Planning to travel? Be prepared to pay more as airfares soar

With border restrictions in Singapore and the region being eased, the travel industry is picking up after a prolonged downturn, with airfares taking to the skies and rising even beyond pre-pandemic levels.

Travel platform Expedia said its data showed air ticket prices being “generally higher” than in pre-pandemic days, with the average price for Singaporeans’ top five destinations up 20 per cent from 2019.

These destinations are Bangkok, Bali, Kuala Lumpur, Phuket and Seoul, said Expedia’s Asia head of public relations Lavinia Rajaram.

Likewise, lifestyle app Traveloka said it has seen “an even uptick across the board” in airfares.

“Our top three destinations, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, have been seeing an uptick in bookings despite an average increase of 20 per cent in ticket prices,” said its president Caesar Indra.

Another holidaymaker, El Lee, paid S$253 for his holiday to Phuket in March via Singapore Airlines. While the airfares were 20 to 30 per cent more than what he paid in 2019, the start-up entrepreneur felt that they were “reasonable” given the additional care and procedures that the national carrier had put in place.

“For me, it is more than getting from point A to B. It is about the in-flight comfort and safety, as well as showing our support for the crews that take care of the passengers,” Mr Lee told CNA.

It is not just full-fledged carriers that have raised their fares, prices on budget airlines have also seemingly gone up.

A round trip to Phuket via Scoot this month will cost at least S$220, based on checks by CNA this week. A round trip in 2019 before the pandemic would have cost below S$150.

WHY ARE FLIGHTS GETTING MORE EXPENSIVE

The surge in travel demand following the much-anticipated reopening of borders is one of the key factors driving up air ticket prices.

“Since the start of the year, with every travel restriction lifted, we have been noticing users quickly booking their next trips to fulfill their pent-up demand,” said Mr Indra.

With airlines no longer “desperate for business”, they can do away with the super-low fares they had at the peak of the pandemic when travel curbs were in place, said Assistant Professor Terence Fan, a transport specialist from the Singapore Management University ( SMU).

And as the number of vacant seats is reduced, airlines also “tend to price their remaining seats at higher prices”, he added.

“Travellers are snapping up the lower fares as soon as they see them and airlines are not interested to offer more seats at a low price, because they see that people are coming back. There’s no point giving discounts anymore.”

Assistant Professor Fan noted that the boom in demand is coming at a time when airlines have not gone back to pre-pandemic operations.

“Airlines are very cautious in adding back capacity because they want to see sustained demand first,” he said, citing the use of smaller planes, which means fewer seats, and reduced frequency on routes.

Seasonal factors are also involved in the price increase of late, said Expedia’s Ms Rajaram, noting that the traditional travel peak period marked by school holidays in June and summer travel in other parts of the world is approaching.

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