Travel: Ten Years After

HOW THE WORLD HAS CHANGED
THE TRAILFINDERS advertisement from 1989 reads: "Sydney, pounds 730 return".

A few things have changed between then and now in the ads from Britain's biggest discount agency. The first is that the London phone number then was plain old "01". The next: the phrase "includes pre-paid taxes and passenger service charge" was not necessary back in 1989, because apart from the odd $3 levied by the US, there were no significant pre-paid taxes on airline tickets.

But by far the most significant change is how sharply fares have fallen. This weekend, Trailfinders is advertising a fare to Australia's largest city of pounds 550 return (of which about pounds 50 is tax). Today's travellers will enjoy a faster journey, better entertainment and greater financial security.

One uncanny similarity between the two ads is that the list of Australasian and Asian cities is identical: Sydney, Perth, Auckland, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bali, Tokyo, Delhi and Bombay. Yet every 1999 fare is cheaper than a decade ago, most of them by a third.

Lopping off tax and allowing for compound inflation since 1989, this represents a fall in the cost of air travel of 50 per cent. More efficient aircraft have driven down costs, while the existence of business travellers prepared to pay 10 times the economy fare has helped subsidise budget flyers.

Today's traveller really has to thank intense competition - and the need to fill all those Boeing 747s rolling off the production line in Seattle.

A number of industry insiders believe that fares have now sunk as low as they can go. But people said exactly that in 1989 when the London-Sydney return fare first slipped below pounds 750.

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