Stock India-UAE travel
Demand for flights on India-UAE routes has been at its busiest in more than 3 years. And that's forcing rate increases to unprecedented highs. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: Airfares from India to the UAE are seeing increases of up to 200 per cent compared with off-season rates, and forcing many expat Indians to postpone their returns until they see some cooling off on the prices by early to mid-September.

Summer holiday travel always leads to sharp fare increases into and from the UAE, whether that’s to the UK, Europe, getaway destinations such as the Maldives, and, of course, to Pakistan, the Philippines and India. But what’s being seen on the UAE-India sector is unprecedented, say travel industry sources.

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After dipping in the second-half of July, fares from India to the UAE are rising and will continue to do so until September 6.

Travel agents say Air India's decision to cut airline capacity to two-tier cities in India and the void left by budget airline Go First's bankruptcy has fuelled this summer airfare highs.

For example, an Economy class ticket from Mumbai to Dubai costs around Dh890-Dh1,000 (for travel on August 20), up from the Dh500 plus now. Delhi-Dubai flights are priced at Dh1,073 for travel on the exact dates, compared to around Dh520 off-peak.

No respite on South India routes

When it comes to destinations in and from South India, especially Kerala, the fare gains are upending the budgets of low- to mid-income travellers. These have rocketed to Dh1,288 to Dh2,277 compared to the off-peak Dh600-Dh1,000 travellers were enjoying until mid-July. Kochi- Dubai fares are Dh1,427, and Chennai- Dubai Dh1,718.

These fares drop to Dh460 only after September 18.

Because India-bound airfares were so high, many families chose to book one-way tickets this summer, said Rashid Abbas, Managing Director of Arooha Travels. "These travellers hoped that fares would cool down mid-August, but that is unlikely.

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For example, Go First (previously known as GoAir) had solid operations at Kannur International Airport. Since those flights are not operational, travellers ended up paying more to others on that route, like Air India Express," said Abbas.

Several fliers who booked tickets on Go First were forced to buy a second pair. "Many planned their summer travel as early as in January, and then learnt in May that Go First announced its bankruptcy,” said Abbas. “They are yet to receive refunds for tickets booked at that time."

"Several Indian expatriates booked one-way tickets to their home country in the hope fares would cool down mid-August. That has not happened."

- Rashid Abbas, Managing Director, Arooha Travels

Planning for return after Onam

"The hyper-popular UAE-South India sector fares are making it hard for average middle-class families to return in time for school re-opening," said Basheer Mohammed, General Manager of Europe Travel and Tours.

Expats are also looking at layover flights via Muscat (for example) to combat the high prices, said Mehar Sawlani, Director of Sales, Richmond Gulf Tourism. "However, families are making savings of only a few 100 dirhams in this case, because fares to all Gulf destinations are high at the moment," she said. "Most are looking to schedule their return until after school starts.

According to Basheer, "There are no discounted fares for children. Toddlers over 2 years have to pay full price. Many families with school-going children also opt to miss a week's worth of school."

RAK and budget carriers emerge top choices

Many travellers are also considering travelling via Ras Al Khaimah, and prefer low-cost carriers plying this route, based on Cleartrip data. "The share for RAK International Airport has gone up by 13 per cent, and Sharjah by 3 per cent, showing customers are increasingly looking at alternate airports options which at times are cheaper by at least 30 per cent," said Atish Thapa, Head of Business and Marketing Middle East at Cleartrip.

Leading routes continue to connect major cities such as Kochi, Mumbai, Kozhikode, Ranchi, and Trivandrum with key UAE destinations, including Dubai, Sharjah, and Ras Al Khaimah.

- Atish Thapa, Head of Business and Marketing Middle East at Cleartrip

Thapa said the current distribution of airline share – IndiGo (53 per cent), Air India Express, (20 per cent), Emirates (11 per cent), Air India (6 per cent), and Etihad Airways (3 per cent) presents a telling insight into the preferences of Indian customers travelling to the UAE.

"The increasing popularity of low-cost carriers like IndiGo and Air India Express reinforces that cost-effective travel solutions are a high priority for Indian travellers heading to the UAE," Thapa said.

August 20 vs September 6 Economy Airfares to UAE from top Indian destinations
> Mumbai to Dubai: Dh1,047 vs. Mumbai to Dubai: Dh552
> Delhi to Dubai: Dh1,137 vs. Delhi to Dubai: Dh661
> Kochi to Dubai: Dh1,386 vs. Kochi to Dubai: Dh677
> Chennai to Dubai: Dh1,248 vs Chennai to Dubai: Dh610
> Kozhikode to Dubai: Dh1,364 vs. Kozhikode to Dubai: Dh730
> Bangalore to Sharjah: Dh1,770 vs. Bangalore to Sharjah: Dh683
> Mumbai to Abu Dhabi: Dh1,005 vs Mumbai to Abu Dhabi: Dh552
> Mumbai to RAK: Dh1,317 vs Mumbai to RAK: Dh681

Source: (Fares are subject to change)