Air New Zealand criticised for high cost of flights during school holidays

Natalie Akoorie, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 18 Jun 2020, 5:39PM
(Photo / AP)
(Photo / AP)

Air New Zealand criticised for high cost of flights during school holidays

Natalie Akoorie, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 18 Jun 2020, 5:39PM

An announcement by Air New Zealand it will increase flights during school holidays came hours after it emerged a one-way ticket from Auckland to Queenstown for the same period would cost $409.

A ticket on the exact same flight two weeks later, outside of the July school holidays, was $79.

It comes as the Government and tourism operators push New Zealanders to open up their wallets post the Covid-19 lockdown and support local operators by travelling domestically.

On Wednesday the Herald researched the cost of a family of four flying to Queenstown for the school holidays, which begin on July 6.

The $409 one way flight was for a seat only on a midday flight direct from Auckland to Queenstown on Tuesday, July 7.

The total $1636 for four flyers did not factor in the cost of return flights, accommodation, rental car hire and activities in Queenstown.

Jetstar's flight from Auckland to Queenstown on the same day was $259.

In a Twitter thread started by this reporter discussing the situation, several people said such trips were prohibitive because of the cost of flights.

One said they would drive to Northland instead, while others said they booked flights to Dunedin and would drive to Queenstown.

Others said they booked a couple of weeks ago and flights were cheaper, around $150 to $250 one way.

Air NZ chief commercial and customer officer Cam Wallace wrote: "It's generally the cheapest way to book, but not always, especially when we are rebuilding a network and adding frequencies - sometimes quite late in the piece".

"Fare buckets are a way that we segment our price points to capture different levels of demand elasticity."

Queenstown and Lakes District mayor Jim Boult said he would be disappointed if the cost of flights was preventing people from going to Queenstown.

"We are desperate to get visitors to our part of New Zealand and we've been very encouraged to date by support we've had from around New Zealand - lots of Kiwis choosing to come to Queenstown and Wanaka and this is something we want to encourage.

"Obviously we have no international business at the present time so great to have Kiwis enjoying their own back yard."

Boult said he had been "very impressed" with Air NZ putting on extra flights after complaints from customers there was not enough capacity.

"However, if the prices you are talking about are the norm over that period it is disappointing because for a family to come down at that cost it's quite prohibitive and I really would encourage Air NZ to play their part in making travel affordable for Kiwis in this point in time, mirroring the efforts of operators in Queenstown and hoteliers who are dropping their prices to meet the market."

He accepted Air NZ was also struggling after Covid-19 but said: "It would be disappointing if their pricing structure put people off travelling in New Zealand."

Consumer NZ chief executive Jon Duffy said flights in peak travel times have always been more expensive than off-peak times.

"While Air New Zealand could be considering what it can do to help get people to tourist destinations cheaper, they are also free to manage their fares and schedules in the way that works best for their business.

"We would encourage travellers to plan ahead and get in early for the best fares."

Destination Queenstown did not want to comment on the cost of flights to get to New Zealand's adventure and ski capital.

However Expedia said a number of hotels in Queenstown and Wanaka were offering discounts starting from the end of June coinciding with the ski season, while Cardrona and Treble Cone were also offering deals.

This morning Air NZ issued a press release announcing new flights to increase capacity on routes between popular destinations, during the upcoming school holidays.

Air NZ said its 787-9 Dreamliner, a 302-seat aircraft, would add more capacity between Auckland and Christchurch during the school holidays.

Networks general manager Scott Carr said the Dreamliner would operate 16 return passenger services between the two cities between July 1 and 19, adding almost 10,000 additional seats on this route.

"We'll also add capacity of all of our other main trunk routes – from Auckland to Wellington, Dunedin and Queenstown, as well from Wellington to Christchurch, Dunedin and Queenstown through either extra flights or by upgauging to larger aircraft," Carr said.

"When it comes to our Auckland-Queenstown route, we'll be offering even more capacity over the school holidays than we did during the same time last year through upgauging 140 return services from our A320 to our larger A321neo aircraft between June 29 and July 26.

"This is great news for tourism and those wanting to hit the slopes."

When the Herald checked flights for July 7 again today, the cheapest option had reduced to $367, with other flights on the day still at $409 and the most expensive $521.

Flight prices on the Tuesday outside of school holidays had increased to $149 one way.

A spokeswoman called the increase capacity "fantastic news" because the remainder of Air NZ's domestic network was operating at around 55 per cent of its usual levels compared to July last year.

"The current pricing is reflective of the immense demand for this route," she said.

"To date, over 15,000 customers have already booked in to or out of Queenstown securing flights for under $100 each way over these July school holidays.

"Even with the additional capacity, there are a limited amount of seats left on these routes."

She said flights were still cheap for the September school holidays with fares starting from $79 each way.