On the eve of the government’s announcement of “green list” countries, air fares to some destinations predicted to be quarantine-free are soaring.
With Portugal widely expected to be one of very few accessible nations in the low-risk category, the lowest British Airways fare from London Heathrow to Faro on 17 May is £530 one-way – more expensive than a BA round-trip to New York, for which travel is heavily restricted.
At present all holidays from the UK are illegal, but the restriction is to be eased – from England at least – from 17 May.
British Airways has two flights to the Portugal Algarve on that date, at 8.40am and 2.15pm. The lowest fare on both is £530 one-way, with two seats left on the first and three on the second.
In comparison, a ticket on the sole BA flight from London to New York that day, returning a week later, is £517 – covering a distance seven times further.
Because of the way British Airways prices its tickets, a return from Heathrow to Faro, departing on 17 and returning three days later, is £473 – saving £57 on the one-way fare by buying a round trip.
A British Airways spokesperson said: “Like so many of our customers we’re excited about returning to the skies and we’ve been offering some incredible deals that have been quickly snapped up.
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“In the airline industry the price of tickets rise as the lowest fares sell out.
“Our customers are also booking with confidence, safe in the knowledge that if their plans change, they can move their flight dates or ask for a voucher for future travel.”
The evening BA flight returning from Faro to Heathrow on 17 May is just €60 (£52).
On the same day, easyJet has a morning flight from Gatwick to Faro, currently priced at £309 – though only four seats are available at this fare.
An evening easyJet departure from Luton to Faro is £234, with three seats remaining.
The corresponding journeys returning from Faro on that date are €49 to Gatwick and €33 to Luton.
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BA’s lowest one-way fare to the capital, Lisbon, is £336 on 17 May. The morning departure allows the traveller to reach the city by 10.15am.
The airline’s website is showing a lower fare of £149 for a connecting flight via Madrid – but that will trigger “amber list” conditions, requiring self-isolation on return to the UK if the traveller has been in Spain during the preceding 10 days.
From Manchester to Lisbon on the evening of 17 May, TAP Portugal has a fare of £140 one-way.
Ryanair has a Stansted-Porto flight on the morning of 17 May for £152 one-way.
Prices to Malta, another possibility for a low-risk rating, are significantly lower. Air Malta has an outbound flight on 17 May for £104, with a return a week later for £43.
Gibraltar, where almost the entire adult population has been vaccinated and Covid is virtually eliminated, is regarded as a certainty for the green list.
But the British overseas territory is traditionally a late-booking market: a newly scheduled Wizz Air flight from Luton to Gibraltar is available on 17 May for as little as £37 one-way, but this is likely to increase sharply in the days before departure.
Iceland, which is prepared to welcome British holidaymakers who have been vaccinated, has no direct flight from the UK on 17 May. The following day, the afternoon departure on Icelandair from Heathrow to Reykjavik is £232 one-way.
Once the green list is known, airlines and holiday companies are expected to step up capacity, which could see fares fall when extra seats go on sale.