The softening in airfare to India should continue through to mid-March. Image Credit: ANI

Dubai: A clear window of opportunity is opening up for UAE-India travel at relatively lower airfares from late January all the way up to mid-March.

The next big ticket rate spike will be felt during the Ramadan phase, which next year would be marked during March-April. Fares on UAE-India routes will pick up significantly at that time, and continue until well after Eid Al Fitr, likely to be during the second week of April.

But those with travel plans to India can make full use of low fares during February and even a good part of March, according to Surendranath Menon, Director at Equator Travel Management.

The same more affordable rates would apply for those travelling into the UAE from the various destinations in India, whether for job purposes, business or just to have a break.

New seating capacity?

These trends will unfold even as talk of more seating capacity on India-UAE sector builds up again.

According to media reports, India has demanded a ratio of four seats for its airlines for each additional seat granted to UAE-based carriers, thus breaking the usual 1:1 reciprocal aviation bilateral norms.

This year-end fares between UAE and India have been among the highest in recent times. Image Credit: ANI

Existing UAE-India air agreements allow 66,000 weekly seats connecting Dubai to over 15 Indian cities. Currently, all UAE and Indian carriers operating on the sector have exhausted their seat allocations.

Earlier this year, India had refused to grant any more bilateral seat-sharing rights to GCC and other foreign carriers. The UAE has been consistent in called for an 'open skies' agreement.

What fares on key UAE-India routes will look like

  • Mumbai – Dubai Economy return fares drop down to Dh931 in January 2024 from average highs of Dh1,143.
  • Those to New Delhi are experiencing similar trends as well.
  • Fares on the hyper-busy South Indian sector, however, remain way above Dh1,000 from January to March. Dubai to Kochi fares average at Dh1,355-Dh1,422.
  • Fares to Bengaluru are priced between Dh1,106-Dh1,136.
  • Chennai ticket rates drop down to Dh931 after January 2024 and further to Dh854 after February 15.

Longer periods of high fares

While airfares are generally elevated for end-of-year or winter travel, rate fluctuations in the India-UAE sector, one of the busiest, have been more pronounced in the past year, according to travel agents.

These routes are experiencing more extended periods of high fares, followed by brief windows where return Economy ticket prices drop o Dh1,000 (the benchmark price for the cost of an air ticket from India to UAE on a low-cost carrier).

“This has been the case with India-UAE air ticket prices since after the pandemic,” said Basheer Mohammed, General Manager of Europe Travel and Tours.

“There have been longer periods of higher than usual fares - Dh1,500 to Dh2,500 - followed by a brief burst of fares priced lower than Dh800.”

For example, according to data on travel aggregator Skyscanner, Mumbai to Dubai December airfares have been averaging Dh1,376 (Air India Express) to Dh1,649 (on SpiceJet).

“Fares from India started peaking since early November due to events such as Gitex, COP28, the Dubai Shopping Festival, and more,” said Mohammed.

According to Travel Plan Dubai’s Abdul Basheer, many Indian tourists are choosing Southeast Asian destinations such as Singapore and Malaysia. “India- UAE fares are subject to constant changes, making it tougher for travellers to plan and book,” he said.

Dubai numbers

Dubai welcomed 13.9 million overnight visitors from January to October 2023, with the highest number being from India, at 2 million. The report states that visitor numbers during this period have grown by 39 per cent compared to 2022 levels.

According to P.P. Singh, Regional Manager GMEA at Air India, the passenger load factors on India’s national carrier average 92-95 per cent. Singh said Air India – which only flies to metro cities in India from the UAE – has been enjoying exceptional outbound and inbound demand.

“The demand is significantly higher compared to December 2022 levels as well,” said Singh. “The same can be said for Air India Express as well.”

According to travel consultants Videc’s latest report, value-conscious Indian travellers are increasingly looking to explore international destinations, which, in budget terms, are comparable with domestic destinations.

“The preference is for short-haul destinations,” it said. “With a 16 per cent incidence, Thailand was the most visited country and especially popular among the northern states (27 per cent) and Tier-3 cities (25 per cent).

“Next was UAE (14 per cent), which saw a higher incidence from Tier-1 cities (21 per cent) and the Western region (20 per cent).”