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Flight prices up 42% on pre-Covid levels

Written by: Emma Lunn
Analysis by Which? found that a family of four booking a trip from Heathrow to Tenerife six weeks before the autumn half term will pay up to £2,096 more than they did in 2019.

The consumer champion looked at half-term flight prices for families traveling in the October half term. The analysis compared fares at six months, three months and six weeks before the half-term break in 2019 and 2022.

It found that flights for the October 2022 half-term break are 42% more expensive than before the pandemic.

Which? analysed data from Skytra to reach its conclusions. It 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.

Price hikes

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 Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Stansted, Luton and Birmingham.

The largest price hike was on flights from Heathrow to Tenerife, with passengers booking six weeks before their departure date paying an average of £262 more each way than in 2019. This adds £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% in three years.

Heathrow to Dublin was £236 on average – 181% more expensive compared to the pre-pandemic price. Which? found that fares to the Irish capital varied enormously depending on the departure airport, with costs soaring for passengers flying 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% 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.

Save money by booking early

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.”

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.

A Heathrow spokesperson said: “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.”

How to find cheap flights

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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