Virgin Australia moved at breakneck speed on Wednesday afternoon to match Rex’s announcement earlier in the day that it would sell tickets between Sydney and Melbourne for just $49.
The airline also confirmed it would match Qantas’ more generous policy waiving the fees passengers have to pay to rebook flights – only announced on Monday, 8 February.
The tit-for-tat rush of announcement between the carriers comes a little over two weeks before Rex becomes the first new challenger in two decades to fly between Sydney and Melbourne on 1 March, before adding Brisbane shortly after.
The so-called ‘golden triangle’ between the NSW, Victoria and Queensland capitals is known as one of the most lucrative domestic routes in the world.
The announcement was significant because Qantas announced only on Monday that it would sell the route for $109 while on 1 February fellow ‘mid-market’ carrier Virgin sold them for $78.
Rex made the announcement to the media at 5am but by mid-afternoon Virgin raced to declare it was to match the offer.
Virgin also revealed it was to match Qantas’ ‘fee waiver’ policy – launched on Monday – that means those who book domestic flights before 30 April 2021 for travel up to 31 January 2022 won’t have to pay a charge to switch.
“Today, we’ve raised the bar even higher – matching some of the lowest airfares in the market – complete with checked-baggage, seat selection, double Velocity Points on eligible bookings and of course, our award-winning service,” said the business in a statement.
“We’ve also extended our booking flexibility for travel until 31 January 2022 when customers book before 30 April 2021 to give travellers peace of mind that they can book now and easily change the date of their flight if they need to.”
Change fees and booking flexibility have been a key battleground for airlines in the last year. In January, Rex claimed “other carriers” had criticised its COVID refund policy, which allows any passenger affected by border closures to get their money back.
This compares with offers by Virgin and Qantas that only allow refunds if the flight is cancelled by the operator, but not if restrictions change banning certain passengers from flying.
Rex first announced firm details of its golden triangle ticket strategy back in December.
“Rex will begin with nine Sydney-Melbourne return services a day,” announced Sharp. “By Easter, two additional 737s will be added to expand our domestic network to Brisbane and other capital cities. If all things go as planned, we hope to grow our fleet to eight to 10 by the end of 2021.
“Rex will offer all the usual perks of a full-service carrier including eight Business Class seats. All fares include checked baggage allowance, food, pre-assigned seating and online check-in. Lounge access and on-board Wi-Fi will be free for Business Class, whilst Economy passengers can access these options for a small fee.”
Its shareholder then voted “overwhelmingly” to approve the business’ $150 million investment to launch the route on 29 January.