During the autumn and winter months in the northern hemisphere, many people think about jetting off to get some southern sunshine – with Australia being the destination-of-choice.
Flight prices from London are higher than a few years ago and the days of sub-£500 economy fares to Australia seem long gone. High-season fares for an economy ticket from UK to Australia are priced around £750-£1,250 – partly due to the significant levels of UK Air Passenger Duty (APD), with Australia being in the highest band.
There are a few factors to consider when booking flights to Australia:
Alliances – Because of the significant flight distance you should try to get miles or points in a frequent flyer scheme, preferably in your primary program.
Connection Times – There are no non-stop flights between UK and Australia so you will have to connect. You may wish to avoid overly long waiting times at connecting airports. Also, what if your first flight gets delayed and you miss the connection – how long will you have to wait for the next flight?
Stopovers – Consider breaking up the long journey by stopping off for a few days in the Middle East or Asia. You may be able to get an accommodation deal with your airline.
Peak Season – Avoid flying out around the Christmas period when prices reach their highest level for the year. The cheapest time of year for flights from UK to Oz will be between April and June.
Exchange Rate - Another factor to consider is that the Australian dollar has been very strong against the GB pound (rate:1.50) and euro (1.25) so travellers will notice everything in Australia being more expensive. Normal hotel rates in Sydney of AUD 200 per night equates to around £135 or €160 – not exactly cheap. And if you head out to a popular resort town like Byron Bay over Christmas and new year you will find eye-watering accommodation prices.
Let’s take a look at the airlines on the London to Australia market. Note that only 3 airlines have a direct through-service, meaning the plane travels the whole route:
British Airways – Flies London to Sydney via Singapore using Boeing 747s. BA’s fastest through-service takes just over 22 hours including the SIN stop. Economy seat pitch of 31″, premium economy 38″. Note that the joint-service agreement with Qantas on the “Kangaroo route” comes to an end from April 2013. Expect more co-operation in future with Qatar Airways and Malaysia as they both join Oneworld.
Qantas – Currently flies from London to Australia via Singapore (co-operating with BA). From April 2013 it will move its hub to Dubai having signed an codeshare and marketing arrangement with Emirates. Will fly London-Dubai-Sydney/Melbourne through-services using Airbus A380s. Standard economy seat pitch is 31″, though very decent premium economy seats up to 42″ pitch. Large Australian network means you can reach almost any part of the country.
Virgin Atlantic – Flies a direct service to Sydney from London via Hong Kong using Airbus A340s. Codeshare arrangements with Virgin Australia for domestic Australian flights. Seat pitch 31″, prices similar to BA/Qantas.
The following airlines all require a change of aircraft to Australia:
Air New Zealand – Flies from London to Auckland via Los Angeles. From Auckland you can connect onto services to Sydney or other Australian cities. Good economy service, reasonable 33″ seat pitch which is superior to BA, Qantas and Virgin but be aware of 10 across seating on the 777-300ER. A drawback is the longer route to Australia which takes over 30 hours. Travel via Hong Kong is being pulled, so passengers are forced to transit via the US.
Singapore Airlines – Serves various major cities in Australia from London via its hub at Changi Singapore – one of the world’s best airports. Operates some flights between London and Sydney/ Melbourne with the A380. Pretty decent service, economy seat pitch 32″ but always priced at the higher end. Codeshare agreement with Virgin Australia for domestic Australian routes.
Cathay Pacific – Serves various cities around Australia (Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth, Cairns) from its Hong Kong gateway. Flies Boeing 747s/Airbus A340s from London to Hong Kong – then uses Airbus A330s to Australia. Economy seat pitch 32″, new premium economy seats 38″ pitch. Like Singapore Airlines they have frequent connections – a total of 81 flights per week to Australia. Occasional sale fares are competitive.
Malaysia Airlines – Offers competitive fares from London to Sydney (and 4 other Oz destinations) via its Kuala Lumpur hub. Now flying the Airbus A380 from London to KUL with class leading 34″ economy seat pitch. New member of the Oneworld alliance.
Thai Airways – Flies London to Bangkok using B747s. Onward flights to Australia on A330s and A340s. Roomy 34″ seat pitch but prices tend to be on the higher side.
Emirates – Middle East heavyweight flying via Dubai and biggest user of the Airbus A380. Departures from London and 4 other UK cities – which makes them a serious choice for regional UK flyers. Economy seat pitch up to 33″, but again, note the 10 across economy seating on the 777s. New tie-up with Qantas from April 2013. Note also that Easyjet flights can now be redeemed using Emirates Skywards.
Etihad - Flies from London to both Melbourne and Sydney via its Abu Dhabi hub. Uses Boeing 777 and Airbus A340 aircraft on the route. Their Coral Economy service is a reasonably good product and the airline is gaining a solid reputation. Major codeshare agreement in place with Virgin Australia which offers a good Australian domestic network.
Qatar Airways – Flies London-Doha-Melbourne using combinations of B787s, B777s, A330s and A340s. Seat pitch around the 33″ mark. Watch for occasional special offer fares.
Some other ‘off-beat’ options, not necessarily recommended but also flying the kangaroo route:
Royal Brunei – Serves Melbourne from London with stops in Dubai and Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei). Uses Boeing B777 aircraft on the route with 32″ pitch. They often have some reasonable airfares but do note Royal Brunei is a dry airline.
Korean Air – Not particularly cheap but flies London-Seoul-Sydney with B777s/B747s with 33″ economy pitch.
China Eastern Airlines – Flies London-Guangzhou-Sydney with A330s. Seat pitch 32″.
Alternative: Consider a round-the-world (RTW) ticket which will cost extra but can give you much more interesting stopover opportunities.
Article last updated January 2013.