Travellers hoping to head home to the regions over the Christmas and New Year holidays are being urged to get in early or risk paying through the nose.

Experts say as demand increases, so will fares - and suggestions indicate transtasman fares could exceed the cost of flying to Europe.

The warnings come a month after Jetstar announced it will pull out of five regional routes and amid fears Air New Zealand could price gouge where it holds a monopoly.

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A Nelson woman who contacted the Herald said she was shell-shocked after trying to buy flights home from Auckland. She asked not to be named.

Booking for a week's holiday from December 30, she was stunned to discover the cheapest flights, with baggage, were priced between $200 and $300.

"I know it costs more during the festive season, but other years I've paid around $150 to $160 each way at this time of year," she said.

"Now I'm paying $200 to go to Nelson a day earlier than I planned and $230 to come back.

"It's crazy and I can't help but think Jetstar pulling out of the regions has something to do with it."

However, an Air New Zealand spokeswoman told the Herald it was a case of first come, first served.

And the airline has committed to not increasing lead-in fares for routes affected by the Jetstar withdrawal until at least the end of next year, she said.

"Naturally, the cheapest fares tend to sell first – we recommend customers get in early to secure the best deals.


"We're also offering discounted airfares to customers affected by Jetstar's withdrawal of its regional services."

Schedule permitting, affected Jetstar flyers could also purchase Air NZ seat-only fares for the same route on the same day for no more than $50 each way.

Meanwhile, peak demand and scarce capacity for flights is a recipe for disaster for consumers, says aviation commentator Irene King.

"Jetstar's withdrawal is a complicating factor. Timing is at peak demand period and the ability for Air NZ to ramp up capacity to cover the numbers who travel at this time of year is constrained.

"My understanding is it's not just regional airfares being impacted but in some cases, it's more expensive to travel transtasman during the Christmas period than purchase a return airfare to Europe."

Last month, Jetstar confirmed it would cease five regional services by the end of November.

Chief executive Gareth Evans said the decision came after a consultation period with affected employees.

Gareth Evans, chief executive of airline Jetstar. Photo / File
Gareth Evans, chief executive of airline Jetstar. Photo / File

For the past four years, the airline has been flying from Auckland to Napier, Nelson, New Plymouth and Palmerston North.

It has also been flying between Wellington and Nelson, all of which has contributed to driving down the cost of notoriously high fares on regional flights.

Jetstar, however, was unable to make any profit from those routes.

Meanwhile, Air New Zealand announced it would increase its regional flight services following its rival's withdrawal.

An additional 253 one-way flights would operate through December between the affected regions, adding more than 15,500 seats in the process.

King advised hopeful flyers to delay travel until Christmas Day, with airfares often cheaper then, or on the Monday or Tuesday before New Year's Day.

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones earlier expressed his disappointment at Jetstar pulling the pin on the regions.

He also warned Air NZ not to use the opportunity to "gouge" consumers.

"Air New Zealand has historically challenged anyone who creates a meaningful presence in the regions but it must not be tempted to ramp up gouging activity.

"As a retail politician I stand up for regional travellers and the pressures put on them."

Jones said he would be keeping a close eye on Air NZ's prices and wouldn't "sit idly by" if the airline took advantage.