Air NZ's regional flights much quicker than driving but can cost hundreds of dollars more, comparison shows
Kiwis wanting to travel to some regional centres are faced with an 18-hour bus ride - or forking out hundreds of dollars for an Air New Zealand flight. And, in some centres, it is cheaper to drive a car-load of people than buy a single airfare.
The Herald has compared the cost of Air New Zealand, Naked Bus and private car prices between North Island regional centres and Auckland or Wellington after Air NZ faced criticism this week for the price of its regional airfares. It found travellers could be paying more than 10 times more for the convenience of flying.
Massey University student Lauren Cornish is one of many who opt to drive because of what they see as unaffordable airfares.
The veterinary science student has been studying in Palmerston North city for six years but returns home to Auckland regularly. In that time she has taken no more than five flights - instead opting for a seven-hour drive home more than 20 times.
"It is never economically viable to fly, ever," she said. "If I get Grabaseat deals, they can be okay, but they are obviously very inflexible and it is still around $120." Instead she pays $90 in petrol to drive one way.
The Herald comparisons were for travellers trying to fly after, or as close to, 5pm on Friday September 12 and returning on Sunday afternoon.
Flying from Auckland to Tauranga return would cost $438 or $1.07/km, while taking a bus would be just $47.97 or 12c/km, according to prices listed on the companies' websites.
A return flight between Wellington and Palmerston North was $326 or $1.15/km while the same trip on a bus was just $33.97 or 11c/km.
Automobile Association (AA) figures show that when annual running costs and petrol priced at $2.20/l was taken into account, a small car cost 54c/km to run.
This meant an Auckland family of five could drive the 408km round trip to Tauranga for $220.32 - nearly half of the Air NZ single fare.
Taking the bus from Wellington to Tauranga would save more than $500 over flying, but would take 19 hours.
Passengers taking a bus to Palmerston North from Auckland would save more than $400 but would take 18 hours. The Government and aviation industry bodies have criticised Air NZ for the price of its regional airfares after it posted a 45 per cent rise in annual profit to $262 million.
The Commerce Commission was evaluating a complaint on the issue and Prime Minister John Key said he had "made it clear" to chief executive Christopher Luxon the airline needed to cut prices to the regions.
An Air NZ spokeswoman said the business offered close to a million regional seats for under $100 each year, up 400,000 seats in the past five years.
Average regional airfares had fallen by about 1 per cent in that time, despite rising business costs.