Jetstar launches new route to Cook Islands

Photo: Jetstar Australia/Facebook

Australian travellers can now pay a stopover-free visit to the Cook Island’s famous turquoise shores with the launch of new direct flights. The new Jetstar service takes off as Pacific Island travel demand spikes in time for the winter school holiday period.

Jetstar’s inaugural Sydney-Rarotonga route commence on Thursday, 29 June at 9pm (AEST), touching down at Rarotonga International Airport on Thursday morning at 7am (GMT-10) local time, due to crossing the International Date Line.

The launch of the thrice-weekly service also officially marks the first and only Australian carrier to operate the direct route since the Ansett-operated Cook Islands International ceased its non-stop flights in 1990, more than three decades ago.

Jetstar has rolled out its newest, more fuel-efficient Airbus A321neo LR aircraft – currently the widest single-aisle plane on the market – for the route, with wider seats and more storage room.

The inaugural service, first announced in November, cuts the current flight time to Rarotonga by more than seven hours – down to five hours and 30 minutes. The current second-shortest route to the archipelago nation is 12 hours and 40 minutes, including a five hour and 35-minute stopover in Auckland, operated by Air New Zealand.

The new single-cabin-class A321neo LR aircraft used for the route are 50 per cent quieter than the A320s, burn up to 20 per cent less fuel, and can fly nearly 6500 kilometres further thanks to larger fuel capacity, opening up the possibility of adding more longer-haul international routes in future.

The launch comes as many Australians shun a northern hemisphere trip this winter amid worsening cost of living pressures and sky-high airfares.

A combination of newly-launched direct routes to Pacific destinations and soaring travel costs in Europe and the United States has paved the way for a Pacific Islands travel boom, as Australian travellers turn to cheaper tropical escapes within a few hours of flying time.

Research by booking platform Expedia has found that overseas island destinations – in particular, those located a short-haul flight away – are top of mind for Australian holidaymakers, with searches for island accommodation surging by 315 per cent in the last year.

Fiji and Samoa are among those leading the South Pacific charge, with both featured in Expedia’s Island Index report for 2023, nabbing the No.1 and No.9 spots respectively in the top-10 list.

Affordability and ramped-up flight capacity are among the driving factors behind the region’s resurgence, said Expedia managing director Daniel Finch.

“Australians can save more than $1800 (US$1,118) on flights in winter flying to the Pacific Islands, Indonesia and New Zealand compared to flying to London to access the Greek or Italian islands,” said Finch.

Add to that cheaper on-the-ground costs and a favourable currency exchange relative to the United States and Europe, and the savings are significant, he said.

Skyscanner’s Jarrod Kris agreed that bookings to Pacific-island destinations are on an upward trajectory, with destinations such as Vanuatu, New Caledonia and New Zealand remaining strong options for those after bang for buck.

“Port Vila, Noumea and Queenstown were highlighted in the Skyscanner 2023 Travel Trends Report as being some of the best-value destinations for Aussies, and it’s great to see these cities still standing strong,” said Kris, who also noted a competitive advantage when it came to airfares.

The arrival of a cold snap in Australia’s south-eastern states ahead of the school break has also seen a surge in last-minute holiday bookings to tropical favourites such as Fiji, according to Finch.

“There’s definitely more flight capacity coming onboard now, and I think when travellers are looking at costs and you can get to Fiji for about $570 (US$376) return right now, versus Bali where airfares are about $1020 (US$673), it’s pretty accessible,” said Finch.

With the exception of Fiji, many South Pacific nations had a late start to post-pandemic international tourism, with reopening delays amid concerns over COVID-19 outbreaks and other disruptions including volcanic activity in the region. However, a recent spate of newly launched flight routes from Australia are helping the region play catch-up.

Virgin Australia has commenced new services to Samoa’s capital Apia out of Sydney and Brisbane, as well as a direct Vanuatu route between Brisbane and Port Vila. Solomon Airlines just launched a new Brisbane to Santo, Vanuatu route in early June. Jetstar is set to commence twice-weekly flights from Sydney to Rarotonga, the largest of the Cook Islands, on 29 June, while Fiji Airways will begin operating a new direct route between Canberra and Nadi, Fiji from 21 July. Fiji Airways currently operates daily non-stop flights from Melbourne to Nadi, Fiji, with onward connections to Samoa and Tonga.