ACCC denies Qantas and Japan Airlines deal to co-ordinate flights


Australia’s competition watchdog is set to try to block a deal struck between Qantas and Japan Airlines to co-ordinate flights.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is proposing to deny authorisation of the two airlines signing a five-year deal to co-ordinate flights, which the regulator says would ruin competition on travel routes between Melbourne, Sydney and Tokyo.

“An agreement for co-ordination between two key competitors breaches competition laws,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said.

“This proposed co-ordination would appear to undermine competition significantly by reducing the prospect of a strong return to competition on the Melbourne-Tokyo and Sydney-Tokyo routes when international travel resumes.”

Mr Sims said the deal would only benefit the airlines at the expense of customers.

Jetstar also flies to Japan but is a subsidiary of the Qantas group.

The ACCC said the deal would make it harder for another airline to fly on these routes.

“The airline and tourism sectors have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Protecting competition in the airline industry is critical to ensuring recovery in the tourism sector once international travel restrictions ease,” Mr Sims said.

“Granting this authorisation would seem to eliminate any prospect of Qantas and Japan Airlines competing for passengers travelling between Australia and Japan as they did before the COVID-19 pandemic.”



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Virgin flight delay leads to forced hotel quarantine for Perth to Brisbane travellers


Passengers travelling on a flight from Perth to Brisbane were forced into two weeks’ hotel quarantine after their flight was delayed by about five hours.

Flight VA 469 was due to arrive in Queensland at 8.10pm on Friday, hours ahead of the midnight cut-off for interstate travel.

But the flight was delayed and didn’t arrive until 1.20am on Saturday, with Queensland health authorities updating travel restrictions while passengers were flying across the country.

While travellers were in the sky and out of reach of phone reception, Queensland Health adopted border restrictions for Perth and Peel after West Australian Premier Mark McGowan plunged his state’s capital into a three-day lockdown.

On arrival in Brisbane, passengers were escorted to buses and taken to hotels in Brisbane for the mandatory 14-day quarantine, with Virgin blaming an engineering failure on the delay.

The airline had previously adopted a policy to inform passengers of border closures to allow customers the opportunity to forego the flight and mandatory quarantine, but the timing of Friday’s announcement passengers were unable to be told of the border restriction change.

“It is our priority, and we work very hard, to update guests where possible on restrictions announced by states and territories prior to travel, including at departure gates,” a Virgin Australia spokesperson said in a statement to NCA NewsWire.

“We have worked, and continue to closely work, with all relevant authorities on managing the impacts of border closures.”

It was reported the passengers on VA 469 were given an exception and will not be required to pay for their stay in hotel quarantine, but Queensland Education Minister Grace Grace said there wouldn’t be further concessions for this unlucky group.

“I understand the circumstances but we take the health advice on this,” she told reporters on Monday morning.



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Virgin Australia Perth to Brisbane delayed flight forced to quarantine


A flight delay and an emergency change to border rules has seen unlucky passengers flying from Perth to Brisbane being forced into hotel quarantine for 14 days.

The Queensland Government closed its border to the Perth and Peel regions of Western Australia on Friday night, after Brisbane-bound Virgin flight 469 had already departed Perth.

The updated border requirements, in response to hotel quarantine outbreak fears in Perth and the neighbouring Peel region of Western Australia, means travellers from those hotspots have to go into 14 days of hotel quarantine upon arrival into Queensland.

The changes went into effect at 12.01am on Saturday morning, and the Virgin flight landed at Brisbane airport around 1.30am, the Courier Mail reported.

An estimated 150 passengers on the packed flight were then shuffled off the plane and taken to the Pullman airport hotel to begin 14 days of quarantine, one passenger, Adrian, told the newspaper.

“It’s just appalling,” he said. “The decision was made while we were flying and we had no opportunity to change travel plans.”

RELATED: Furious premier slams India travel deal

Had an engineering issue not caused a six-hour delay for the Virgin flight, it would have made it to Brisbane before the border rules changed at midnight. In that case, passengers would have simply been allowed to isolate at home while awaiting a negative COVID-19 test, the Courier Mail reported.

Adrian said a letter from health officials told him he wouldn’t have to pay for hotel quarantine, as he was “not able to be made reasonably aware of the entry restrictions and requirements for hotel quarantine” before departure.

However, the Brisbane man, who was only in Perth for a three-day work trip, said the exemption should have also allowed passengers to quarantine at home, instead of the hotel.

State borders now shut

Almost all of Australia’s states and territories have changed their border entry requirements for parts of Western Australia following Premier Mark McGowan’s announcement of a three-day lockdown for Perth and Peel on Friday.

Travel between New Zealand and Western Australia has also been put on pause, pending further advice from the WA Government.

The Queensland border is closed to anyone who had been in the Perth and Peel regions in the last 14 days, unless they are returning Queenslanders, who have to complete 14 days’ mandatory quarantine in government-arranged accommodation at their own expense. People who have been to Perth and Peel since but are now in Queensland still have to comply with the rules of WA’s lockdown.

NSW Health authorities have been screening arrivals at Sydney Airport and instructing those who had visited more than a dozen exposure sites in WA to get tested and self-isolate. Travellers from WA must complete a NSW entry declaration form, and those who have been in Perth or Peel since April 24 have to comply with the same lockdown orders even if they are in NSW.

In Victoria, the Perth and Peel regions are considered red zones under the state’s traffic light travel permit system. This means Victorians returning from those regions have to go into hotel quarantine, and non-Victorians will be sent to hotel quarantine until a return flight is arranged. Anyone in Victoria who had visited Perth or Peel between April 17 and 23 have to be tested and self-isolate until they get a negative test.

Tasmania has declared the Perth and Peel regions high-risk areas, which means anyone travelling to Tasmania who has been in those areas in the past 14 days will not be permitted entry. Even people who are granted an exemption still have to complete 14 days of quarantine.

Only returning South Australians or essential travellers can enter South Australia from the Perth or Peel regions. They have to quarantine for 14 days and be tested on days one, five and 13. All travellers to SA have to register their travel.

The Northern Territory government said people arriving from the Perth and Peel regions have to go into mandatory quarantine.

In the Australian Capital Territory, people who visited an exposure site in WA or Victoria have to be tested and self-isolate until they get a negative result. Returning ACT residents who were in Perth or Peel on or after April 17 must fill out an online declaration form and stay at home until 2am on April 27 at least. Non-ACT residents from Perth or Peel will need an exemption to visit.



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Airline slashes prices for Melbourne routes


Virgin Australia has drastically slashed prices on one-way fares to Melbourne, as the airline tries to boost sales while coronavirus restrictions continue to be eased.

Holidaymakers looking for a getaway to Melbourne or Victoria between July this year and March next year can travel for just $75 from Launceston.

A trip from Melbourne to Adelaide can be snapped up for as little as $79, while Hobart to Melbourne will set travellers back $99.

Prices have also been dropped to $135 on the Brisbane to Melbourne route.

Virgin said the Ready. Set. Melbourne sale would run from midnight AEST on Monday until 11.59pm on May 3, 2021.

The sale fares are available for select dates between July 14, 2021 and March 16, 2022.

The fares include baggage, seat selection and Velocity frequent flyer points.

Virgin Australia believes the sale will help get Australians back in the air as the domestic travel industry recovers from COVID-19 and harsh interstate border closures.

“We’re continuing to support the recovery of Australia’s tourism industry by offering our guests a premium experience at irresistible prices, and our massive sale blitz on flights to Melbourne start from only $75,” a Virgin spokeswoman said.

“There’s never been a better time to visit Victoria or explore its incredible capital city Melbourne offering high-end restaurants, cool laneways and first-class cultural and sporting events.

“Our Ready. Set. Melbourne sale gives Australians another great reason to get out and explore our incredible country.”

Airlines operating across Australia have become involved in a sale war as they try to get people back in the air post-pandemic restrictions.

But snap lockdowns and border closures, like the current three-day shutdown in Perth continue to cause havoc across the airline industry.



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Qantas CEO Alan Joyce heralds ‘sustained recovery’ as airline boost mid-year expectations


Qantas expects a “sustained recovery”, with the airline to return to 90 per cent of its pre-COVID domestic capacity by mid-year, and has made positive noises over the resumption of international travel.

The airline on Thursday painted a rosier picture than first thought following a positive uptake of the government’s half-price ticket scheme and big travel numbers over the Easter break.

Qantas said it now expected to return to 90 per cent of its pre-COVID domestic capacity by mid-year, up 10 ten per cent, provided there were no further border closures.

But chief executive Alan Joyce conceded the March outbreak in Brisbane showed the airline was still vulnerable to snap lockdowns, warning it is “important to keep this uptick in perspective”.

“We’re now seeing really positive signs of sustained recovery,” he said.

RELATED: Qantas demands assurances domestic borders will not close

“This is the longest run of relative stability we’ve had with domestic borders for over a year and it’s reflected in the strong travel demand.”

Qantas’s budget airliner Jetstar was expected to fly at above 100 per cent by mid-year.

The airline revealed all domestic crew were now back at work, while corporate travel had returned to 65 per cent of its pre-pandemic levels.

But with the airline still facing plummeting revenues in the wake of the pandemic, Mr Joyce heralded the New Zealand travel bubble as “great news” for its recovery.

“The increased domestic flying and resumption of flights across the Tasman are also helping get more of our people back to work,” he said.

The government’s already sluggish vaccine rollout was dented last week by advice against using the AstraZeneca vaccine for people under 50 whenever possible.

Mr Joyce said the company was still working on the assumption international flights would resume in late 2021 but said vaccine progress was “key” to those plans.

“While there have clearly been some speed bumps with the vaccine rollout, we are still planning for international flights to resume in late October. We remain in regular dialogue with the government,” he said.

The Qantas chief executive later reiterated his call for a proof-of-vaccination requirement for international travellers.

Mr Joyce first flagged the measure in December and said it was already being implemented across the world.

“We’re regarded as the safest airliner in the world and, as a consequence of that, we have a duty of care to our people, we have a duty of care to our passengers,” he said.

“We do think it should be a requirement that people are vaccinated on our aircraft to minimise the risk to people travelling.”

Mr Joyce claimed the policy was key to restoring confidence among travellers and had a 89 per cent approval rating among Qantas’s frequent flyers.



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Virgin Australia launch​ triple Velocity points to compete with Qantas


Virgin is deploying a new triple points offer as it continues to wage war with Qantas to woo frequent flyers.

Between now and 25 April, any booking for a domestic flight with Virgin Australia will score triple the usual number of Velocity Points.

Velocity usually awards 5 points per $1 spent, so that figure rises to 15 points per $1 spent.

The offer applies to any flight from 1 June 2021 to 8 March 2022.

To score the triple points, you first need to activate the deal on Virgin’s site or through its app.

RELATED: Virgin Australia offer triple points for flights booked before Anzac Day

RELATED: Which states get a public holiday and long weekend?

While the coronavirus pandemic saw passenger numbers plummet to near zero, this year, Qantas and Virgin have both been fighting hard for a slice of the resurgent market.

Almost half of all Australians (49 per cent) plan to travel domestically this year, and 17 per cent hope to head overseas, according to Finder’s Consumer Sentiment Tracker.

The battle for frequent flyers is particularly intense, since loyal passengers often spend thousands of dollars every year on flights.

Already this year Virgin has done a “status match” to give higher-tier Qantas members equivalent status in Velocity, and it’s increased the number of Velocity Points that can be earned from Flybuys points.

Qantas has also offered status matches to other airlines, and recently ran a double status credits offer.

The war has also spread beyond flights, with offers of 100,000 bonus points for frequent flyer credit cards appearing from both Qantas and Virgin after a much weaker 2020 market.

The battle is good news for passengers, who can take advantage of offers through both airlines.

That’s a strategy I’ve been using all year, which has given me a huge stash of points to use with both airlines once international travel opens up.

On that front, Qantas still has the edge. Virgin hasn’t yet confirmed any plans for international flying.

When the New Zealand travel bubble opens up later this month, Qantas and Jetstar will both be options for Australians, but Virgin won’t be.

The airline is taking a “wait and see” attitude, with hopes to be flying across the Tasman by October this year.

Angus Kidman is the editor-at-large and frequent flyer guru for comparison site Finder.



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Virgin Australia offering triple Velocity points for flights booked before Anzac Day


Pandemic lockdowns, border closures and suspended international travel has made it pretty difficult to earn frequent flyer points over the past year.

But for the next couple of weeks, Virgin Australia’s Velocity members will be able to give their points tallies a massive boost.

Velocity members can earn triple the usual number of Velocity Points on eligible domestic flights they book between today, April 12, to Sunday, April 25.

This means members will earn 15 points for every $1 spent on the flights.

While there are only 13 days to take advantage of the triple points offer, the flights booked during that period can be taken any time between June 1, 2021 and March 8, 2022.

So you’ll have to jump in quick to book, but you’ll have almost an entire year to take the flight.

There is no limit on the number of flights members can book, however the promotion only applies to “eligible” flights.

RELATED: Why most Aussies won’t get Anzac Day off this year

RELATED: Hundreds of flights to NZ go on sale

According to the terms and conditions, an eligible flight is a “domestic flight marketed and operated by Virgin Australia, except where a domestic flight is flown as part of an international journey”.

It also must be booked and ticketed in a fare class that normally accrues Velocity points.

To take advantage of the offer, Velocity members will need to activate it on the Velocity website or app, and simply book an eligible flight by April 25.

The offer is one of the ways airlines are looking to get passengers back in the air after the COVID-19 slowdown.

“Velocity Frequent Flyer is continuously looking at ways to reward our more than 10 million loyal members and our triple points offer is a really great example of that,” the airline said in a statement.

“Loyalty works both ways and just recently we had our largest number of domestic flight bookings in the one day in our 20-year history and so we’re saying thank you by offering this fantastic offer to encourage Velocity members to explore Australia.”



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Virgin, Qantas and Rex offer 800,000 half price flights


Australians eager to snag a cheap holiday should have their wallets ready because the first round of 800,000 half-price flights are dropping at midnight.

The federal government’s $1.2 billion initiative was revealed earlier in the month and aims to rejuvenate the nation’s crippled aviation sector.

A round of cheap fares, about 46,000 tickets, will be released this week to 13 select tourism destinations.

Scott Morrison earlier described the move as the “ticket to recovery”.

“Our tourism businesses don’t want to rely on government support forever. They want their tourists back,” Mr Morrison said.

RELATED: 800,000 half-price flights revealed

“They don’t want to be living forever on taxpayer assistance. They don’t want to be sitting at home.

“They want to be mobilising tourists to their region. They want to be engaged in what they set their businesses up to do.

“They want to be able to run their businesses again, which is what they love doing more than anything else.”

Here’s everything you need to know about snapping up a cheap fare.

WHERE CAN I GO?

The half-price ticket program will initially operate to 13 key regions including, the Gold Coast, Cairns, the Whitsundays and Mackay region (Proserpine and Hamilton Island), the Sunshine Coast, Lasseter and Alice Springs, Launceston, Devonport and Burnie, Broome, Avalon, Merimbula, and Kangaroo Island.

Flight routes and how many tickets are available will be driven by demand and airlines will have the final say.

WHEN AND HOW CAN I BUY A TICKET?

Tickets are available from midnight April 1.

The fares are likely to be released in batches until the end of July unless they sell out before then.

To book a flight, people simply have to log on to major airline websites.

WHICH AIRLINES ARE TAKING PART?

Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin are the key airlines. But regional airline Rex will also offer half-price tickets on some routes, but they must have been running the route for at least two years.

On Wednesday Virgin revealed it will offer 260,000 half-price economy seats across 25 destinations.

WHEN CAN I TRAVEL?

The travel period for these fares will begin on May 1 and carry through to September 30.

DISCOUNTED FLIGHT ROUTES

The government warns these may change depending on airline negotiations and demand.

Gold Coast

Adelaide – Gold Coast

Melbourne – Gold Coast

Sydney – Gold Coast

Canberra – Gold Coast

Avalon – Gold Coast

Tropical North Queensland

Melbourne – Cairns

Sydney – Cairns

Darwin – Cairns

Whitsundays and Mackay region

Sydney – Proserpine

Sydney – Hamilton Island

Sunshine Coast (Queensland)

Sydney – Maroochydore

Melbourne – Maroochydore

Adelaide – Maroochydore

Lasseter and Alice Springs

Adelaide – Alice Springs

Sydney – Uluru

Brisbane – Alice Springs

Melbourne – Alice Springs

Perth – Alice Springs

Sydney – Alice Springs

Brisbane – Uluru

Melbourne – Uluru

Launceston, Devonport and Burnie

Melbourne – Launceston

Sydney – Launceston

Brisbane – Launceston

Melbourne – Devonport

Melbourne – Burnie

Broome

Darwin – Broome

Sydney – Broome

Melbourne – Broome

Avalon (Victoria)

Gold Coast – Avalon

Sydney – Avalon

Merimbula (New South Wales)

Melbourne – Merimbula

Kangaroo Island (South Australia)

Adelaide – Kingscote.



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State border closures will cost jobs: Treasurer Josh Frydenberg


Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has put state and territory leaders on notice, saying jobs “will be lost” if borders are closed following the end of the JobKeeper program.

About 1.3 million workers are supported by the wage subsidy, which will end on March 28.

There are fears more than 100,000 workers, especially those on zero hours, could end up on the dole following the end of the scheme.

But Mr Frydenberg, who maintains the support was always temporary, will on Tuesday night issue a warning to the states over borders.

In a speech to the Business Council of Australia he will remind leaders that the economic consequences of border closures are “immense”.

He will tell guests the end of JobKeeper will force state governments to think twice before closing borders, and any response to new COVID cases needs to be “targeted and proportionate while commensurate with the risk”.

Australia’s interstate borders were fully open for the first time in a year on Monday.

Prior to the speech, Mr Frydenberg agreed that the health advice on borders must be followed.

However, the Treasurer pointed to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who he said had shown that an outbreak such as the one in the northern beaches did not require a statewide lockdown.

“It is those statewide lockdowns that are so destructive not just in confidence but also to jobs in broader economic activity,” Mr Frydenberg told ABC RN.

“We can provide the cheap fares, we can provide the economic benefits to tourism companies and to travel agents, but unless you keep those borders open, then those jobs will be lost.”

He said Qantas cancelled 1500 flights to Queensland in January following border closures, a move that affected hundreds of thousands of passengers.

RELATED: Federal government to offer 800,000 half-price flights in billion-dollar tourism boost

Commonwealth Bank of Australia economists have predicted at least 110,000 people will be out of work when JobKeeper payments dry up.

Industries expected to be hit hardest include travel, accommodation and transport.

“However, given the strength of the leading indicators of the labour market, we expect that the overall impacts on the labour market will be short-lived and any negative impact on spending will be minimal,” CBA said in an economic note.

Mr Frydenberg also reiterated that the unemployment rate was falling.

The national jobless rate in January was 6.4 per cent.



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Virgin Australia slashes flights to Byron Bay for $55, today only


Following the Federal Government’s announcement of half-price flights to popular holiday spots across Australia, Virgin Australia has been the first airline to jump into action with a sale of its own.

On Friday, the airline said it would be slashing fares to Ballina/Byron Bay, the Gold Coast, Adelaide and the Whitsundays in a snap sale that will last just two hours.

Following the half-price flight fares announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the airline said it had been “inundated” with inquiries from Virgin members regarding how the process will work.

“We’ve been inundated with guests wanting to book the Federal Government’s half-price fares, so in true Virgin Australia style, we’re giving our loyal customers a taste of what’s to come, with half-price, one-way economy fares on sale from just $55 from 5-7pm today or until sold out,” a spokesman said.

“There has literally never been a better time to fly and guests will be able to book fares today to popular Australian destinations such as Byron Bay and the Gold Coast for no more than a taxi fare.”

Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka said following the announcement, the airline had already seen an increase in travel interest compared to a week prior.

“We can see the activity lifting already yesterday immediately following the announcement,” Ms Hrdlicka said on Friday.

“Our bookings were up 40 per cent yesterday. The half price fares aren’t yet out there. The traffic to the website was twice what it had been before. We can clearly see Australia’s hungry to get out and about and get back to normal while staying safe.”

Some of the best fares from the Friday Frenzy sale, which requires travel between March 15-28, 2021, include:

• Sydney-Byron Bay/Byron Bay-Sydney from $55

• Sydney-Gold Coast/Gold Coast-Sydney from $55

• Melbourne-Launceston/Launceston-Melbourne from $64

• Brisbane-Whitsunday Coast/Whitsunday Coast-Brisbane from $78

• Melbourne-Gold Coast/Gold Coast-Melbourne from $88

As for the Federal Government’s half-price flight sale, which will launch on April 1, holiday-makers will be able to book flights to 13 key regions including the Gold Coast, Cairns, the Whitsundays and Mackay region (Proserpine and Hamilton Island), the Sunshine Coast, Lasseter and Alice Springs, Launceston, Devonport and Burnie, Broome, Avalon, Merimbula, and Kangaroo Island.

The $1.2 billion support package, announced by Mr Morrison on Thursday, is designed to deliver “a rush of nearly 800,000 tourists to regions hit hard by border closures”.

Travel dates for the half-price fares are between May and September 2021. A total of 800,000 tickets will be sold at half price – which breaks down to around 46,000 half-price tickets available per week for the 13 destinations.

Qantas, Virgin Australia and Jetstar are all on board to sell tickets at half price. Other smaller operators may opt in on the serviced routes chosen by the Government, such as REX, but they must have been running the route for at least two years.

To be eligible for the discount, customers must book through the airline’s website. So for Qantas, visit here. For Virgin Australia, visit here. And for Jetstar, visit here.



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