A surge in air fares for half-term Mediterranean holidays means that Bangkok is cheaper to reach than Benidorm, while BA fares to the Costa del Sol are higher than to Florida. And it will cost more to fly on Ryanair from Stansted to Portugal than a trip to New York.
Airlines are exploiting strong demand for half-term Mediterranean breaks by raising prices to levels unprecedented for the late-May bank holiday.
For travellers heading away for a week, many long-haul destinations are cheaper to reach than airports in Spain and Portugal.
The Independent has researched a wide range of fares from UK airports to European destinations travelling out on 23 May for a week, and compared them with long-haul alternatives.
From Manchester, the cheapest easyJet return flight to Alicante - the airport serving Benidorm - is £444, without luggage, meals or drinks. Yet a round trip from Manchester to Bangkok on Etihad via Abu Dhabi costs £426 - with 30kg of baggage allowed, plus meals and drinks on board.
Fares from southern England are even more extreme. The last seat for Ryanair’s flight from Stansted to Faro in Portugal went for £254, with the same for the inbound flight a week later, making a total of £508 return from Essex to the Algarve. Flying from Heathrow to New York and back on United is £2 cheaper.
Booking 24 hours ahead with British Airways, two of the most popular destinations from Gatwick airport showed remarkably similar prices. The cheapest BA ticket for a round-trip to Malaga was £837, £15 more than the airline’s fare to the home of Walt Disney World: Orlando.
The Mickey Mouse prices are even more remarkable once Air Passenger Duty is taken into account. For European destinations the tax is only £13, compared with £71 for long-haul trips.
A spokeswoman for British Airways said: “Prices for flights go up and down according to market demand and generally increase the closer to departure.
“For holiday makers wanting to plan for the next August bank holiday, BA currently has return fares to Malaga from £172.
The aviation analyst, John Strickland, said: “Airlines know there is more demand than supply at key holiday times, so that’s where they make their money. Equally, it’s not peak travel time for many long-haul destinations so lower prices are available.”
Haydn Wrath, director of Travel Nation, said: “The laws of demand and supply reign supreme with airlines. For a week’s trip flying just a couple of hours to Europe is more attractive than going long-haul, especially at a time of year when the weather in Europe is likely to be excellent.”
Britain’s biggest holiday firms are also cashing in on strong demand. The Independent has tracked the prices of specific package holidays, departing this weekend for a week. Over the past 10 days, half-term holiday prices with Thomson from Newcastle to Benidorm have doubled - with the final places for Friday's charter sold just a day before departure.
Many Thomas Cook packages to the Mediterranean for half-term have sold out in the past few days, despite calls for a boycott of the company after its handling of the deaths of Christi and Bobby Shepherd. The children died from carbon monoxide poisoning while on a Thomas Cook holiday in Corfu in 2006, but only this week did the company apologise.
Another European airline has closed down abruptly. Air Lituanica, which flew from Vilnius to 10 cities, placed a notice on its website reading: “Dear passengers, from 22th of May the scheduled flights are not operated, we apologize for all inconvenience!”
The Bank Holiday exodus started with some long delays, especially at Britain’s two busiest airports. Delta’s overnight arrival at Heathrow from Atlanta was 11 hours late, while BA’s morning flight to Chicago took off six hours behind schedule.
At Gatwick delays of up to three hours built up during the day.
Airlines serving Rome’s main airport, Fiumicino, are continuing to cancel one in five flights because of damage caused by a fire earlier this month.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies