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Summer getaways in jeopardy as flight prices surge by 150pc

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airfare ticket flight price airport cancellations airport tickets - Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
airfare ticket flight price airport cancellations airport tickets - Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

In years gone by, an invitation to a summer wedding in Italy would have meant Francesco Mellino, 30, and his wife booked flights to get to the destination nuptials.

But prices are now so high that the couple have opted to travel for a day and a half by train to get there instead.

“Prices were 60pc to 80pc more than we were expecting,” Mr Mellino said of flights. “They were the kind of prices you would expect to see for business class.”

The cost of the trip to Sicily would have been around £400, far more than the £250 each they had expected to pay.

Instead, they have paid £400 each to make the journey by train. “The cost is comparable, but instead of being overcharged to travel on a budget airline, we have our own apartment on a night train and a few legs in first class,” Mr Mellino said.

He and his wife have been caught up in a summer price spike that is causing misery for many would-be holidaymakers this summer.

Airlines have ramped up prices as travel demand picks up to pre-pandemic levels and they grapple with a wave of cancellations due to low levels of staffing.

Flight prices for some of the most popular summer holiday destinations have soared by 150pc amid the industry crisis. Staffing shortages and a surge in demand post-pandemic are blamed.

The price rises put family holidays in jeopardy, with the cost of flying to eight of the top 20 most popular destinations in Europe climbing year-on-year.

The median cost of a return trip from London to Alicante in Spain has jumped from £20 to £50, 150pc more than a year ago, according to Kayak.com, a travel search engine.

Flights to Faro and Lisbon soared by 72pc and 83pc respectively, rising to £43 and £42.

And the journey to Barcelona now costs 68pc more than it did this time last year, while the price of travel to Rome has surged 67pc to £45.

The prices are based on searches for flights departing in the last week and are likely to climb even more steeply as the school holidays approach.

John Strickland, an aviation analyst at JLS Consulting, said: “We've got a lot of pent-up demand so there are a lot of people searching after a limited number of seats, and it is being compounded by the fact that airlines are having to do these last-minute cancellations.

"So that's taking even more capacity out of the market when they are already pretty full because we are at the peak holiday period. So of course prices are going to be significantly higher."

Long-haul routes recorded more widespread price increases, with the cost of 11 of the 20 most searched for intercontinental flights rising. However, these jumps were typically less steep than the popular short-haul summer holiday routes.

Flights from London to Delhi recorded the biggest jump out of popular long-haul routes, up by 40pc to £446. The cost of flying to Dubai surged 26pc, rising from £247 to £312.

Price rises have not been universal: the cost of flying to some popular destinations, including Malaga and Sanat-Cruz-de-Tenerife, has fallen year-on-year. The costs were also still low historically, with flights to Alicante roughly half what they were in May 2016.

However, these are outliers. Airline bosses have signalled that price increases are just beginning. In an interview with the Financial Times, Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary warned of five years of flight price rises as industry battles spiralling costs.

Higher prices are partly down to a mismatch between supply and demand: staffing shortages mean airlines simply can’t lay on enough flights to meet demand, which contributes to higher prices.

Mr Strickland said airlines have struggled to meet the "tsunami of demand" because the pandemic left them low on cash, which is now needed to fund a rapid ramp up in staffing.

Ryanair stands apart in this regard. It has avoided mass cancellations largely because it hoarded cash in the good times, putting it in a strong position once restrictions eased.

"Ryanair had a massive pile of cash and they invested that where some airlines didn't have that at all,” Mr Strickland said.

"Michael O'Leary has told me personally that he grew up on a farm where winters were tough. He didn't spend any money he didn't have to, you spent money when things were cheap and you sold your goods when prices were higher. He abhors debt.

"Rynair has always turned a crisis to its advantage. I admire what they've done. They never claim to be more than a bus service but they deliver that bus service pretty reliably."

Consumer group Which? Said holidaymakers should travel outside of peak season if they can to get a better deal.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “If you’re relaxed enough to avoid the peak summer travel period, you will not only get a better price but be far less likely to face disruption.”

Mr Strickland said price rises were partly a result of the low prices on offer during the period of restricted travel last year.

He says: "Last year, people were still very hesitant about travelling, we had no idea whether we could, and airlines were not promoting the same number of flights. Quite often when we were getting a few breaks in quarantines and restrictions it was quite late and airlines were trying to sell whatever they could, and not at normal summer prices.”

For many consumers, the prospect of higher prices is pushing them out of the market altogether.

Lita Doolan, from Oxford, has holidayed in Stromboli, Italy, every other year since 2017, but is now worried she will no longer be able to keep visiting.

Ms Doolan had booked to travel to Stromboli in June, but then her return flight was cancelled.

“The only flight I could book to get back would have cost £500 and I would have had to stay out for an extra four days,” said Ms Doolan. This would have been nearly five times the cost of a return flight, which typically cost around £110, she said.

Ms Doolan wants to rebook, but return flights are still around the £500 mark. “That amount of money just can’t come from anywhere. Travel is important, we need it to raise our spirits. But these experiences are getting out of reach."

The looming threat of cancellations only compounds the misery of high prices.

For the Mellinos, it's one reason why they have opted to avoid the skies altogether for their Sicily trip.

“It was not just the price for the plane ticket but the risk associated with it,” Mr Mellino said. “We are going to a wedding, it is not an option to have our flight cancelled.”

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