Why it can cost you the world to travel right now

Prices for flights departing from Malta have risen more than usual at this time of year due to increased travel demand and reduced flight and seat availability.

Malta International Airport confirmed that the number of routes has fallen by 22 per cent from pre-pandemic levels and airlines’ summer seating capacity is 80 per cent of 2019 levels, leading Malta to trace figures from 2015 and 2016.

The airport is expected to offer 98 routes this summer, up from 125 in 2019.

By the time the island eased its COVID travel restrictions in the spring, most airlines had already secured their summer flight schedules and the result is a loss of 66 connections “completely” and lost frequencies on 46 connections, the airport said.

National carrier Air Malta has attributed higher fares to demand from post-COVID peak travel.

Travel agents are also pointing to the decline in availability and frequency for high seat prices.

Travel agency Georges Bonello DuPuis confirmed that flights are “very expensive” at the moment.

He attributed this to their “minimal availability and frequency” combined with the end of school, the start of summer and a post-pandemic rush to travel after such a long hiatus for many.

While it was normal at this time of year for prices to skyrocket – such as during inter-holiday periods – Bonello DuPuis airfares remained slightly more expensive than usual this summer as there were fewer scheduled flights.

The cheap tariffs are “all gone today” – and anyone who wants to fly there can pay 500 euros and more. The cheap flights to the popular destinations in summer are now “sparsely spread”.

Seats aren’t currently available even in full-price business class to popular destinations like Germany, the UK and Paris, Bonello DuPuis said.

However, the situation will soon stabilize, he added.

“There’s massive demand and fewer seats as fewer planes fly in and out and more people travel,” said the veteran tour operator.

Destinations such as Italy, and Rome in particular, are not as affected by availability as three airlines serve them daily, he added.

There is massive demand and fewer seats as fewer planes fly in and out and more people travel

But Emirates, for example, was limited to twice-weekly flights and is only now beginning to increase frequency, increasing to five times a week in July and August.

Flights to London have decreased in frequency, there are no longer daily flights to Gatwick with Air Malta. For example, if you wanted to travel to the British capital on the national airline on June 23, you could still have found a seat to Heathrow and one to Gatwick – for an incredible €409.53 each way – and without luggage.

On 29 June there were “zero” seats available to London, save for €409 each way. On 3rd July there were two places left to Gatwick at the time of writing – and these go to €189.53 each way.

Spot checks showed cheaper seats are available on July 24, for example, as things begin to stabilize in the middle of summer when some sort of “normalcy” returns, Bonello DuPuis said.

For €99.53, Air Malta will get you to Gatwick – but not back home – but add €20 if you want to take anything with you.

Air Malta announced last week that it would be leasing an additional aircraft to meet travel demand, although it did not give details of destinations.

Bonello DuPuis pointed out that places like Bari and Brindisi are still accessible without breaking the bank, but that’s a different story for popular destinations like Marseille for a trip to the south of France.

“Just the other day I was trying to book a flight to Bergamo with Ryanair for a family of two adults and two children with just two suitcases for the end of June. The “low-cost” flight added up to 1,300 euros.

“But if they leave two weeks later, you could find a flight for €24,” continued Bonello DuPuis.

High prices explained

He explained that high prices – in the range of 400 to 600 euros – have always existed and that it depends on when the tickets are bought.

“If you’re trying to book a flight that nobody’s thinking of, say in February, it could be as cheap as €60, but you could also get €600 for a fully refundable, full price business class ticket for the scheduled flight pay air carriers.

“Cheap flights always start low but go up every time you look back. It’s a different price every day,” he said.

“You have to shop around, and one date can make all the difference in trip prices,” advised Bonello DuPuis, reminding travelers of the trends that drive prices and to think ahead.

However, the return flight from London, bought a month ago for a trip into October, cost €560 return on British Airways, he said, fingering the interim break. In November, the same trip could cost half the price.

Air Malta explained its fares, saying they constantly review them based on demand, supply, competition and other factors, and saying this could result in fares being either increased or decreased.

“Similarly, there is no set equation for applying the same amount of fare cuts or increases to all routes at the same time as market conditions often differ across markets,” the airline said.

“In the months immediately following the end of COVID-19 and the peak travel season of July and August, when demand often exceeds supply, prices can be expected to be higher than in the later, quieter, off-peak months of the year when the Demand for travel is lower and airfares are of course lower.”

Low-cost airline Ryanair said a number of revenue and pricing factors dictated its fares, with prices for the “imminent” flights – with the highest demand and during the peak summer holiday season – being higher for these reasons.

It insisted it offers “consistently low fares and a wide choice on its Maltese routes across Europe” with over 700,000 flights – 130 million seats – for sale, and gave examples of trips from Malta to Rome and London Stansted this summer for €19.99 and €62.99 respectively.

Ryanair said it has kept its teams “up to speed” during COVID-19 to respond to pent-up customer demand.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the Price for a coffee.

support us