Flights for the upcoming autumn half-term break are 42 per cent more expensive than before the pandemic, Which? has found.
The consumer champion’s analysis of data from Skytra found huge price rises for flights from across the country. The average cost of one-way half-term tickets for six popular destinations came in at £212 this year compared to £150 in 2019. Skytra chief executive Elise Weber said rising fuel costs, pent up demand and airport passenger caps are all contributing to higher fares.
The steepest jump in average prices was seen at Heathrow airport, where passenger numbers have been capped at 100,000 a day until the end of the school break on October 29. Which? has repeatedly criticised the airport and airlines for the travel chaos that made the cap necessary and for failing to provide travellers with clarity on which flights are being cut.
Which? compared the average price of flights to six popular destinations – Alicante, Antalya, Dubai, Dublin, Malaga and Tenerife – from England’s busiest airports: Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Stansted, Luton and Birmingham. The analysis looked at fares at six months, three months and six weeks before the October half-term in 2019 and 2022.
The largest price hike was on flights from Heathrow to Tenerife. Passengers booking six weeks before their departure date paid an average of £262 more each way than in 2019, adding £2,096 to the cost of a holiday for a family of four.
Heathrow to Malaga flights were £282 – an increase of £193 or 216 per cent in three years.
Heathrow to Dublin was £236 on average – 181 per cent more expensive compared to the pre-pandemic price – but fares to the Irish capital varied enormously depending on the departure airport. Which? found the cost of flights has soared from Gatwick, Manchester, Heathrow and Birmingham.
Flights from Gatwick to Dublin saw the biggest rise. Passengers who booked six weeks before half-term paid £42 in 2019 and £160 in 2022 – a huge 281 per cent increase. But bargains were snapped up by those travelling to or from Luton and Stansted this year. They paid just £17 and £18 each way – making return flights for a family of four less than £150.
When passengers are paying more for their flights it is increasingly important that their rights are upheld and enforced. Which? is calling for the Civil Aviation Authority to be given direct fining powers so it can hit operators with heavy fines when they break passenger protection rules.
Early birds usually bagged the best prices this year. The average price for flights between Alicante, Antalya, Dubai, Malaga and Tenerife and all the England airports was less for bookings made six months before half-term, compared with booking six weeks before. The only exceptions were flights between Stansted and Spain, and Birmingham and Antalya – which were slightly cheaper if booked six weeks ahead instead.
The biggest saving was on flights to Tenerife. Holidaymakers who booked their tickets six months ahead paid £60 less each way, on average, than those who booked three months before – saving £480 on the cost of flights for a family of four.
Guy Hobbs, Editor of Which? Travel, said:
“Travellers have had a torrid time this year and our analysis shows they’re paying through the nose for their trouble.
“With fares so high, it’s even more important that airports and airlines are held to account for the unacceptable disruption travellers have faced. The government should give the Civil Aviation Authority stronger powers so it can hit operators with heavy fines when they flout the rules.”
Notes to editors
We compared the average price of flights to six popular destinations – Malaga, Alicante, Antalya, Dubai, Dublin, Malaga and Tenerife – from England’s busiest airports: Heathrow, Stansted, Gatwick, Manchester, Luton and Birmingham.
Airfares analyst Skytra gave us the average price of fares six months, three months and six weeks before October half-term in 2019 and again for this year. Each price is the average of outbound and inbound fares between the UK airport and the holiday destination.
Heathrow only has direct flights to four of the destinations that we compared, while Luton has flights to five of them. Stansted, Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham have direct flights to all six destinations.
While all the airports saw large increases in the cost of flights between 2019 and 2022 – prices from Heathrow rose even faster than its rivals in the months after the passenger cap was introduced in July. The airport denies that the cap is responsible for these increases.
Of the direct flights from Heathrow, fares for all of them were at least £100 more expensive if passengers booked three months ahead, and at least £150 pricier if booked six weeks in advance, compared to 2019 prices.
Guy Hobbs is acting editor of Which? Travel while Rory Boland is on leave.
Right of replies
A Heathrow spokesperson: “Heathrow doesn’t stand to benefit from increased ticket prices this coming half-term. While airlines can set their prices on what the market will bear and dynamically alter fares to ensure they are maximising the yield from each passenger, our level of return per passenger remains fixed due to economic regulation.
“The unprecedented surge in passenger demand this summer, coupled with staffing shortages across the travel sector in Europe and the US, has inevitably pushed up prices – and that’s even before considering the higher fuel costs and rising inflation.
“Therefore, the best thing we can do to help relieve that pressure for passengers is get teams across the sector fully resourced, and we’re supporting our airline partners and ground handlers working at Heathrow to do this as quickly as possible.”
Skytra chief executive Elise Weber said: “Holidaymakers travelling from London airports to popular family destinations, such as Tenerife and Malaga, have been hit particularly hard – with rising fuel costs, pent up demand and airport passenger caps all contributing to higher fares.”
It’s still possible to find cheap flights for October half-term, especially if you can be flexible about which airport you fly from. Which? found holidaymakers who bought flights to Malaga and Alicante in early September got a good deal if they booked from Luton and Stansted. The average price of fares to both Spanish cities was less than £60 each way.
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