Travel restrictions and COVID-19
As of October 2021 travel to Australia remains restricted by the Australian government due to the pandemic. Check on current restrictions before booking travel.
Ah, Australia. A fascinating country of contrasts with cosmopolitan cities and snow-capped mountains, dramatic beaches, and the desert-like outback. Most travelers find that it's well worth the 20-or-so-hour flight from the U.S. Some Americans love it so much they even opt to relocate there after they stop working.
But the Land Down Under is not a cheap place to visit, and just getting there can strain any travel budget. Airfares from the U.S. can be as high as $2,000 to $3,000 (especially if you want nonstop flights). The good news is that there are times of the year—and even days of the week—when you can fly to Australia for less.
- Australia is a bucket list destination for many people, but traveling Down Under can be costly.
- May thru June is the off-season, but remember that what is summer in the U.S. but is winter for Australians.
- Shoulder season—February-April and September-early December—is less expensive than high season, but more expensive than the lowest, off-season.
- Consider a package deal that includes airfare and hotel stays—it often works out to be just a few hundred dollars more than airfare or hotel stay alone.
Travel During Off-Peak Seasons
Like most tourist destinations, Australia has different travel seasons. Qantas—Australia’s largest airline by fleet size and the total number of international flights—publishes fares based on three seasons: high, low, and shoulder. Because the airlines pay close attention to demand in pricing schemes, there are multiple low and shoulder seasons throughout the year. This differs from many tourist destinations that have only three defined periods for low, shoulder, and peak seasons. What would be one long low season during Australia’s winter, for example, is instead interrupted by a pricier shoulder season that coincides with school vacations in the U.S.
So just when are the various seasons? According to Qantas, the high (or peak) season, which runs from about the second week of December through January, is when airfare tends to be the priciest because of the heavy holiday-oriented traffic.
This period is Australia’s summer. Remember, the country is in the Southern Hemisphere, so seasons are the opposite of those in the Northern Hemisphere. Depending on where you are, the weather can be really hot and dry, making the country's beaches a very popular destination.
The shoulder season fits in between the peak and low seasons and runs from:
- Feb. 1 thru April (late summer into fall)
- The second week of June until about the third week of July (winter, but when schools are out in the U.S.)
- The third week of September through the first week of December (spring)—just before people start traveling for the holidays.
The cheapest airfare tends to be during the low season, which runs from May 1 through the first week in June, and again from about the third week in July through the third week in September. These periods represent late fall and winter when temperatures are cooler, especially the farther south you are, heading toward Antarctica. Again, this is the opposite of the Northern Hemisphere, where people are used to heading south during the winter to warm up.
For comparison, we looked for the cheapest published fares on expedia.com for 14-day trips, traveling on Wednesdays in both directions during each of the three travel seasons, flying between Los Angeles and Sydney (prices in U.S. dollars). While the precise prices will vary, these figures represent the typical ratio among the seasons:
|High season (dates tested: Dec. 22 – Jan. 5)||$1,634|
|Shoulder season (dates tested: Feb. 9 – Feb. 23)||$1,402|
|Low season (dates tested: Aug. 18 – Sept. 1)||$1,051|
Different Days, Different Dollars
If you have some flexibility in your travel dates, you may be able to save money by flying Monday thru Thursday, and avoiding weekend flights. A quick peek at the published fares on qantas.com, for example, shows that if we traveled on Saturdays instead of Wednesdays, the fares increase in each season by at least $100 (we looked at the same general dates as above but moved each trip forward a few days to travel on Saturdays in both directions).
A flight with one stop can run $500 to $1,000 cheaper than a non-stop flight, and often takes just three to four hours longer.
A Package Deal
Depending on your plans, you may be able to save money by purchasing a travel package that includes both airfare and accommodations. A search on expedia.com, for example, shows a flight-plus-budget hotel deal for $1,518, traveling between August 18 and Sept. 1 (the same dates we searched for low-season fares), which is just about $500 more for the lowest-fare flight alone. Depending on your preferences, you could spend $1,871 for a package that includes a hotel in downtown Sydney.
Or you could splurge and pay $3,464 for a luxe venue like the Four Seasons Hotel Sydney, with its swank spa. Without a package deal, a two-week stay there runs $3,055.
The Bottom Line
Australia is such a diverse country that it takes weeks, if not months, to even begin to explore all that it has to offer. Like other tourist destinations, travel costs change just like the seasons, so it pays to study the dates. You may be able to shave a few dollars off your airfare if you can travel on different days of the week. Booking your flight and accommodations together, instead of purchasing them separately, may also result in hefty savings. Spend some time on research now. That way, you’ll be able to spend more time in Australia.