Where South Africans are booking flights to right now – and how much tickets cost

After nearly two years of extremely limited travel options, South Africans have a lot more choices this coming holiday season – particularly if they’re vaccinated.

Data provided by comparison website Cheapflights shows that searches for flights in October were up by about 240% month-on-month.

While one reason for this could be that South African travellers have been trying to book domestic and regional flights before they completely fill up over the holiday season, but there was also a significant increase in searches for international flights as restrictions were lifted in more and more countries, the group said.

“Searches for flights within Africa for the summer period more than tripled in the past month, growing by about 276%, while searches for flights to Europe were up by approximately 65% compared to the same period in 2019.

“Along with that, the approaching summer season gives South Africans a great opportunity to travel cheaper than pre-pandemic with flight prices dropping by one-fourth (-26%) on average compared to 2019.”

Cheapflights outlined the top countries South Africans are looking to travel to in the coming months.


Domestic travel

Boosted by a drop in lockdown levels, economic recovery, and people feeling less wary about travelling, South Africans are more confident about exploring closer to home this holiday season, Cheapflights said.

It added that searches for domestic flights are up by about 294% compared to pre-pandemic times.

“Unsurprisingly for a country which has a strong tradition of decamping to the coast during the festive season, Cape Town and Durban are the most popular local destinations, with searches increasing by about 322% and 258% respectively.”

Cheapflights data shows that the average flight prices for flights to destinations within South Africa are up by about 12% compared to 2019, with the average price at R2,200.


India 

Taj Mahal

India saw a huge jump in year-on-year searches from South Africa p up by approximately 92% in 2021, said Cheapflights.

“India was heavily affected by a Covid-19 wave in March, and is now only recovering from it. India is a wonderful destination with many interesting cultural and food experiences to discover.

“However, flight prices to this country jumped by around 66% compared to the pre-pandemic period and landed at the average cost of R16,400 for the return flight departing from South Africa.”


Zimbabwe

South Africa’s neighbouring country, Zimbabwe, came in third for top searches from South Africans.

“Compared to 2019, there has been a whopping increase of about 677% in flight searches from South Africa to Zimbabwe. Here in South Africa, we have a sizable Zimbabwean community, which could attribute to the increase in flight searches now that Covid-19 seems to be slowing down and borders are reopening.”

Cheapflights data shows that travel has also become much more affordable, with the average flight cost being R3,800, down by around 28% compared to 2019.


The United Kingdom 

Searches for flights to the United Kingdom increased by approximately 77% compared to 2019.

“With South Africa taken off the United Kingdom’s red list in early October – meaning that travellers no longer have to self-isolate at their own expense in a government-approved hotel – it wouldn’t be surprising if searches increase further,” Cheapflights said.

The group noted that flight prices are about 10% lower now than two years ago before the pandemic and the average return ticket cost is approximately R10,200.


United States

The United States of America recently reopened its borders to vaccinated South Africans, with resulting flight searches increasing by about 55% compared to 2019.

The data shows that flight prices have decreased by 18%, and the average price for a flight is now at R14,150.


United Arab Emirates 

While many travellers use the United Arab Emirates only as a travel hub before moving on to another destination, Abu Dhabi and Dubai in particular have positioned themselves as destinations in their own rights.

“With the UAE removing restrictions on fully vaccinated South Africans at the end of August, in October searches for flights to the country during summer season increased by around 175% compared to 2019, with searches for flights to Dubai increasing by about 64%,” Cheapflights said.

It added that ticket costs have decreased by about 18% since the start of the pandemic and the average flight cost is now R7,500.


Business travel 

The easing of lockdown restrictions has also seen the return of corporate travel. Unlike leisure travel, however, companies need to meet certain duty of care obligations, says Corporate Traveller general manager Oz Desai.

Desai said that a company’s travel policy needs to take into account:

  • Vaccinations – for example, do your travellers have to be fully vaccinated before travelling for business;
  • Health & safety measures put in place by travel partners – do your preferred suppliers meet all your health & safety goals?;
  • Infection levels around the world – is there a minimum or maximum number of cases in a destination that would influence your decision to travel?;
  • An individual traveller’s willingness and confidence to travel.

“Many companies have used this travel ‘down time’ to reassess their travel policies,” said Desai.

“Communicating a clear post-pandemic travel policy to all potential travellers is the very first step in a successful return to travel. From the hotels a traveller can stay in, to responsible behaviour on the road, and the measures in place to bring travellers home, nothing can be left to chance.”

Desai added that smaller SMEs are driving business travel’s recovery in South Africa – citing the mining and construction industries as key examples.

mapping tool developed by travel website Skyscanner shows that as of 17 November, South Africa has 77 ‘major restrictions’ from other countries in place. This is up from around 60 major restrictions before the third Covid wave hit in mid-2021.

These countries have suspended travel, may be closed to entry, or entry may only be possible if you are a citizen/meet strict entrance requirements.

By comparison, there are currently 32 moderate restrictions for South Africa, where travel is possible, but only if travellers meet certain entry requirements, including taking Covid-19 tests.


Read: US updates travel restrictions for South Africa

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Where South Africans are booking flights to right now – and how much tickets cost