Half-price flights as part of the federal government’s $1.2 billion tourism support package went on sale at midnight, with Qantas, Virgin Australia, Jetstar and Rex offering tickets from as low as $32 one-way.
So far, the flights are selling quickly! Demand for the cheap flights to regional destinations has been so high that some airline websites struggled to cope with the high traffic volumes in the early hours of this morning.
There are some great deals to be found on flights with all the major domestic airlines to the 15 destinations covered by the Tourism Aviation Network Support (TANS) program. Qantas has also today launched an “Everywhere Else” sale to all domestic destinations that aren’t covered by the government’s half-price flight scheme, meaning the entire country is now on sale.
But there are a few catches. In particular, the cheap fares are generally only available at off-peak times. We also found one route where the “half-price” airfares on sale today are actually more expensive than they were with the same airline yesterday.
How do the half-price domestic flights work?
Under the TANS program, up to 800,000 Economy class seats on interstate flights to 15 regional destinations around Australia are eligible for a government-subsidised 50% discount. A limited number of available seats on the eligible flights are being sold at half-price, with the passenger to pay half the cost and the federal government to cover the rest.
The subsidised flights went on sale today, and will remain on sale until 31 July 2021 or until sold out. The discount covers travel dates from mid-April until the end of September 2021, although this varies by route.
The following destinations are included:
- Gold Coast, QLD
- Cairns, QLD
- Whitsundays, QLD (including Proserpine & Hamilton Island)
- Sunshine Coast, QLD
- Darwin, NT
- Uluru, NT (Lasseter region)
- Alice Springs, NT
- Launceston, TAS
- Devonport, TAS
- Burnie, TAS
- Broome, WA
- Avalon, VIC (Geelong)
- Merimbula, NSW
- Adelaide, SA
- Kangaroo Island, SA
Initially, the government said that airlines would only be eligible for funding on interstate routes to/from the selected regions that they have flown in the past two years. But the Adelaide-Kangaroo Island route now appears to be eligible, despite being an intrastate route.
Qantas’s Melbourne-Merimbula route also seems to be eligible, even though Qantas has only served it for the past two months, and Rex is selling goverment-subsidised tickets on flights to Adelaide and the Gold Coast which it only started operating this week.
Not all seats on every flight are available for half price. In total there are only 800,000 seats shared across all domestic airlines, and many of the cheap flights are only available on off-peak flights where demand is lower.
In the case of Qantas, for example, flights would need to have “E” class availability for half-price seats to be available. This is the lowest fare class and the first to sell out if a flight is in high demand. The number of discounted seats available on flights available with other airlines, including Jetstar, also appears to be quite limited.
How to book a half-price ticket
The half-price flights are available to book directly on the websites of the airlines, or via travel agents. On the Qantas website, for example, the discounted tickets are marked as “Half Off”.
You can find a full list of routes available, and book, directly on each of the following airline websites:
Jetstar is also offering 50% off bundles purchased in conjunction with the half-price flights. This means you could add a Plus Bundle, which includes checked baggage, seat selection, a food voucher and Qantas points & status credits, for as little as $21.50. Or, add a Max Bundle (which includes up-front seating and double the amount of Qantas status credits) for $42.50.
Qantas, Virgin and Rex are allowing fee-free changes to bookings made under their current policies of additional flexbility. With most airlines, you can also choose to cancel for a flight credit. However, beware that you’ll need to pay any applicable fare difference when changing your flight. If there are no longer any half-price tickets available when you change your flight, you may need to pay a significant fare difference.
Are these airfares good value?
On many routes, these subsidised airfares are genuinely great value… if you can find a seat.
For example, Jetstar is selling flights on the Avalon-Adelaide route for just $32 one-way. Jetstar also has Sydney-Avalon fares for $34, Sydney-Launceston for $49, Hobart-Adelaide for $54, Brisbane-Darwin for $82, Sydney-Cairns for $83 and Perth-Cairns for $108 – to give just a few examples.
Qantas also has some decent full-service airfares such as Adelaide-Kingscote for $80, Melbourne-Devonport for $89, Canberra-Gold Coast for $95, Adelaide-Alice Springs for $135 and Perth-Hobart for $190.
Virgin Australia says that its sale prices are 50% off the lead-in fare that was available in February 2021. They include Melbourne-Launceston for $55, Sydney-Sunshine Coast for $70, Adelaide-Gold Coast for $90 and Melbourne-Hamilton Island for $103.
Meanwhile, Rex only seems to be offering half-price tickets on its new Melbourne-Adelaide, Melbourne-Gold Coast and Sydney-Gold Coast routes (even though it also flies to Burnie, Kangaroo Island and Merimbula, which are eligible destinations). On Rex’s Melbourne-Adelaide route, the “half-price” flights are on sale from $59 one-way.
This seems like a good deal, and it is… except that yesterday, before the government subsidy came in, Rex was selling seats on the Melbourne-Adelaide route from $55 one-way.
The risk of border closures remains
Tourism Minister Dan Tehan was yesterday encouraging Australians to book a domestic holiday to support the local tourism industry.
“People should have the confidence to travel again and I say to all Australians, do your patriotic duty, book a holiday and get out and support our tourism industry,” Tehan said.
But the risk of border closures is still impacting peoples’ confidence to book interstate travel. This concern is not unfounded, as just this week, almost every state has banned arrivals from Brisbane (or in the case of WA, from the entire state of Queensland) due to the current COVID-19 outbreak there.
As we said last week, a simple guarantee that borders won’t close again unless absolutely necessary would do a lot more to stimulate demand for domestic tourism – without costing taxpayers anything. And without an assurance that borders won’t close again, the entire half-price flights scheme is undermined.
Nonetheless, if you’re willing to take the risk, there are some great domestic flight deals available right now. Happy booking!
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