Airlines and airport operators are clashing over the cost of air travel and official figures showing fares have taken off.

Domestic ticket prices went up by 18.6 per cent over the three years to this August, passenger numbers by more than four per cent, while the supply of seats increased by 0.3 per cent.

These are findings from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE).

Airlines have rejected suggestions they have been unfairly slugging travellers and point to flyers taking increasing advantage of bargain fares.

And they point to rising costs.

“Our fuel bill increased by 25 per cent last year to $4 billion and airport charges keep going up, but there’s only been moderate increases in airfares with Jetstar selling almost two-thirds of fares for under $100,” said a Qantas spokesman.

The umbrella body Airlines of Australia and New Zealand backed the argument discounted fares were a bonus for customers.

It said the BITRE figures showed (best discount economy) fares were 40 per cent lower than 20 years ago and that “any rise in airfares is coming off a low base”.

Chief Executive Alison Roberts said airport operator charges rose 25 per cent over the same period.

Dr Roberts rejected an analysis of the figures by airport operators as “selective” and argued any fare rises were from a low base.

The airline argument will be put on Wednesday when Qantas CEO Alan Joyce and Virgin CEO Paul Scurrah address the National Press Club in Canberra.

The Australian Airports Association says airport charges have consistently made up around 10 per cent of a domestic fare.

“The airlines should stop playing games with the public and start offering more affordable airfares,” association chief executive Caroline Wilkie said in a statement.

“The domestic carriers are very quick to attack suppliers and aviation partners when they think they’re getting a raw deal, yet they’re happy to slug travellers with pricey, uncompetitive airfares – because they can.”