the downgrading of planes during the pandemic.

“You need the plane, they need to go through engineering, they need to come back online. And then you need to have a crew to fly them, then the crews need to be up to date.

“It’s a problem, or a blockage, that only aggravates another [but] it will clear up eventually.”

A potential traveler was at the terminal to say goodbye to family members, but did not join them.

“My partner went to Tonga, but he already had a ticket from three and a half years ago because of the Covid. If he had followed today’s prices, he would have paid almost a thousand dollars, a only one-way ticket to Tonga.”

Others said they had no choice. One had taken a financial hit to fly to Japan.

“I’m going to visit my grandmother, because I haven’t seen her for a long time.

“It was usually around $1,500 or $1,700. We had to pay over $3000 for round trip flights. Pretty expensive.

And another shared her frustration.

“I’ve been traveling to South Africa for about nine years now, back and forth, and it’s the most expensive ticket I’ve ever paid, and the service has been absolutely appalling.

“It’s really disheartening to see that even though you pay more for the fares, the service you get is absolutely terrible.”

King said the high cost of travel was a global problem, and although travel seemed out of reach for many with the rising cost of living, she predicted the market would correct itself by 2024.

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