(Image: Tina Tiller)
(Image: Tina Tiller)

MoneyDecember 8, 2021

Want a flight from Australia when the border reopens? You’re probably too late

(Image: Tina Tiller)
(Image: Tina Tiller)

From January 17, Aussie-based New Zealanders can return home, bypassing MIQ. The only problem? Flights immediately following the border’s reopening are sold out and any available fares remain costly.

What even is an airport? How do planes stay airborne among the clouds? Is that Mt Ruapehu or Tongariro?

I haven’t pondered these kinds of questions in what feels like a lifetime thanks to 107 days of lockdown. Australian-based New Zealanders will be able to sit with those same thoughts in their airplane seats from January 17, 2022, as they make their way back to Aotearoa – a feat that has sometimes felt like a lifetime in the making.

Nearly 700,000 New Zealand citizens and residents living across the ditch will be able to self-isolate at home for a week after arriving under strict conditions, one being that they are fully vaccinated. The lottery draw that is our Covid-19 MIQ system will soon be no more.

The government’s three-stage border reopening plan, announced in late November, was met with celebration, tears and a “mixture of relief and betrayal” from overseas New Zealanders who’ve struggled to get home. And now, finally, they can.

At least they can if they have $1,100 for a one-way ticket. Travellers will be hard-pressed to find seats on New Zealand’s national carrier in the first few days of the rule change. At the time of writing, there are no seats available at all on Air New Zealand flights from Sydney to Auckland between January 17 and January 19. The extra legroom, leather seats and premium menu of “premium economy”, the most expensive and only fare available on Thursday, January 20, will set you back a shade over $1,100. 

Fare options increase (and prices drop) after January 20, although flying on the Friday with only carry-on luggage will still cost you over $600. The cheapest date to return, with prices starting at $358, is not for another fortnight.

A Google search produces other eye-watering results. While Australian airline operator Qantas isn’t flying direct to New Zealand, it’s offering eight flights from Sydney lasting more than 40 hours. The reason? A 16-hour layover in Brisbane followed by a detour to, and overnight stopover in, Fiji before a final three-hour push to Tāmaki Makaurau. Google says the $717 price tag is “typical” for economy tickets at the moment. Offering the same route at a similar cost and lasting just as many hours is Virgin Australia. Qantas’s low-budget subsidiary, Jetstar, has no direct flights available.

Thousands of customers are booked to fly Air New Zealand on the first three days and the high demand hasn’t surprised the airline given departing flights from several Australian cities have completely sold out, says chief customer and sales officer Leanne Geraghty. However, while she says any remaining services are expected to sell out in the coming weeks, plenty of flights will be available once the initial demand eases. The airline is providing 12 flights a day from January 17, with New Zealanders flying from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth to Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. So why not just add more flights to the schedule?

“We will continue to monitor demand on both routes and are not ruling out putting on additional flights if they are viable,” says Geraghty.

Following the government’s announcement, Air New Zealand cancelled more than two weeks of trans-Tasman flights for the start of January, days after it scrapped flights between Australia and Aotearoa for the rest of 2021. Geraghty at the time said the airline hoped plans to reopen the border to all travellers worldwide could be brought forward in the new year.

New Zealanders returning from other countries will have to wait until at least February 14 to skip MIQ, under the government’s border reopening plan. All fully vaccinated foreign nationals will be allowed to enter the country from April 30. By then we should have more people flying through New Zealand’s skies, pointing from their window seats at Mt Ruapehu. Or is it Tongariro?

Keep going!