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You’re way too late for a cheap December flight – and should already be looking to Easter

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You’re way too late for a cheap December flight – and should already be looking to Easter
Cape Town International Airport (Getty Images)


Cape Town International Airport (Getty Images)

  • South Africa’s aviation sector is still struggling with limited supply and rising demand in the wake of Comair’s collapse.
  • That’s made it much harder to find cheap flights closer to the date of departure.
  • And that’s especially true for peak periods, like December, with seats already filling up fast.
  • Travellers who were looking for a December bargain should’ve booked in May.
  • And with capacity constraints expected to persist into 2023, travellers have been advised to start thinking about their Easter plans.
  • For more stories, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

South African holidaymakers are unlikely to find cheap domestic flights this December and, amid a shortage of available seats, should already be looking ahead to Easter 2023.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, airlines in South Africa had about 1.6 million seats to fill on any given month. This was enough to meet the domestic demand. Airfares were generally predictable according to the seasons and shorter lead times.

The aviation industry was crippled by the pandemic, with travel restrictions cutting demand and putting already-troubled airlines out of business. The grounding of South African Airways (SAA), which would only re-emerge, as a much leaner operation, 18 months later, siphoned seats off the market, and so too did the collapse of Mango of SA Express.

But the biggest blow to the market’s capacity came with Comair’s demise in June. The grounding of Kulula.com and local British Airways flights dropped the country’s available seat capacity to just 900,000, more than 50% off the pre-pandemic mark. Meanwhile, demand continued to grow.

With demand massively outstripping supply, seats were selling far quicker than usual, driving up prices and drastically changing lead times. Soaring jet fuel prices, owing to oil volatility, only added to the problem of expensive flights.

“If you’re an individual who books your flights two weeks before departure, during normal seasonality, you were probably booking a seat on a flight that’s 50% full, and so you were getting a certain price,” said Kirby Gordon, chief marketing officer at FlySafair, explaining that the airfares rise as flights get fuller during a media briefing on Thursday,

“But because of this crazy demand we have at the moment and the longer leads that people are starting to do, now suddenly, if you’re a two-weeker, you’re booking a seat on a flight that’s 75% or 80% full.”

For fliers looking to get bargain fares, booking far in advance has become the only option, with busier seasons exposing longer lead times even further. That doesn’t bode well for travellers who haven’t yet booked their December flights.

“If you’re looking at the peak period, if you wanted to book a flight on the 16th or 17th December down to the coast from Johannesburg, you should’ve booked it in May to get the steal, to get the bargain price,” explained Gordon.

“But at the moment, we’re sitting in a scenario right now where our load factor [a percentage of how full the planes are] for December is higher than our load factor for November already, which is nuts because you’d ordinarily always go through a period where the next departures are the most full. This December is going to be mayhem across the market, there’s no two ways about it.”

Although South Africa’s remaining carriers have rushed to add capacity and plug the gap left by Comair’s collapse – with available seats back up to 1.2 million by September – travellers are likely to encounter higher fares for the next four months. FlySafair is adding six additional Boeing 737-800 aircraft by the end of April 2023, each introducing 35,000 more seats per month, which, together with other airlines’ additions, will go a long way in attempting to satisfy demand.

That makes Easter, a period already characterised by huge travel volumes, the next holiday to start planning for already, to snatch some bargain airfares, said Gordon.

“It’s probably a good idea [to start booking Easter flights now] because if you’re waiting for all the capacity to come in by that point, it’s still going to lead up, so you would be wise to plan ahead for Easter now, because people aren’t really thinking about Easter at this stage.”

But if Easter’s too far away and December flights are out because of high prices, Gordon has another tip: book for the last two weeks of January. During this time, airline capacity opens up drastically, and more seats are available, resulting in better bargains.

“That’s one of the consumer tips we put out quite a lot… if you can delay your holiday and go away in the last two weeks of January, you’re going to get a good deal because there’s just such low demand.”

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