Bad news about December flight prices — and when you should have booked

South Africans who have not booked their flights for the December holidays stand to pay substantially more than they would have around the same time last year, according to at least two prominent travel agencies.

Prices of flights in South Africa have surged due to the shutdown of Kulula operator Comair and former SAA subsidiary Mango, as well as rising aviation fuel costs.

At the time of publication, the cheapest one-way ticket MyBroadband found on Cheapflights from Johannesburg to Cape Town on 16 December 2023 — the first Saturday after many offices will be closing their doors for the holidays — cost R1,631.

That was for a flight scheduled to land at 22:25 and on a day that Cheapflight showed had high seat availability with better prices.

The most affordable flight in the morning is scheduled to land in Cape Town at 08:05 and cost R2,124.

According to Gerald Engelbrecht Klitzke from TheBoyz, it is already too late to get a good deal on flight prices for the upcoming holidays.

In his agency’s experience, airfares for international flights were almost double compared to last year due to lack of availability.

He explained the sharply increased prices were because South Africa only has about half the number of flights departing from it than before the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

“Before the pandemic, some airlines had four flights a day out of Johannesburg. They now only have two,” said Engelbrecht Klitzke.

“With fewer flights available, fewer seats are available, and the demand is still there. So, the prices have rocketed.”

Flight Centre travel group’s head of air pricing and distribution, Tash Webb, also said airfares were significantly more expensive across the board.

“Both domestic and international December 2023 airfares are showing double-digit growth at approximately 20% up over last year,” Webb said.

“Domestic ticket prices are in a state of flux over the coming months whilst international ticket prices continue to see double-digit growth.

“We don’t foresee, in the immediate future, any relief on airfare pricing.”

Webb explained that travel demand often surpassed availability during the December holidays.

“We always recommend that flight bookings for peak season periods are confirmed as early as possible to avoid any disappointment, or to avoid paying a premium for airfares,” Webb stated.

Flight over Cape Town

How long ahead you should book your flight

Webb said Flight Centre’s booking data showed the average lead time for booking domestic flights within South Africa was 43 days, about one and a half months.

However, the group strongly advised travellers to book domestic flights at least three months in advance for peak periods like December.

“For international travel, we recommend a six-month booking window,” she said.

“These timeframes serve as a general guideline, and we would always suggest reserving a flight booking as soon as you have a clear indication of your travel dates and planned itinerary.

For those planning to travel in December, it’s important to note that airfare prices for the peak holiday period are unlikely to reduce considerably.

“Therefore, it is advisable to secure your flights as soon as possible to ensure availability and a more favourable fare,” said Webb.

Engelbrecht Klitzke said that The Boyz always recommended that customers buy their tickets eight months in advance.

“That is the only way you are going to get a cheaper option,” he said.

Travelstart also advised that travellers book their flights for peak holiday periods as early as possible.

“Flights are available to book 11 months in advance, so to get the best price and the best choice of flights, get in early,” the agency said.

Aside from booking well ahead of your planned travel dates, there are several ways to save on flight ticket prices.

Flight Centre and Travelstart said flexibility regarding travel dates and times could significantly affect your flight costs.

“Consider opting for mid-week flights or a departure outside of popular travel times,” Travelstart said.

Travelstart said that Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday showed lower demand and were cheaper days to fly.

“Prices always increase when schools close for the holidays and just before they reopen,” it added.

“Check dates either side of your preferred dates so that you know you have done your homework.”

Webb also recommended that, where possible, travellers compared airfares between airports near their destination.

“You may be able to secure a significantly lower airfare by flying into an alternative airport such as London Gatwick Airport over London Heathrow Airport,” said Webb.

“However, it is important to factor in any associated travel costs if this airport is some distance away from your final destination.”

Direct flights are overrated if cost is a major concern

For international flights, Engelbrecht Klitze advised that travellers consider stop-over flights.

“Not only are they cheaper, but they break the flight and give you a chance to stretch your legs, grab a drink or snack and just get some ‘fresh air’,” he explained.

“Some countries even offer a stop-over package so you can experience a new destination while making your way to your final destination.”

Webb concurred with this advice.

“While the most direct route is undoubtedly convenient, it’s worth exploring indirect routes, which may be a cost-effective alternative,” she said.

“Many international airports have elevated the transit experience, offering world-class facilities, including lounges, entertainment, and a variety of dining options.”


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Bad news about December flight prices — and when you should have booked