Christmas comes early as airlines slash cost of flights
Return fares on offer to Europe for less than £4 as weak pound hits demand
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.