Christ­mas comes early as air­lines slash cost of flights

Re­turn fares on of­fer to Europe for less than £4 as weak pound hits de­mand

The Herald - - FRONT PAGE - DAVID LEASK CHIEF RE­PORTER

AIR­LINES are slash­ing the cost of Christ­mas flights out of Scot­land as the weak pound hits de­mand for hol­i­days.

No-frills gi­ant Ryanair led dis­count­ing this week with some week­end re­turn fares lower than the price of a cup of con­ti­nen­tal cof­fee and a bun.

The Ir­ish car­rier was of­fer­ing to take pas­sen­gers to and from both Ire­land and Ger­many this week­end for less than £4.

Air fares watch­ers say canny trav­ellers can pick up deals – even for the school hol­i­days to win­ter sun­shine des­ti­na­tions such as the Ca­naries.

Ryanair at one point had re­turns from Prest­wick to Tener­ife for the Christ­mas and New Year week for £65 and re­turns of £25 to Fuerteven­tura for the fort­night up to the hol­i­days.

Dis­count­ing is com­mon in the weeks be­fore and af­ter Christ­mas, but prices usu­ally soar dur­ing what is the busiest pe­riod of the avi­a­tion year.

In­dus­try in­sid­ers are re­luc­tant to talk up low fares amid con­cerns that some air­lines may not be able to keep Scot­tish routes prof­itable.

A spokesman for Ed­in­burgh Air­port said: “Early De­cem­ber is tra­di­tion­ally a quiet time for avi­a­tion and there­fore a great time to get a good deal on flights. Canny shop­pers or those wish­ing to get away be­fore a hec­tic Christ­mas are all pick­ing up great bar­gains.

“Scot­tish pas­sen­gers have the choice of more des­ti­na­tions than ever and we’re see­ing in­creas­ing num­bers of pas­sen­gers trav­el­ling year on year.”

The pound col­lapsed on the morn­ing of the Brexit vote re­sult and has been un­der pres­sure ever since.

The UK is due to leave the EU at the end of March with fears ris­ing of a no-deal sce­nario and its dev­as­tat­ing im­pact on ster­ling.

Last month hol­i­day oper­a­tor Thomas Cook – whose planes do a lot of the heavy lift­ing of tourists from Scot­land to sun­shine des­ti­na­tions – an­nounced that its prof­its had nose­dived af­ter lower ex­change rate and higher sum­mer UK tem­per­a­tures.

Also last month re­gional air­line Flybe, amid low prof­its, a weak pound and Brexit un­cer­tainty, put it­self up for sale.

Throw­away fares – prices so low that would-be trav­ellers book them on im­pulse – might sound like good news. And any air­line will dis­count to put cus­tomers on seats.

How­ever, travel ex­perts stress that the cost of a hol­i­day – in ster­ling terms – is still high. You might get to Fuerteven­tura this month for the cost of a re­turn peak train fare from Glas­gow to Ed­in­burgh. Yet when you get there you will have to pay in eu­ros for ac­com­mo­da­tion and food.

The prospect of a cliff-edge de­par­ture from the EU wor­ries con­ti­nen­tal hol­i­day providers. The head of Spain’s na­tional tourism agency in the UK said a no-deal Brexit would be “a dis­as­ter” for his coun­try.

Dis­counts are par­tic­u­larly steep on flights to Ger­many, Ire­land and Scan­di­navia, where costs for Scot­tish tourists with pounds in their pocket are par­tic­u­larly high and where the weather is far less warm than the Ca­naries.

Nor­we­gian this month has re­turns to Copen­hagen, Oslo and Stock­holm for un­der £50. Ryanair had re­turns to some of same cities – but not al­ways the same air­ports – for be­tween £10 and £15.

The low-cost air­line this week was of­fer­ing De­cem­ber week­end re­turns to the Bavar­ian town of Mem­min­gen for £3.66 and Derry in North­ern Ire­land for £3.88 from Ed­in­burgh.

Fares have since edged up to around £11 each. Next week­end flights to the sunny Ca­narian is­land of Lan­zarote are down to £39 re­turn, leav­ing on Fri­day and re­turn­ing on Mon­day.

In­dus­try in­sid­ers stressed that the air­line re­cently cut the size of its free hand lug­gage and was there­fore in a po­si­tion to of­fer lower fares.

Its change, which came into place on Novem­ber 1, has an­gered some con­sumer groups. One Span­ish or­gan­i­sa­tion said the move was “abu­sive”.

Ex­perts also said trav­ellers should look out for more deals in Jan­uary – when easy­jet has re­turns from Glas­gow to Venice for £43, in­clud­ing a more gen­er­ous hand lug­gage al­lowance than its ri­val.

For the week begin­ning Jan­uary 12 Ryanair has fares from Ed­in­burgh for £33 re­turn to Ali­cante and Fuerteven­tura, £25 to Porto, £29 to Dublin and £21 to Derry, ac­cord­ing to the Scot­tish-based fares com­par­i­son site Skyscan­ner. For the same week, Skyscan­ner shows re­turn fares of £35 from Prest­wick to Malta on Ryanair, £68 from Glas­gow to Dus­sel­dorf on Eurow­ings and £300 to New York via Lon­don on Bri­tish Air­ways.

Hugh Aitken, of Skyscan­ner, ex­plained: “In most cases, air­line pric­ing works in tranches – a lim­ited num­ber of very low prices, for ex­am­ple, may be avail­able for a lim­ited num­ber of seats.

“There are gen­er­ally mul­ti­ple ‘fare bands’ (prices) avail­able for each flight. Once a cer­tain fare band has been booked up, the next one will be dis­played, and this will likely be at a higher price, as you might ex­pect with a sup­ply-de­mand model.”

As an ex­am­ple, The Her­ald ini­tially found a Prest­wick-to-tener­ife flight for £65, be­fore the price went up to £95, most prob­a­bly as the lower fare band has been booked up.

Mr Aitken added: “Air­lines want to en­sure they max­imise loads and en­cour­age travel, so trav­ellers may ad­di­tion­ally see lower prices and sales for travel dur­ing Jan­uary. This tends to be a slightly qui­eter month when com­pared to peak hol­i­day times such as Easter.”

The flip-side of the fall­ing pound is that more peo­ple from over­seas are trav­el­ling to hol­i­day in Scot­land. Even flights to sun­shine des­ti­na­tions – such as Italy and Spain – once filled with Scots are see­ing grow­ing num­bers of in­bound pas­sen­gers, say in­sid­ers. Visits­cot­land is try­ing to mar­ket Scot­land as a win­ter des­ti­na­tion.

„ Ir­ish car­rier Ryanair was of­fer­ing to take pas­sen­gers to and from both Ire­land and Ger­many this week­end for less than £4.

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