Those considering last-minute trips to Cape Town over the December holidays may be surprised that there are seats still available for flights on 15 and 23 December.
Some flights on these incredibly popular days for travel are completely sold out, but all five domestic carriers still have seats available. More astonishing than the fact that a fair amount of capacity still exists, is the price of seats.
On South African Airways (SAA), the cheapest flight to Cape Town from OR Tambo on either date is R4 448. That’s one way!
An analysis by Moneyweb reveals that the ‘cheapest’ flights down to the Cape are hovering around the R3 300 to R3 600 level.
For low-cost carriers FlySafair and Lift, the ‘standard’ fare option, which includes checked baggage, was selected.
Far more challenging than getting to Cape Town is returning to Joburg on 2 or 3 January. Prices on these dates are even higher than the low-cost flights down in December, at R3 500 and above. Some of these options require passengers to travel at less convenient times (departing at 05:55, for example).
A return ticket on SAA – which operates among the lowest number of daily flights between the two destinations – will cost an outrageous R9 723 (the return leg is Business Class). Return flights to many destinations in Europe on these same dates – very short-notice for international travel – are ‘only’ double this price.
Even on the least expensive local flights, a return ticket will cost around R7 000.
The only real alternative for those who want to be in Cape Town over the Christmas/New Year period is to fly on less popular days, like 21 December or Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Flights on those dates are at the more palatable R2 500 mark.
Getting back remains the challenge …
Return prices from Cape Town begin normalising by 9 January (schools in inland provinces reopen on 11 January).
|Number of daily return flights||OR Tambo to CT
|OR Tambo to CT
|CT to OR Tambo
|FlySafair||17||R3 481||R3 141||R3 481|
|Lift||7||R3 600||R3 600||R3 600|
|SAA||7||R4 448||R4 448||R5 275|
|CemAir||7||R3 314||R3 314||R3 544|
|Airlink||6||R3 645||R3 645||R4 013|
* Prices as at 12:00 on 6 December. Lowest price per carrier selected, even if that seat was Business Class. For FlySafair and Lift, the standard fare option was selected, i.e. with checked in luggage.
For a leisure destination with far less capacity, like George, there are simply no flights available over the festive season.
FlySafair, with four to five flights a day between OR Tambo and the Garden Route, has no available flights at all from Sunday until Christmas Day.
The same is true for Airlink and CemAir, which operate two or three direct flights a day. Airlink has one or two seats available on fewer than a handful of connecting flights via Cape Town between now and the 24th.
And going forward?
December peak prices aside, all airline bosses in the local market are on record saying that the market is now a lot closer to equilibrium than it was.
Following the collapse of Comair and Mango into liquidation and business rescue respectively, prices are now closer to reality.
The days of Kulula and Mango flooding routes with capacity at prices that were below cost are over.
A more realistic return fare to Cape Town is a lot nearer R2 500 than days gone by when tickets could’ve been bought for R1 500.
Even as prices moderate in January, supply on the Cape Town route will continue to be constrained.
FlySafair, which has around two-thirds market share domestically, operates 17 return flights to Cape Town from OR Tambo, with a further four from Lanseria, north-west of Johannesburg.
This is an extraordinary volume of seats on this route, with aircraft taking off in both directions at least once an hour. Still, this hasn’t replaced the lost capacity from Kulula, British Airways and Mango (which was forced to take over the bulk of SAA’s domestic routes in 2018).