QI’m flying to Australia and want to break up the journey. I don’t really mind where I land once I arrive. What’s the most economical route and which stopover cities do you recommend?
Generally, economy class return flights to Australia can be found for £750-£1,000. Occasionally, bargain sale fares are released — Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific recently offered, astonishing, sub-£600 fares, but no airline is consistently cheaper than the others.
I fly to Australia at least once a year, and rarely use the same airline twice in a row. Assuming fares are roughly similar, I’ll generally err towards those that fly from Manchester (Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines, near my house). But the secondary consideration is stopovers — to break up the brutally long journey.
However, it’s advisable not to try to cram too much into two or three days. The jet-lag you’re trying to knock off before landing in Australia will probably hit at some point during the stopover.
The three main hub cities tend to be Dubai (with Emirates and Qantas), Hong Kong (with Cathay Pacific) and Singapore (with Singapore Airlines). But there are other options, including Bangkok, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur and Beijing.
My choice will often depend on what I’m after. Hong Kong has an exciting energy about it; Singapore has the best mix of low hassle and excellent cultural attractions; Bangkok has the best-value hotels, food and drink, if not actually that much to see; while Dubai and Abu Dhabi have phenomenal resorts if you’re just going to laze in the sun. Kuala Lumpur’s an underrated all-rounder — it’s very affordable and has a surprising amount to see and do.
Competition, tax calculations and government support mean these stopovers are usually free. Stuart Lodge, director of Australia specialist Roundtheworldflights.com, says that when it’s not free, the extra taxes added on to the fare are, “usually between £8 and £16”.
It’s also possible to stop in one city one way, and another on the way back. For example, Etihad flies from Abu Dhabi to Brisbane via Singapore, while some Emirates flights go from Dubai to the Australian cities via Bangkok.
The most common way to combine two separate stopovers, however, is via the British Airways/Qantas codeshare. That offers up a choice of Singapore (usually the cheapest), Hong Kong, Bangkok or Tokyo.
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Published in the June 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)