Travellers snap up cheap Asian fares

ROELAND VAN DEN BERGH
Last updated 05:00 04/12/2010

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Travel agents had to extend their opening hours as travellers rushed to snap up super-cheap fares to Southeast Asia after budget airline AirAsia X opened for bookings.

AirAsia X revealed its fares for the first time when it began taking bookings at noon yesterday for its new flights from Christchurch to Kuala Lumpur and beyond, four times a week, starting on April 1.

A base return fare to Kuala Lumpur costs just $423.

But if you want to take luggage, buy food and a comfort pack and choose your own seat, the price rises by more than $100 to $527.

Fares to London, including the add-ons, cost $1190 return.

That compares with special fares of $2989 on Air New Zealand on the same days of travel in April.

House of Travel retail director Brent Thomas said other airlines had immediately responded to AirAsia X.

Budget rival Jetstar, which starts direct services from Auckland to Singapore on March 18 put an additional 500 seats in the market at $99 one way to Singapore, matching AirAsia X's introduction special to Kuala Lumpur.

Cheaper fares would encourage New Zealand holidaymakers to travel further afield than the usual Pacific Island and Australian get-away hot spots and explore Southeast Asia, Mr Thomas said.

The huge savings meant many people would be prepared to forgo more than seven centimetres of leg room and free inflight entertainment.

AirAsia X chief executive Azran Osman-Rani said the airline could slash fares by cramming 377 seats on its Airbus A330 compared with just 290 on full-services airlines using the same aircraft.

But for people who wanted to travel in comfort, AirAsia X also offers business-class bed seats for just under $4700 return to London. This is thousands of dollars cheaper than the equivalent on full-service airlines.

Forsyth Barr aviation analyst Rob Mercer said budget long-haul services to more points in Asia were long overdue and would stimulate new tourism markets.

The Asian and London tourism market had been flat for 15 years, Mr Mercer said.

Mr Thomas said AirAsia X and Jetstar would increase the number of passengers rather than draw away from full services airlines such as Air New Zealand.

Although the super-low fares were aimed at attracting new passengers, "what we will see long-term is substantially [more] reduced prices than we have seen in the past", Mr Thomas said. "This is going to shake up the market in terms of pricing."

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- The Dominion Post