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Popular prices . . . Air New Zealand's decision in February to drop prices on flights between Wellington (pictured) and Timaru has been popular with Timaru residents, but the airline still advises customers to book well in advance to get good prices. PHOTO: NZ HERALD

by Greta Yeoman

Cut-price flights between Timaru and Wellington, first announced six months ago, have prompted a positive response from South Canterbury residents, Aoraki Development says.

Air New Zealand announced in February that its regional “lead-in” flights prices would be dropping and would start from $49 between Timaru and Wellington.

Aoraki Development operations manager Di Hay said the price drop had tempted residents to check out the price of flights from Timaru to the capital, instead of immediately opting to drive to Christchurch and fly from there.

“If it continues, [it] will mean we will have the chance to promote Timaru as a weekend destination for visitors.”

“We’ve had some positive feedback from people who’ve successfully booked some pretty cheap fares out of Timaru and back.”

Ms Hay said it was a “really positive move” by Air New Zealand and she hoped the low fares would continue.

“If it continues, [it] will mean we will have the chance to promote Timaru as a weekend destination for visitors.”

However, when The Courier visited the Air NZ website last week, the first available flights for less than $100 were in mid-October, both in and out of Timaru.

The first weekend flight in to Timaru for less than $100 was in mid-November, for $69, while the earliest weekend flight to Wellington for less than $100 was also more than two months away – a $49 fare on the first Saturday of November.

An Air New Zealand communications manager said the airline always recommended customers book early to secure the cheapest fares.

“Naturally as the cheapest fare class, lead-in fares tend to sell out first.”

The cheapest seat to the capital a month from today was $199, while it would cost travellers at least $169 to fly from Wellington into Timaru on the same day.

At the time of the announcement in February, then Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon described “regional New Zealand” as “one of the biggest winners” out of the announcement.

The Air NZ spokeswoman said the airline had seen a “fantastic uptake” since the lead-in $49 fares had been introduced, and they were “booking out fast”.

“As a result more people than ever are flying on the Timaru service.”

Ms Hay said it was “hard” to gauge the direct benefit to businesses as a result of people flying straight into Timaru, but it was definitely a more convenient and time-saving option for individual residents.

“What we’re hearing is that people are looking at the Timaru option first to see what the offers are, instead of driving through to Christchurch.”