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For the past 15 years, round-trip economy flights from San Fransisco to Shanghai have been close to $1000-1500 per person. Currently the summer prices are between $3500 and $4500 per person. Looking at other destinations, I have not noticed any other region in the world having such a tremendous spike in the prices, but instead, average prices to other destinations around the world (e.g. Europe, the Middle East, Africa) seems lower than before, probably related to COVID-19. What explains why China's flights are currently ~4 times higher than usual?

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    Covid means less flights or less passengers per flight. Flights to my home country have been 4x-15x the price over the past year! Totally put us off returning there (not to mention having to quarantine, and pay for that as well, once we got there)
    – Midavalo
    May 26 at 19:32
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    Check out flights to Australia...
    – reirab
    May 27 at 6:33
  • Just to add, if you plan to travel, I think currently tourist visa are not available and there is a two week quarantine after arrival. (not 100% sure, better check before booking)
    – lalala
    May 27 at 10:33
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+500

There are fewer flights/itineraries.

Chinese authorities have imposed a strict policy regarding international flights with quotas and circuit-breakers ("Five Ones Policy", article on this from Chinese Wikipedia). The number of seats is also limited to 75% of ordinary capacity.

Under "Five Ones Policy", for most international routes, one airline can only operate one route from one country to Mainland China with one flight per one week.

Circuit-breakers also mean all flights from the airline (on that route) will be cancelled for two or four weeks if the number of CoVID-positive passengers on arrival reach certain numbers. Passengers booked on cancelled flights of course will have priority on subsequent resumed flights, causing overbooking (or causing companies to restrict number of available fares that can be sold in advance).

This policy is also subject to countermeasures from e.g. France and Canada (article in Chinese), because Chinese airlines gain an unfair advantage due to the number of Chinese airlines (since the restriction is nominally per airline). USDOT's ban against Chinese-operated flights last May/June was also related.

France's and USA's countermeasures were largely diplomatically resolved, although the number of flights is still extremely limited. Canada's dispute is still ongoing and has had a dramatic effect on already high ticket prices.

Not to mention, many Chinese consulates are unable to issue the necessary boarding health declaration code to many transit passengers as the required tests must be done in the country of departure of the leg to China. Some consulates impose residency requirements and refuse to issue the code to residents of a country where a direct flight is available, e.g.

Therefore Starting from November 6, the Chinese Embassy/Consulates in Germany will in principle only examine and verify the green health code with the "HS" mark or the health declaration of the passengers bound for China via direct flights from Germany to China.

http://munich.china-consulate.org/ger/miieilungen/t1828304.htm

Additionally, the demand is particularly higher now since many expats have not been able to visit home during the past year and summer vacation is coming up for international students.

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    Similar explanations also apply to high ticket prices to Australia and New Zealand. All 3 governments don’t want anyone to come but also don’t want to outright ban travel.
    – JonathanReez
    May 26 at 20:21
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    Given this explanation, the $3500 to $4500 round trip prices, which were quoted by the OP, seem like good value. May 27 at 8:23
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    Cost of mandatory quarantine on entering New Zealand is over $5,000 per person. The seat on a plane is not even the majority of the total cost.
    – Criggie
    May 28 at 3:24
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    @Criggie Quarantining can be similarly expensive. The costs of a quarantine hotel is usually 400-500 CNY per day, and that's 14 days. Plus some localities require extra 7 (or even 14) days quarantine in addition to the officially mandated one (technically not legal, but done everywhere). Then the costs can be up in the sky (up to >2000 USD), plus 28 days in a quarantine hotel!
    – xuq01
    Jun 11 at 21:07

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