Airfares drop, Qantas launches new NZ routes as trans-Tasman travel bubble date announced

It took just minutes for Air New Zealand to react to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's trans-Tasman travel announcement on Tuesday, with some airfares dropping by almost a half compared to their listed prices earlier in the day.

Qantas and Jetstar are significantly increasing the number of trans-Tasman flights they operate, saying customers can expect up to 122 per week.

Just after 4pm on Tuesday, the cost of a return flight from Auckland to Sydney departing on April 19 and returning a week later on both Air NZ and Qantas had dropped below $740.

Earlier in the day, the two airlines had flights available online and were charging almost identical airfares for return flights between Auckland and Sydney: Air NZ was charging $1219 while Qantas' price was $1217.

Air NZ and Qantas operate a codeshare agreement in Aotearoa and Australia.

Justin Tighe-Umbers, executive director of the Board of Airline Representatives of New Zealand, said he expects there will be three or four airlines that will offer flights in the next few months. But whether the fares will return to pre-COVID fares like $399 one way, it is too early to tell.

"The Tasman has always been one of the most fiercely competitive routes in the world. While competition will no doubt remain strong as airlines seek to retain traveller loyalty, the facts include aviation has been decimated by COVID-19 and airlines have little opportunity to spread costs across routes," Tighe-Umbers said.

Air New Zealand's schedule

From April 19, Air NZ will be ramping up flights between Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown to eight of its Australian ports.

The airline's CEO Greg Foran says he will be one of the first to head across the ditch.

"I'll certainly be digging out my passport for the first time since I joined the airline to head across the ditch to see my family and I'm especially looking forward to meeting some of my grandchildren for the first time," Foran said.

Auckland to:

  • Brisbane: 1-2 flights per day
  • Melbourne: 1-3 flights per day
  • Sydney: 3-5 flights per day
  • Perth: 6-7 flights per week
  • Gold Coast: 6-7 flights per week
  • Adelaide: 3-4 flights per week
  • Sunshine Coast: 3 flights per week
  • Cairns: 3 flights per week
  • Hobart: 2 flights per week

Wellington to: 

  • Brisbane: 3-5 flights per week
  • Melbourne: 4-6 flights per week
  • Sydney: 6-10 flights per week

Christchurch to: 

  • Brisbane: 5-7 flights per week
  • Melbourne: 6-7 flights per week
  • Sydney: 7-11 flights per week
  • Gold Coast: 1-3 flights per week

Queenstown to: 

  • Brisbane: 3 flights per week
  • Melbourne: 3-5 flights per week
  • Sydney: 4-7 flights per week

Virgin Australia won't be returning just yet

Virgin isn't immediately returning to the trans-Tasman market, saying its focus is on building its core domestic business in Australia.

But a from September 18, a limited schedule for flights to and from Queenstown will remain available for booking as the airline expects to be able to resume its Tasman services.

Anyone who has a booking on Virgin Australia before that date will be offered a seat on Air NZ flights, or will be offered a refund.

Qantas and Jetstar add new routes

Australia's national carrier has announced it will operate a combined total of up to 122 return flights a week across its Qantas and Jetstar trans-Tasman brands.

The airlines are not only returning to all of their pre-COVID-19 destinations, two new direct routes are being added: Auckland - Cairns and Auckland - Gold Coast.

Qantas' domestic and international CEO Andrew David said restarting flights to New Zealand is about more than starting to rebuild its international network, it's about reconnecting families and friends and getting more of our people back flying again.

"Hopefully, stories of missed weddings and birthdays on either side of the ditch will now be a thing of the past," he said.

"We know Australians are keen to head overseas again, so we expect strong demand for flights to New Zealand and there are many Kiwis who can't wait for a winter escape to warmer weather in Australia."

As part of the existing one-way bubble, the Qantas Group has been operating less than 3 percent of its pre-COVID-19 capacity on the Trans-Tasman. Flights announced today will see this increase to 83 percent, reflecting a high level of expected demand for what will be Australia's only international destination for at least the next six months.

Qantas' schedule includes year-round direct flights to Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown, including direct flights from Brisbane and Melbourne to Queenstown, routes Qantas traditionally only operated seasonally for the ski season peak.

A new daily service from the Gold Coast to Auckland will commence when the bubble opens, marking Qantas' first ever international flights from Gold Coast Airport. The new Cairns-Auckland route will launch in time for the June long weekend, operating three days per week. 

Qantas will initially operate a mix of Boeing 737s as well as the wide-body Airbus A330. 

Jetstar will initially operate to Auckland from Melbourne, Gold Coast and Sydney using its Airbus A320 aircraft, with schedules of both airlines connecting to Jetstar's New Zealand domestic network.

Both Emirates and Singapore Airlines have said they have no plans to enter into the trans-Tasman market despite previously operating some services between the two countries.