IIf you want to travel from Australia to Europe in June or July on a route without long or multiple stopovers, a return economy flight will cost at least $4,500 and on many dates, more than $6,000. The cheapest fares, which include long or multiple layovers and more than 40 hours of travel, cost around US$3,000. To get to the United States, a direct flight to Los Angeles costs $4,300.
That’s a staggering increase from pre- and even mid-pandemic levels. What once could cover an entire holiday, with money to spare, is now just the cost of airfare.
Flight Center Director Andrew Stark says rising fuel costs, lack of competition and limited airlines flying to Australia are the main culprits for the exorbitant fares.
The fact that Australians are eager to leave the country after more than two years of travel bans and uncertainty are compounding the problem, says Naomi Hahn of price comparison website Skyscanner. “Strong demand is meeting and sometimes exceeding available seats, which makes ticket prices higher.”
Domestically, tourists are also facing cost increases, with Stark saying accommodation is more expensive and bookings are quicker. “Now that international borders are open again, many Australian holiday destinations are making reservations… in some cases for the rest of the year.”
Add to that the general cost-of-living pressures of rising fuel, grocery bills and interest rate hikes, and a much-needed winter getaway – or the long-awaited reunion with family and friends abroad – is getting out of hand. within reach of many Australians.
For now, it’s not possible to travel on a pre-pandemic budget without making compromises – in location, route, time in advance planning, or all three. But travel experts say that with some strategic concessions, travel is still cost-effective.
For any trip: plan ahead
Stark says the uncertainty we’re currently facing means “customers are often booking closer to their travel dates than ever before.” While this is understandable, it also means paying more. “Our advice is that once you know where and when you want to go, book, as the further away the better deal you will get.”
Skyscanner data suggests that the cheapest time to book a trip to London, on average, is 18 weeks before your scheduled departure date.
This is also true for the US, where data from the Hopper flight comparison tool shows above-average or well above average prices for flights to Los Angeles through September, with direct flights costing a minimum of $2,000.
Prices for peak times in December and January are also very high.
Domestic travel also requires advance planning, particularly during peak periods such as school holidays and long weekends. “For school vacation bookings, for example, you should look at this right after the previous school vacation period,” says Stark.
Take out insurance!
Given that an early Covid infection can torpedo travel plans at the last minute, Stark suggests booking “good quality travel insurance as soon as you book your first flight, so that if things change, you’re covered.” While this adds to the total cost of a trip, it can end up paying itself many times over if things go wrong.
Many travel insurance policies do not cover the cost of canceled plans booked more than 48 hours before the policy is purchased, so book your insurance at the same time as or before the remainder of your trip.
For short stays: stay close and stay midweek
While domestic flight price increases are not that high, the best option for a short break is to cut the cost of flights and car hire entirely and choose a destination accessible by car or public transport.
For Melbourne residents, Daniel Finch of Wotif says the Grampians have “some of the best value accommodation in the country, with accommodation rates averaging under $200 a night.” The region has also just unveiled a new mural by artist Sam Bates as part of its 200km silo art trail.
In New South Wales, a break that relies on the cold of winter offers the best value. Wotif recommends Orange as a good choice, with accommodations that average $172 a night. Albury and the Murray region also have good availability and reasonable prices, while in South Australia, the Limestone Coast, a three-hour drive from Adelaide near the Victorian border, averages $158 a night.
Queensland’s Fraser Coast tops Wotif’s suggestions for hotter getaways, with good accommodation availability and an average price of $174 a night.
Finch says traveling outside of peak seasons — for example, midweek rather than weekends — is likely to lead to better prices.
For longer domestic stays: go where tourists are not
Package deals that bundle accommodation and travel may be more affordable than booking separately.
Stark says the best value for money in Australia right now is for “destinations that aren’t necessarily popular with international visitors. Areas like the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia have great deals.”
He also recommends keeping an eye out for flight sales, which are “as if not more frequent than before Covid”.
Wotif points North Queensland as the best location for a warm-weather winter break, with the best prices and availability in Mackay and Townsville, where accommodation averages $149 and $154 a night respectively, and Cairns. also offers reasonable availability and rates.
Darwin and Katherine are also good options for warmer weather, though you’ll need to factor in car rental costs, which start at about $100 a day, according to price comparison website Kayak.
In Western Australia, Wotif says there is still good availability (and good weather) on the Coral Coast, although accommodation prices are around $209 a night.
It’s also worth considering pooling your car rental and accommodation costs by renting a caravan or caravan. Rates at caravan parks tend to be much cheaper than hotels, or even free. Vans can be booked through traditional car rental services or through the peer-to-peer rental website amplify.
For affordable campgrounds, try hipcampwhich has electric and non-electric campgrounds, pre-built tents and even small houses on private property across Australia.
For international travel: be flexible
If you can be flexible with dates, Hahn suggests using Skyscanner’s “whole month” and “cheapest month” search tools.
For those who care more about a trip than a destination, Hahn also recommends using the “everywhere” search, which shows the cheapest trips available both at home and abroad for the entire month. In July, affordable round-trip travel to Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, New Zealand and Indonesia is available for under $400.
Stark says that “destinations that were once popular for their value and ease of experience, like Bali, Fiji and even Hawaii, are still great places for a value-for-money vacation.” He says prices are likely to drop as more destinations ease their travel restrictions, and this will lead to greater competition in the market.
“Mixing and matching the airlines and airports you choose to fly with can seriously reduce costs,” says Stark. “Flying with one airline and returning with another, or leaving one airport and returning to another, can save you money.”
If you plan on setting up your own route, good travel insurance is even more important as booking through multiple airlines will add to your backend administrative work if you need to cancel or change plans.
Setting up alerts to track prices over time can also help if you’re booking ahead. This can be done on most major travel comparison sites, as well as via Google.
Once you arrive at your destination, you can also save on accommodation costs by considering programs like Home Exchange, Nonprofit Hospitality Exchange Network Welcomehome or pet care or volunteer vacation.