Imagine ponying up some cash for a day trip yet having no idea where you’ll end up. Sounds crazy, right? Well, not really as this used to be a thing when airlines offered Mystery Flights.
These were used to fill up available seats on the plane and you didn’t know where you were going until you got to the airport. I think they sound like a lot of fun, and here are some examples of how they worked.
Mystery Flights in Australia
The domestic airlines – TAA (later Australian Airlines then Qantas), Ansett and East-West – all offered these. Apparently the destination code on the ticket was ZZF, rather than a usual three letter city code. How did they work then?
In 2001, Qantas offered Mystery Flights departing from the major capital cities in Australia, namely Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Canberra. Your destination could be anywhere in the network though, and they were specifically day trips, so no overnight stays.
Bookings had to be made between 3 and 14 days prior to departure and from Perth the airfare was AU$188.10. You would pay a AU$50.00 fee to cancel, unless it was within 48 hours of travel, where you would receive no refund. For those wondering, you did earn frequent flyer points on these services.
Over at Ansett, the prices in 2001 were similar, AU$189.20 from Perth and AU$166.10 departing from the Eastern States. The conditions are fairly similar to Qantas, however you are advised to telephone the airline after 2pm the day before travel to be advised what time to go to the airport and check-in. You would not find out your destination until you checked in at the airport. Fun!
What Was The Experience Like?
An insider writes, “The choice of destination is done by Yield Management based on where the empty seats are for the next day. So if the Perth flights are light from Sydney or Melbourne you’re in luck. Same with Cairns, Alice Springs, Coolangatta, Maroochydore and Brisbane – these all got a great reaction from people. As for flights to Canberra, Adelaide or Hobart – my god did people complain!!!”
Ansett guaranteed four hours at your destination, whereas Qantas guaranteed only 30 minutes, so you could be straight back on the next flight back home. In reality though, you often had plenty of time to get out of the airport and visit the city you were in. I imagine it was a real novelty to fly somewhere, have lunch or dinner there, then fly home.
Apparently Western Pacific in Canada would offer the fares for C$99 round trip. You’d find out 24 hours in advance where you were going, so you’d know what to pack.
According to the Internet, KLM did this as well, however you seemingly had to come back on the same plane. Good fun if you just wanted to experience the flight and nothing else, I guess! Air New Zealand also offered this.
It seems Mystery Flights were a thing for quite a long time. Two people report they took their first ones back in the late 1970s or early 1980s and the price was AU$10 for one person and AU$6 for another! Someone else mentioned in 1994 the price was $AU99, then in 1997 someone else mentions A$129.00. Gotta love inflation!
For those wanting to read some original source material, there is this thread, which includes the spiels from the Qantas and Ansett websites in 2001. Also, various people wrote about their experiences flying on them here.
It’s funny that someone as madly into flying and planes like me never went on one of these flights, especially as I knew they existed. I suppose it was down to money, as I could more easily justify buying flights and staying in a couple of nights somewhere than just paying to fly.
Did you ever book Mystery Flights at all? What were they like? If you’re just hearing about these, would they be something you would do if they offered them now? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.
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Ansett A320 by R.N. Smith via AussieAirliners.org
Australian Airlines 737s by George Gaidzkar via Flickr.
What a lovely idea, if a bit limited by requiring a return the same day. I’d love to see Ayers Rock but I’m not sure there would be time to visit on a trip like this. I do remember from back in my travel agent days in the 80’s and 90’s that there were a few tour companies that offered tours where the client had no idea where they were going before the trip started. That would be an adventure.
If they were offered today, I’d certainly take one. You can get a feel for a place in a day and probably then make a decision as to whether you’d go back or not. An adventure indeed!