Tag Flights within Australia on Overseas Airlines
Qatar Airways flies daily from Sydney to Canberra… but you can’t buy a ticket.

Did you know that there are several domestic tag flights within Australia operated by overseas airlines? For example, Cathay Pacific flies from Brisbane to Cairns, with services continuing to Hong Kong. However, it is impossible to book a seat on these domestic tag flights within Australia.

While overseas airlines are allowed to operate tag flights within Australia, they do not have local traffic rights. Selling seats to passengers on purely domestic itineraries would breach Australia’s cabotage restrictions. So to book a seat, you would need to be continuing to or from the airline’s own country – though stopovers in Australia may be allowed in some cases.

There has been some talk recently of relaxing cabotage rules in northern Australia, in order to bring more competition to regional airports. But so far these discussions have not progressed any further.

Here is a current list of overseas airline tag flights within Australia:

  • Cathay Pacific flies between Brisbane and Cairns 4x weekly using an Airbus A330, with flights continuing to/from Hong Kong
  • Hong Kong Airlines flies from Gold Coast to Cairns 3x weekly using an Airbus A330, with flights continuing to Hong Kong (this service will end on 28 October)
  • Singapore Airlines flies from Sydney to Canberra every evening using a Boeing 777-300ER, with flights continuing to Singapore
  • Qatar Airways flies daily between Sydney and Canberra using a Boeing 777-300ER, with flights continuing to/from Doha

There are several other airlines that previously operated tag flights within Australia. Until March 2018, Philippine Airlines flew A320s between Darwin and Brisbane. And Air India used to fly between Sydney and Melbourne, operating their flights to/from Delhi as a triangle service.

These domestic tag flights within Australia are a great way to travel as they depart from international terminals (with international lounges) and are operated on long-haul aircraft. Fancy flying First Class on a wide-body aircraft from Sydney to Canberra? You can, with Singapore Airlines… but only if you’re continuing on the same flight from Canberra to Singapore.

Qantas and Jetstar also operate a small number of international tag flights within Australia. Qantas’ daily QF9/10 service from Melbourne to London operates via Perth, and it is possible to buy a ticket from Melbourne to Perth only. Eligible passengers departing from Melbourne can even use the Qantas First or Business Class lounges.

Booking a Jetstar tag flight departing from an international terminal is also a clever way to access international airport lounges on a cheap domestic ticket. Jetstar occasionally runs Boeing 787 tag flights on domestic routes. There is no permanent schedule and routes change constantly. But over the coming weeks Jetstar will run Boeing 787s on the Gold Coast-Melbourne route most Thursdays and Saturdays, and from Melbourne to Gold Coast some Sundays and Fridays. There are also various flights between Melbourne-Cairns and Gold Coast-Cairns, such as JQ25 from Melbourne to Cairns on 30 August.

An overseas airline operating a tag flight between two Australian cities is an example of an eighth-freedom route. (Or, at least it would be if the international airline was permitted to sell domestic tickets!) These are different to the many fifth-freedom flights that operate through Australia en-route to a third country.

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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]