Ulster ex-pats hoping to return home for the festive season are facing huge air fares, it has emerged.
A sample of fares to Belfast from airports across the UK shows that prices in the days immediately before Christmas are up to five times more expensive than they would be a week beforehand.
However, airlines deny they are deliberately hiking up prices at the festive season, saying that the fares reflect the demand for flights at this time of year.
Flights from London to Belfast International with low-cost airline easyJet show one of the biggest increases of those sampled, with fares on Saturday, December 23, starting at £119.49, compared with £25.49 exactly a week earlier.
A spokeswoman for the airline said: "All of the flights start off at the lowest fares and as the flights sell out the price gradually increases, so popular flights sell out more quickly and therefore the price rises faster than for less popular flights.
"The difference in fares reflects how many seats have been sold on these flights; in other words, December 16 has sold significantly less than December 23, which is nearly sold out."
Flybe would charge £17.09 to fly from Liverpool to Belfast on Saturday, December 16, but this fare would increase to £88.09 for the same flight a week later.
A flight with Continental Airlines from New York/Newark on December 16 is available from £162, but this figure doubles to £332 a week later.
A Flybe spokeswoman said: "Flybe does not put its prices up during the Christmas period. The earlier a passenger books, the cheaper the seat will be."
l All fares quoted were obtained online from the official website of each airline and are exclusive of taxes and other charges.