How do I get the best chance of flying with the cheapest ticket?

Maybe you have reached the point that flying economy class on a flight to Australia appears virtually impossible.  Getting to Australia has always been possible – the problem has been whether you could be one of the few to afford the “new normal” price of the tickets.  Celebrities never seem to have had a problem with this (see this BBC news article about the anger over celebrites having no trouble flying into Australia).

Firstly, you may need to adjust your expectations regarding price.  Do not expect that economy ticket to Australia to be the same price as pre-COVID.  Expect to pay double or more the usual price.  Plus, now that the arrival caps have halved (from 14 July), ticket prices have gone through the roof (see this Guardian news article).

Therefore, to increase your chances of flying in successfully in economy class, there are a number of factors (other than the amount of money you have for ticket).  These include:

  • Factor 1: Which city you are willing or able to fly into
  • Factor 2: The airline you choose
  • Factor 3: The flight you choose

Airline companies cannot fly a full plane into any Australian city due to the arrival caps, so they must give priority to passengers willing to pay the most* – usually those who have a first class or business class ticket (an airline might also offset costs by by transporting cargo or generating enough income on the outbound flight).  The chance you have of buying an economy class ticket depends on how any seats are left after first class and business class seats are filled (see chart below).

Factor 1: The city you fly into

The chart above shows the average number of economy class seats left (after first/business class seats were filled) on flights flying into each capital city.

flying to adelaide is the best option to grab an economy seat

As you can see, in May, flights to Adelaide had an average of nearly 45 economy seats left.  This improved during June, with an average of 51 economy seats left.  Due to the halved caps introduced on July 14, the average number of economy seats left on flights to Adelaide approximately halved.  However, because the number of flights did not drop, during July, an average of only 24 economy seats were filled on flights to Adelaide.  During August, this dropped again to an average of 4 economy seats filled on flights to Adelaide.  Therefore, compared to flying into other Australian cities, Adelaide will gives you a better chance of flying with an economy class ticket.  However, as of August, there is little chance of flying to Adelaide with an economy class ticket.  To dramatically increase your chances of not being bumped from a flight to Adelaide, buy a first/business class ticket if you can.

If you are trying to fly to any other capital city, you can see from the chart that there is an even smaller chances of being able to take a flight with an economy class ticket.  If you currently have an economy class ticket and are due to fly soon to one of these cities, there is an extremely high probability it will be cancelled as the chart shows that not even business/first class seats are being filled on flights to cities other than Adelaide.

Factor 2: The airline used

Choosing the right airline for your destination can make a big difference.  Please see the chart below.

On the chart, we can see a breakdown of the average economy class seats left organised first by destination city and then airline using actual flight data from the last three months.  What does it mean: “economy class seats left”?   It means the average number of economy seats that are able to fly after the first/business class seats are filled on the plane.  Any bars in the negative mean the number of business/first class seats that are not able to be filled.

You will want to ensure you are looking at the the most recent flight data, use the filters on the right of the chart to make sure only the latest month is selected for Month, Year of Date.

If it makes it easier, use the filter on the right to select your Destination City in Australia.  You can also filter for a particular Origin City* or Airline.

On this chart, we see that it is basically impossible to fly economy, unless…

  • for flying to Adelaide, you fly…
    • from Doha, Qatar with Qatar Airways, or
    • from Singapore with Singapore Airlines
  • for flying to Brisbane, you fly…
    • from Nadi, Fiji with Fiji Airways, or
    • from Solomon Islands with with Solomon Airlines
  • for flying to Sydney, you fly…
    • from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with AirAsia X

Even with these airlines flying from these origins, there are between 2 and 11 economy seats left (on average) after first/business class seats have been taken – so the chances of flying with an economy ticket is very small.  To increase your chances dramatically, buy a first or business class seat with these same combinations because all first/business class seats flew (on average).

For flying to other destinations, there were no economy seats available.  If you need to fly to one of these destinations, you have no other choice than to buy a first or business class ticket (if you manage to book an economy ticket to one of these other destinations, based on the current data, you will almost certainly be bumped from your flight closer to the date of the flight).  To understand in more detail why flights are cancelled, see my post Why does my flight keep getting cancelled?

Factor 3: Getting the right flight number

For a breakdown of the the flights with the most economy seats, see this article:

In terms of flights, you can make the ‘impossible’ into ‘possible’, but you may need to be flexible with your destination city and airline (and stopover/connecting city**) and ensure you are on the flight number that gives you the best chances of flying.  Due to the halved caps that started on July 14, you may find that the tickets are just too expensive (economy class or not) and you may have no option but to wait.

If you cannot wait and you have a chance of being considered vulnerable, then you may wish to consider whether you can take advantage of a government-sponsored repatriation flight.  See this article:


* Some economy class passengers have reported that they managed to fly even though very few passengers were onboard – it is probably rare, though, that those holding cheaper tickets are not bumped off flights with only 20-30 passengers onboard.

** Origin city or stopover/connecting city: On this page (and on the chart), these terms refers to the city you depart from for the flight to Australia. If your flight involves 1 more more stops, this city of origin will be your last stopover/connecting city. In other words, the origin city is the departure city for the last leg of your flight to Australia.

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