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What are the reasons for the current high flight prices and how can one find more affordable airfares?

Despite the reopening of the world for travel and the decline of the pandemic, airfares continue to remain exceptionally high. What factors contribute to this ongoing trend?

Cheap flights

  • After enduring years of travel restrictions due to the pandemic, countries have finally reopened, and the demand for holidays has surged. This increased desire to travel has resulted in inflated flight prices. (Reuters)
  • Following years of pandemic-related travel restrictions, most of the world is accessible once again and people are craving holidays.
  • The return of travel and the approaching summer season has sparked renewed enthusiasm among people. After enduring years of pandemic-related travel restrictions, most parts of the world have once again become accessible, leading to a surge in holiday cravings.
  • According to Expedia's 2023 Travel Trends Report, there is a notable increase in travel to cultural destinations, a growing interest in wellness retreats, and a rising demand for outdoor destinations beyond the traditional beach and mountain getaways. The desire to explore and experience new places is palpable.
  • In the UAE, a recent survey conducted by Skyscanner revealed that 91 percent of travelers are planning summer vacations. Surprisingly, almost half of these holidaymakers, 48 percent, are yet to book their trips.
  • However, those eager to embark on their long-awaited vacations may face a rather unpleasant surprise as airfares continue to soar during the summer season. "Airfares are higher than ever, planes are full," stated John Bevan, the CEO of dnata Travel Group.
  • The price of air travel remains a prominent challenge, as airlines strive to meet the surging demand by increasing flight capacity. This has contributed to the current trend of elevated airfares.
  • Despite the challenges posed by expensive flights, travelers remain determined to fulfill their wanderlust and make the most of the opportunities available to explore the world once again.
  • The surge in flight prices can be attributed to several factors, including high travel demand, increased oil prices, inactive aircraft, and the need for crew retraining, among others. (Getty Images)
  • With the worst of the pandemic now behind us, the surge in flight prices can be attributed to a combination of factors, with global travel demand being the primary driver.
  • Etihad Airways, in response to the rising demand for travel, stated, "Since Covid, there has been a consistently high demand for travel, which we are seeing across the network, not just on certain routes." The airline spokesperson also emphasized that people are making up for missed travel opportunities during the pandemic, and both personal and business reasons are contributing to the increased demand for air travel.
  • As long as the demand for flights remains high, ticket prices will continue to reflect this trend. Ayoub El Mamoun, Skyscanner's Travel Expert, explained, "Airfare pricing is complex, and there are many factors that determine the cost...however, the key determining factor for the price paid is largely due to demand."
  • In summary, the convergence of various factors, including pent-up travel demand and a renewed appreciation for in-person interactions, has contributed to the current scenario of elevated flight prices.
Impacts of Aircraft and Pilot Shortages on the Aviation Industry
  • Factors Contributing to High Airfares: Thin Schedules, Inactive Aircraft, and Pilot Shortages
  • Even if travel demand experiences a slowdown, several other factors are expected to contribute to the persistence of high airfares. These factors include limited airline schedules, aircraft that are not fully operational, and a shortage of trained pilots.
  • According to Ross Veitch, the CEO, and co-founder of Wego, "Higher prices are partly due to supply constraints - not all airlines have fully reinstated their fleet yet." This indicates that the availability of flights is limited due to some airlines not yet operating their entire fleet.
  • Additionally, inactive aircraft that have been grounded during the pandemic needs time to be prepared and made airworthy, which further reduces the supply of available planes.
  • Furthermore, the aviation industry is facing a shortage of trained pilots, exacerbating the challenges faced by airlines in meeting the demand for flights. This scarcity of qualified pilots contributes to the overall limitations in flight availability.
  • As a result of these frictions, airfares are expected to remain high, even if travel demand shows signs of slowing down.
  • Numerous Aircraft Remain Grounded in Boneyards During the Covid-19 Pandemic, Awaiting Return to Operation
  • Challenges in Aircraft Readiness and Crew Adaptation Impacting Flight Capacities and Airfares
  • Preparing an aircraft for flight after it has been parked in a desert boneyard for an extended period is not a swift process. It requires significant effort. Moreover, there are crew-related issues to address. Pilots certified for specific aircraft models, such as Airbus jets, may now be required to fly different models like the Boeing 787. This necessitates additional training in simulators, which are limited in availability. As a result, these transitions take time and can contribute to delays in resuming full flight operations.
  • In the Middle East, which is recognized as the world's fastest-growing tourism destination by travel technology firm RateGain, many airlines have already restored their capacity to nearly pre-pandemic levels. For instance, Emirates is operating at approximately 85 percent capacity. However, this doesn't automatically lead to reduced airfares. As long as other regions continue to operate below their pre-pandemic capacities, there will be a knock-on effect on flight prices.
  • Ross Veitch explains, "I'm hopeful that by summer, most airlines that fly in and out of the Mena region will be at, or almost at, 100 percent capacity compared to pre-Covid levels. However, the Asia Pacific regions are still significantly behind, and since it's a global network, this impacts prices." He further highlights that the lack of flight options with Asian carriers may result in travelers shifting to other airlines, such as Emirates or regional carriers, to reach their desired destinations. Consequently, this increased demand for tickets contributes to higher prices.
  • Therefore, while airlines in some regions may be recovering their pre-pandemic capacities, the imbalances in other regions and the resulting shifts in demand continue to influence airfare levels.

Will flight prices eventually revert to their pre-Covid levels?

According to Veitch, it is unlikely that flight prices will fully return to their pre-Covid levels, although there may be a slight easing during the summer compared to last year.

Effective Strategies for Discovering Affordable Flight Deals

Unlocking Strategies to Discover Affordable Airfares

  • While it may be more challenging to come across attractive deals on airfares in the current climate, it doesn't mean they are non-existent. Savvy travelers can employ certain tactics when booking flights and understanding airline operations can enhance the chances of finding better fares.
  • Airlines often utilize fare classes, with each class filling up before the next one becomes available for purchase. This dynamic contributes to fluctuations in ticket prices, making certain times more expensive, such as last-minute bookings when there is a limited supply to meet high demand. However, it's important to note that last-minute deals can still be found, particularly on specific routes and itineraries, as airlines introduce new routes or seek to fill remaining seats before departure.
  • By staying informed about these practices and keeping an eye on changing routes and seat availability, travelers can increase their chances of securing affordable airfares. Online platforms like Skyscanner can be valuable resources for identifying such opportunities and finding the best deals.

Flexibility in Destination and Travel Dates: Key to Discovering Affordable Airfares

  • One effective approach to finding cheaper airfares is to maintain flexibility regarding your travel destination and the days you fly. By being open to various options, travelers can increase their chances of securing more affordable flight deals.
  • Being flexible with your destination allows you to explore different locations that may have lower airfare prices during the time you plan to travel. Consider alternative destinations or lesser-known cities that still offer exciting experiences and attractions.
  • Similarly, being flexible with your travel dates can yield significant savings. Flights on certain days of the week or during off-peak hours often come with lower prices compared to peak travel times. Utilize flight search engines or fare comparison websites to identify the most cost-effective travel dates.
  • By embracing flexibility in both destination and travel dates, travelers can optimize their chances of finding cheaper airfares and make the most of their travel budget.
  • Unlocking Affordable Airfares: The Power of Flexibility in Destination and Travel Dates. 

Embracing Flexibility: Key to Uncovering Affordable Airfares

Being open to new destinations and maintaining flexibility in travel plans can significantly enhance the chances of finding more budget-friendly airfares.
According to Veitch, timing plays a crucial role. It is advisable to plan ahead and book well in advance. The general rule is that the earlier you book, the better. For travel scheduled six months or more in the future, consider opting for flexible booking options. This allows for greater flexibility if plans change, providing alternative choices.
Etihad Airways also emphasizes the importance of early booking for securing the best prices and deals.
Additionally, flying on less popular days of the week can lead to reduced fares. El Mamoum states that travelers who have the flexibility to fly on these days during July and August can save up to 35% on their flight costs.
By incorporating flexibility into destination choices, travel dates, and booking strategies, travelers can maximize their chances of finding more affordable airfares and saving on their travel expenses.

Which destinations offer affordable flight options for summer travel?

  1. Benefiting from Countercyclical Travel: Saving Money on Your Trips
  2. Taking a countercyclical approach can prove advantageous for travelers seeking to save on their travel expenses.
  3. "It's beneficial to be countercyclical. If you have the flexibility to plan your vacation outside of school holidays, seize the opportunity. While it may be more challenging for families, if it's feasible, take advantage of this option," suggested Veitch.
  4. By opting to travel during non-peak seasons or less popular times, travelers can often find better deals and lower prices on flights, accommodations, and various activities. Avoiding crowds and taking advantage of discounted rates can significantly contribute to saving money while still enjoying a memorable vacation experience.

Benefiting from a Contrarian Approach to Save Money on Travel

  • Taking a contrarian approach can prove advantageous for travelers looking to save money during their trips.
  • "It's beneficial to go against the grain. If you have the flexibility to plan your holiday outside of school holidays, seize the opportunity. Although it may be more challenging for families, if possible, take advantage of this option," suggested Veitch.
  • By deviating from the popular travel periods and opting for less crowded times, travelers can often find better deals and save on expenses. Avoiding peak seasons can lead to lower airfares, discounted accommodations, and more affordable activities. Embracing flexibility and considering alternative travel times can significantly contribute to saving money while still enjoying a fulfilling and cost-effective travel experience.
  • Breaking the Norm: A Money-Saving Strategy for Travelers
  • Taking a unique approach can be highly beneficial for travelers aiming to save on their expenses.
  • "Being countercyclical can work wonders. If you have the flexibility to plan your vacation outside of school holidays, it's a wise move to seize the opportunity. While it may be more challenging for families if you can manage it, take full advantage," recommended Veitch.
  • By defying conventional travel patterns and opting for non-peak periods, travelers often uncover significant savings. This can translate into lower airfare, discounted accommodations, and more affordable activities. Embracing flexibility and exploring alternative travel times can make a remarkable difference in maximizing savings while still enjoying a rewarding and economical travel experience.

Benefitting from Unconventional Choices: Saving Money on Travel

Taking a contrarian approach can prove advantageous for travelers seeking to save on their travel expenses.
"Being countercyclical can yield great results. If you have the flexibility to plan your vacation outside of school holidays, it's a smart move to seize the opportunity. While it may be more challenging for families, if it's possible, take full advantage of it," advised Veitch.
By going against the grain and opting for non-traditional travel periods, travelers often discover significant savings. This can lead to lower airfares, discounted accommodations, and more budget-friendly experiences. Embracing flexibility and exploring alternative travel times can make a notable difference in maximizing savings while still enjoying a fulfilling and cost-effective travel experience.
 
Cheaper Flights from the UAE to Greece in June 2023 Compared to Pre-Pandemic Times. Photo: Philip Jahn / Unsplash

Embrace Creativity: Discovering Alternative Destinations Can Save You Money

Thinking outside the box when it comes to choosing your travel destinations can lead to significant savings. As the chief executive explains, opting for the same popular destinations as everyone else during peak times can come with a higher price tag.
This trend is evident in exclusive travel data from Skyscanner, shared with The National, highlighting several destinations where average flight fares from the UAE in June are currently lower than pre-pandemic levels.
For instance, Greece presents a 24 percent decrease in fares compared to last year, while the Maldives stands out with an impressive 56 percent decrease in prices compared to pre-Covid times. This reduction is likely attributed to the introduction of budget flights from Wizz Air to this sought-after Indian Ocean paradise.
 
10 Destinations with Lower Fares in 2023 compared to 2019
 
Flights to the Maldives in 2023 Offer Over 50% Cheaper Prices Compared to 2019. Photo: Anantara Veli Maldives Resort
 
Here are 10 destinations where fares in 2023 are lower compared to 2019:
Austria - Fares are 29% less.
Azerbaijan - Fares are 20% less.
Bosnia and Herzegovina - Fares are 51% less.
Brazil - Fares are 7% less.
Cyprus - Fares are 35% less.
Georgia - Fares are 41% less.
Greece - Fares are 24% less.
Iceland - Fares are 12% less.
Kuwait - Fares are 80% less.
Maldives - Fares are 56% less.
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