Passengers travelling from Nigeria to other parts of the world are currently bypassing travel agents in Nigeria to purchase tickets from agents in Ghana and other African countries.
Summer airfares in the country have skyrocketed as foreign airlines’ funds, running into $500m, remain trapped.
Airfares have risen by almost 400 percent to some destinations as foreign airlines operating in Nigeria have blocked all low-ticket inventories on their websites and are selling the highest inventories, making it difficult for passengers to buy affordable tickets.
The airlines also stopped travel agents in Nigeria from issuing tickets emanating from other countries into Nigeria in a bid to reduce the amount of money that would be trapped in the country.
This situation has forced travellers to contact agents in Ghana, London and the United States to help them buy tickets.
Travel agents in Nigeria have devised means to stay afloat by now partnering with agents in other countries to help them in the purchase of tickets for their clients.
“We are really worried about the situation. This is the peak period for travels and we are not selling tickets. When Nigerians noticed our tickets have become too high, they decided to get tickets from agents in other countries, especially Ghana,” Susan Akporiaye, president of National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), told BusinessDay.
According to Akporiaye, Nigerians prefer to buy tickets from other countries in dollars, rather than paying exorbitant amounts to agents in Nigeria.
“This is summer and the best time to recoup most of what we lost during COVID-19, but the current situation is making us lose money to Ghana and other countries. Government should please come to our aid. Some travel agents have not sold tickets in weeks now,” she said.
She hinted that the airlines have agreed to remove some of the restrictions if the government can release 20 to 30 percent of their trapped funds.
BusinessDay’s findings show that the lowest amount for a Lagos-London flight is an average of N1.5 million across major foreign airlines as against an average of N400,000, showing an increase of almost 400 percent. The same ticket in Ghana is sold for about $1,300. When this amount is converted to Nigerian currency at the rate of N450 to a dollar on airlines’ website, it will amount to N585,000.
An economy-class Lagos-US return ticket, which used to go for an average of N650,000, now costs an average of N1.9 million, showing an increase of almost 300 percent. The same ticket in Ghana and other African countries is sold for about $2,000. When this amount is converted to Nigerian currency, at the rate of N450 to a dollar on airlines’ website, it will amount to N900,000.
“Booking tickets from Nigeria is very expensive and something the average Nigerian cannot afford. My friend sold the idea to me that tickets can be bought from other countries at cheaper rates. I tried this and saw it was true; so I decided to buy my ticket back to Cyprus from Ghana,” a traveller who identified himself as Chika told BusinessDay.
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A travel agent dealing with corporates and a member of NANTA who craved anonymity said in a travel advisory to its clients that the news last week that the Central Bank of Nigeria was withholding airlines’ money was leading to increasing restrictions imposed by airlines on tickets out of Nigeria.
The agent said: “Routes originating outside of Nigeria e.g. Aberdeen-Lagos or New York-Abuja, several airlines no longer allow Nigerian agents to issue such tickets, so we may be restricted in the range of airlines we can offer. We may also advise bringing residents in with a one-way ticket so that future travel will originate from Nigeria as we believe that restrictions will be in place for some time to come.
“There are several ‘booking classes’ within each cabin but some airlines have dramatically restricted which classes can be sold to enable them to collect more naira per seat to offset their currency exchange woes. We will always give alternative airlines for comparative purposes and we advise passengers to be more flexible in which airlines they are prepared to fly where cost is a constraint. But please be advised that airlines may withdraw fares at any time.”
According to the agent, any ticket that has already been issued when a lower fare was available is almost certainly going to attract substantial additional fare, which may be even higher than the original ticket cost as many airlines have also reimposed change fees to add to the misery.
“Please note that this is completely beyond our control and we advise our clients to not to change dates unless it is absolutely unavoidable. Please do not blame the agent (or the airline) when we let you know how much your change will cost,” the agent told its clients.
Akporiaye said members of NANTA had been issuing travel advisories in different ways so as not to be seen as trying to defraud passengers.