A rise in air ticket prices by Qantas for services from Wagga to Sydney and Melbourne during summer has been criticised as compounding the pressures of regional living.
As of Thursday, prices for flights from Wagga to Sydney in October–December were as high as $405 for Qantas’ Red eDeal, its lowest fares.
The cheapest flight on October 10 was $365 while it was $157 and $173 for Albury and Dubbo, respectively.
Similarly, Wagga to Melbourne on the same date was $453 and $173 with Qantas (via Sydney) and Rex, respectively.
Albury has the added competition of Virgin Australia.
However, prices for Dubbo, which has only Qantas and Rex services like Wagga, were around the same as Albury (often at less than $200 one way) for flights to Sydney during October–January.
Wagga resident Julian McLaren, who is a member of Qantas’ frequent flyer program, said he was surprised to learn about the large differences.
“They can’t treat us like that – they need to understand the living costs and the last thing we need is finding it hard to travel,” he said.
“Last summer was around the $220-$250 mark.”
Mr McLaren, a financial advisor, takes regular business trips to the National Australia Bank in Sydney and said that if he found it difficult, it would be harder on families taking leisure trips.
“For a family of five, that’s over $3000 return – you may as well drive with that price differential,” he said.
“It must be a higher demand at the moment, or they must increasing it to subsidise something.”
They can’t treat us like that – they need to understand the living costs and the last thing we need is finding it hard to travel.Julian McLaren, resident and frequent flyer
He advised other residents to vote with their feet.
“Support the airline offering the lowest airfares, which is Rex at the moment, and it employs local people” he said.
Another resident, who did not wish to be named, said “I just think this is an example of the regional struggles we face”.
Prices reflect history: Qantas
However, Qantas said the price changes were cheaper than historical trends.
“History shows that airfares have decreased over time – Qantas’ domestic sale fares are almost 40 per cent lower in real terms than they were 15 years ago,” a spokesperson said.
Asked about why prices for Wagga were generally higher than Rex’s for October–December 2018, the spokesperson said price differentials reflected the demand cycle.
“The end of the year is our busiest travel period and customers tend to book well in advance so the cheaper seats sell out quickly,” she said.
“The best advice for getting the lowest fare is always to book as early as possible and take advantage of our regular sales.
“Our lead-in fares year-round between Wagga Wagga and Sydney start at $170, and our most recent sale fare in August was $119 one-way.”
Aviation expert weighs in
Strategic Aviation Solutions chairman Neil Hansford said the Wagga market’s demand “may be strong enough for Qantas to not reduce their prices to attract and maintain the strain on their services”.
“The thing that sustains the scheduled services for places like Wagga and Albury are government and business people going to Sydney and Melbourne,” Mr Hansford said.
“The cream on the cake is the leisure-travel market, which declines in winter so the carriers have to flex their fares to fill their aircraft.
“But then, of course, for summer, the reverse [controlling demand] is true because there are more of those leisure travellers.”
If Wagga didn’t have a strong business, government and tertiary community, it wouldn’t have half the service because the yields wouldn’t be there.Neil Hansford, Strategic Aviation Solutions
Mr Hansford said Qantas could not justify flying a 180-seat aircraft five days per week to increase the number of lower-priced seats.
“People see JetStar ads for $69 tickets for major airports and they ask why the can’t get that – very simply, you don’t have a market the size of Sydney,” he said.
“In terms of investment, Qantas doesn’t see the need for more assets in Wagga.”
Mr Hansford said leisure travellers need to recognise that the price increase was cyclic.
“They’re the leisure travellers who make travel once or twice a year and have different expectations,” he said.
“If Wagga didn’t have a strong business, government and tertiary community, it wouldn’t have half the service because the yields wouldn’t be there.”
He advised residents to book early to ensure they obtain the cheapest prices.
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