The disruption caused by coronavirus, and the associated restrictions on international and domestic flights, has left plenty of people ‘stranded’ in countries other than the place they would usually call home.
As a result, governments around the world have been arranging special repatriation flights in order to get their citizens back.
Government repatriation flights come at a cost
Such flights come at a cost, though, with high tickets being justified by airlines on the basis that one leg of the flight is usually flown empty.
The airlines might also have increased costs to pay, especially if they are flying to airports they don’t usually serve and where they don’t have service contracts in place for things like ground handling and fuel.
India was late to the repatriation party, and has only just started arranging flights to bring its citizens home (with Air India).
The British government, by contrast, has already evacuated more than 13,500 British nationals on 58 charter flights since April 8. Those passengers were charged up to £681 (INR 62,873/ USD 836) for a one-way economy journey.
New Zealand travellers stranded in India have even more to complain about, with their government charging them NZ $ 5500 (INR 251,808) for a single seat on an Air New Zealand repatriation flight.
Some travellers have refused to pay for these repatriation flights, saying they won’t stump up huge sums for a long flight in economy, and will instead wait until regular air service resumes.
Looking at the price of one-way business class tickets on sale now for travel in the next couple of months, they may just have a good strategy.
From India, paid business class is barely more expensive than an repatriation flight in economy
As a general rule, buying one-way flights is rarely a good idea, since they are usually among the most expensive tickets you can buy.
Right now, however, there are some bargains to be had, especially when compared to the cost of the repatriation flights on offer (assuming you can even get on one).
When we are now talking about business class travel, and the increased comfort and personal space that comes with it, taking a punt on a future commercial flight looks even more attractive - especially for those who are cash-rich and don’t have a desperate need to travel.
SriLankan Airlines, for example is selling reasonably priced business class tickets from the cities it serves in India to London (all travel via Colombo). The cheapest fare we could find was from Coimbatore and costs INR 73,070 (USD 972) one way:
For around 12,000 rupees more, you can travel from Delhi:
It’s a minor consideration in the grand scheme of things, but those business class flights would earn you a substantial number of air miles (180 tier points and at least 6,886 Avios if you are a BA Executive Club member). Government-organised repatriation flights are not eligible for frequent flyer rewards.
Save on economy flights, too
If you are willing to sit in the back, SriLankan’s one-way economy tickets are a mere fraction of the price of the repatriation flights:
With all these flights, you’re obviously taking a gamble about when commercial air service might resume, but you can book with more confidence if you pay using a reputable credit card provider such as American Express.
Personally, and assuming I didn’t need to travel urgently, I’d be comfortable booking one of these flights for travel in the next few months and waiting to see what happens (especially knowing that I had a reliable partner like Amex behind me).
Some people have a pressing need to travel, and will do whatever it takes to get somewhere as soon as possible. For those people, repatriation flights make sense.
Others with a less urgent need are happy to wait it out and see if they can get a better deal when commercial air travel resumes. From our analysis, those in the second camp could score a much better deal, even flying business class.
There’s obviously no guarantee your flight will operate as planned, though, so buy your tickets with a good credit card provider that offers purchase protection.
If nothing else, the price of these commercial business class tickets is an interesting data point when you compare them to the cost of the one-way repatriation flights (in economy).
Anyone tempted to take a paid business class ticket to get where they want to be?