With its first Sydney-Melbourne flights barely three weeks away, Regional Express is showing just how heated competition could get on Australia's most popular route.
The challenger has dropped its Sydney-Melbourne prices to $49 for one-way economy, or "less than a taxi fare" to the airport, with business class at just $199.
"Most taxi rides to the airport cost more than $49," recounted Rex Deputy Chairman John Sharp.
"This is a wonderful opportunity for travellers to get between Australia’s two biggest cities on a whim to get over the COVID blues."
These rates undercut Rex's initial and already-compelling fares which started at $79 for economy and $299 for business class.
The special fares are available for flights between Sydney and Melbourne in March, and must be booked by the end of February.
Sharp said the fares are refundable under the airline's policy "which guarantees full refunds for any flights affected by COVID, even if Rex's flights are not affected."
The $49 economy fares comes with all standard inclusions such as 7kg of carry-on bags and 23kg of checked luggage, along with refreshments on board.
At the time of writing, Qantas' Sydney-Melbourne economy fares in March typically begin at $159, with Jetstar at $131 and Virgin Australia at $79.
Update: Virgin has this afternoon matched Rex's prices, while Qantas has slashed its lead-in fare to $110 – read more here.
In the event of a price war, how low can Sydney-Melbourne fares go?
In July 2020, after Qantas chief Alan Joyce said that ultra-cheap airfares could help kick-start air travel following the initial pandemic shut-down, Jetstar launched a sale which included $19 fares from Sydney to Melbourne.
Armed with an initial fleet of five Boeing 737 jets – all of which were formerly leased to Virgin Australia, so they sport the same Virgin economy and business class seats – Rex plans nine return flights a day between Sydney and Melbourne from March 1, with Sydney-Brisbane being added to the nascent capital city network in early April.
Rex is aiming to double its Boeing 737 fleet to ten by the end of the year, and if things go well, have as many as 40 jets linking every capital city across Australia.
"By the end of 2022... Rex’s ambition is to be a sizeable domestic airline operator with a fleet of 30 or maybe 40, maybe even more narrow-bodied single-aisle aircraft operating on the domestic network around Australia," Sharp remarked in November 2020.