Collingwood fans face sky-high airfares in clamour to reach Sydney for AFL final | AFL

Diehard Collingwood fans are facing return flights in excess of $1,000 to make it to the Sydney Cricket Ground for the AFL preliminary final on Saturday, with many opting to brave overnight carpools down the Hume Highway instead.

Virgin Australia’s cheapest overnight return flight from Melbourne to Sydney was $1,178 to touch down in time for the game on Saturday afternoon, with some options blowing out just shy of $1,500.

There was just one ticket left travelling to Sydney at 6am on Saturday morning, retailing at $799 – more expensive than a Jetstar flight from Melbourne to Bali.

The same flight a week later was selling for $200 cheaper.

A Qantas spokesperson said “hundreds” of Collingwood fans had booked flights to Sydney ahead of this weekend’s clash.

“Since Sunday night, both Qantas and Jetstar have put on additional flights and bigger aircraft between Melbourne and Sydney this weekend to help fans get to the game,” they said.

“As is always the case, the lowest fares on each airline sell the quickest.”

Qantas and Jetstar added an additional three return flights for Saturday and bumped four flights on to bigger aircraft, adding just shy of 1,000 seats both ways. Two additional return flights were added by Jetstar for Sunday.

On Tuesday morning, the cheapest overnight return flight with Jetstar was $813. Travelling with Qantas, the cheapest overnight return flight was $956.

Prices ranged between $586 for a flex ticket on Saturday morning to $1,609 for a business seat. All red e-deal flights were sold out.

Returning, the cheapest option was $371 departing at 6am on Sunday morning. Alternately, travellers could fork out $3,733 to travel home on business class via Brisbane, arriving back in Melbourne just shy of 11pm on Sunday.

The following week, a return flight was up to $387 less.

Collingwood footballer Mason Cox called the prices “absurd”.

Between cancelled flights, delays, and absurd prices for flights to Sydney now. Airline companies doing no favours for getting the trust of the public back.

— Mason Cox (@masonsixtencox) September 11, 2022

“Airline companies doing no favours for getting the trust of the public back,” he posted on social media.

A Virgin Australia spokesperson said the airline was “committed to providing incredible value and choice” and was considering adding further flights due to demand.

“Fares booked very close to departure dates and times tend to be higher than the average fare, in line with the reduced number of available seats,” they said.

Overnight buses and trains also quickly sold out, leaving Magpie fans with little option but a nine-hour overnight drive down the Hume Highway.

By Tuesday morning, a Facebook group dedicated to the Collingwood “road trip” amassed more than 300 members organising car pools to the SCG.

Three $200 overnight buses, set up by the Magpie Army to carry almost 60 passengers each, had almost sold out.

Teresa Shipera booked a spot on one of them, leaving from Southern Cross Station at 1am Saturday morning.

“The train was sold out and flights were way too expensive,” she said.

One Pies fan paid $250 for two seats on the overnight XPT train to arrive at 7am on match day with his young son.

Six hours after booking, he received an email saying they no longer had seats and could select another time, which would arrive after the game, or wait up to two weeks for a refund.

By this time, nearly all accommodation on the drive to Sydney was snapped up.

All but a few hotel rooms in Wagga Wagga – the halfway point between Melbourne and Sydney – were reserved on Less than a dozen rooms were available across the urban centre on Friday evening.

Nearby Gundagai, Holbrook, Yass and Jugiong had zero availability.

Tristan Knight was hoping for the best. He and three friends planned to drive up after work on Friday evening, taking sleeping shifts in the car on the way.

“We’re hoping we can figure out accommodation,” he said. “We’re going to have to drive through the night just to make the game because flights have priced us out.

“It’s pretty big dedication, we’re driving back to make it for work 9am Monday … so realistically we’re going to be in Sydney for 30 hours for the game.”

Meanwhile, close to 1,000 parking spots are likely to be closed off at the Moore Park precinct due to recent rain and government legislation when sports fans eventually descend on Sydney.

The AFL preliminary final at the SCG coincides with the NRL semi-final at the newly reopened Allianz Stadium, the biggest back-to-back events in the precinct since Covid-19. A total crowd of close to 90,000 was anticipated.

If the Lower Kippax section, shut off due to Sydney’s wet weather, were to remain closed, only the Sydney Showground field, which takes 900 cars, would be open for the double-header.