Netizens Voice Concerns Over Soaring Phuket Airfare Prices

This week, social media platforms were filled with posts from local travellers expressing frustration over the high price of airfares to Phuket.

A social media user shared that the cost of flights from Bangkok to Phuket with budget airlines soared to approximately 14,000 baht for trips booked two to three days before departure.

Meanwhile, some travellers reported spending 5,000 baht on a one-way flight to the island, even though they booked weeks in advance.

Suksit Suvunditkul, who leads the southern chapter of the Thai Hotels Association, commented that the average cost of both flights and hotel stays in Phuket has been on the rise since the pandemic’s end.

The increase in prices corresponds with a spike in demand, especially during the current peak season, largely due to an influx of international visitors.

“International tourists were unfazed by high prices as their trips were planned and booked in advance. The airfares are normally combined in the form of connecting flights from Bangkok, so they wouldn’t notice how the prices had adjusted on domestic routes,” explained Mr. Suksit.

He noted that those most impacted by the price hikes are not leisure tourists from within Thailand but rather local business travellers and others needing to travel within the country.

As of this month, foreign tourists make up 90% of all visitors to Phuket, with domestic travellers accounting for the remaining 10%.

The Chinese New Year celebrations contributed to Chinese tourists outnumbering Russian visitors for the first time this year, with 66,775 Chinese and 54,908 Russian tourists visiting Phuket between February 1 and February 14.

In January, Russian tourists were at the forefront of arrivals with 130,709 visitors, followed by 84,966 from China. India was in third place, contributing 25,528 tourists to Thailand’s tourism last month.

Mr. Suksit pointed out that Phuket’s peak tourism season is from November to March, with the busiest period being from December to February. This period typically sees a surge in airfare and hotel prices as holiday festivities prompt tourists to finalize their plans swiftly.

Chinese and Indian visitors, in particular, are less likely to seek discounts, preferring to ensure they celebrate the holidays precisely. During this time, around 40% of guests in most five-star hotels are from China.

However, he mentioned that average prices tend to decrease after April when demand drops off following the Songkran festival, both among international and local tourists.

A January report on Phuket’s tourism showed hotels had an average occupancy rate of 89.2%, with guests staying an average of 3.66 days. This survey included 30% of the island’s 2,069 hotels, totaling 111,427 rooms.

In just January of this year, Phuket’s tourism industry generated 64.5 billion baht in revenue from approximately 2 million visitors from both domestic and international markets.

Inflated Prices

The Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) has set the maximum fare for the 698-kilometer journey from Bangkok to Phuket at 6,561 baht for budget airlines and 9,074 baht for full-service carriers.

Thanet Tantipiriyakit, president of the Phuket Tourist Association, mentioned that the tourism industry is keeping an eye on flight prices but hasn’t found any cases of fares exceeding these maximum rates.

However, when additional fees and taxes are factored in, the total cost might surpass these limits without breaching regulations, as these caps don’t account for extra charges.

“I still believe that local airlines don’t want to get into trouble with CAAT by selling more expensive tickets than the designated rate as it’s not worth being penalised,” Mr. Thanet remarked.

He attributed the high costs to the peak season demand and the trend of booking flights just one to two weeks in advance.

For those planning trips three to four weeks ahead, the prices are more reasonable and are expected to decrease after the peak season ends. Currently, Phuket has managed to restore its domestic flight operations to around 130 flights daily, nearly matching the numbers seen in 2019.

Yet, with the surge in tourist arrivals, this capacity is insufficient to meet the needs of all travellers, especially local business professionals.

During the high season, more locals from Phuket are choosing to drive to nearby Krabi or Surat Thani to catch cheaper flights to Bangkok, as the airfares from these locations are significantly lower than from Phuket.