13 March 2010

Cook Strait Air Fares

Nelson travellers being stung more than $400 for return airfares to Wellington are angered that Air New Zealand is charging such exorbitant prices. Businessman Andy Booth said it was going to cost him and his wife more than $800 to visit Wellington this weekend. "I just think it's immoral," he said. Air NZ says it lowered the price of its cheapest fares between Nelson and Wellington last October, enabling customers to get a one-way ticket for as little as $69. But many people, particularly frequent travellers booking within two weeks of their travel, are frustrated by how seldom those rates are available. Instead, they are paying closer to the top rate of $236 for a one-way trip across Cook Strait. "I don't think there's many cheap flights at all," Mr Booth said. His trip this weekend was prompted by receiving last-minute tickets to attend a show in the capital. He said he and his wife wanted to combine it with visiting their children, who attend university there. Instead of paying $800, they booked using airpoints gathered from a trip to Europe a few years ago. "Otherwise we wouldn't have gone." Mr Booth said he could not understand why the 30-minute trip was so expensive, and questioned why there was not a flat-rate fare for flying such a short distance. It would make more sense if fares became cheaper closer to departure time, in a bid to fill empty seats, he said. Mr Booth is not alone in his concerns. The owner of Mapua aquarium Touch the Sea, Murray Goss, travels between Wellington and Nelson fortnightly. He said cheap Air NZ flights had been hard to get since November. "I could usually get a flight somewhere up to $100, 10 days out. That's very, very rare now." Paying $180 or more to fly to Wellington was "ridiculous", he said. "The people who want to go to funerals are hardest hit." Mr Goss said he had complained to Air NZ link operator Air Nelson, and was told that flights were cut back during the recession and had not resumed. "Obviously people are flying again and the planes are filling up, so they should be putting on more flights." To beat the high prices, Mr Goss has been using Sounds Air. It offers internet fares of $95 and has doubled the number of flights it operates between Nelson and Wellington during the past year. "We could just see a hole in the market," Sounds Air managing director Andrew Crawford said. Sounds Air planes seat about 10 passengers. Mr Crawford said its flights were about 75 per cent full, and a new Saturday service had been fully booked since it started about six weeks ago. "Even we're shocked – that's quite rare." Lindsay Hannah, a Wellington-based acoustics consultant, arrived in Nelson yesterday on Air NZ flights that cost $420 return. "I just think that's normal. I don't think they have cheap flights." It had been that way ever since competing airline Origin Pacific folded, he said. Air Nelson general manager Grant Kerr was not available to speak to The Nelson Mail yesterday, but in a statement released through Air NZ he said most of the available fares to and from Nelson were "smart saver" fares, which started at $69. Before the price change last October, the cheapest smart saver fare was $73. The starting price for a full "flexi fare" also dropped then, from $192 to $149. "In essence, the cheapest fares are the first to go," Mr Kerr said. The capacity of flights into Nelson had increased 44 per cent during the past five years, but the recession had curtailed growth and capacity was reduced by 5 per cent last year, he said.
HOW MUCH? Getting to Wellington:

Air NZ Nelson-Wellington $69 to $236 each way
Sounds Air Nelson-Wellington $95 each way or $900 for a 10-trip ticket
Air2there Nelson-Paraparaumu $135 each way or $245 return
Interislander ferry Picton-Wellington $53 to $90 each way
Bluebridge ferry Picton-Wellington $50 to $66 each way

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