Expect flight ticket prices to be five times higher over Christmas – and stay high for a long time to come

 ·5 Dec 2022

Anyone hoping to get hold of last-minute air tickets to their holiday destination can expect to pay exorbitant rates, warn industry experts.

Having been warned for months that the festive season would hold significant costs for prospective fliers – even more so than years before – aviation experts and industry stakeholders say the costs of flying over Christmas are piling up.

Speaking to The Sunday Times, Discovery vitality CEO Dinesh Govender said that festive season airfares would be five times higher in December compared to off-peak periods, driven by declining domestic seat capacity and climbing airline expenses.

Domestic flights between Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban over December have climbed to around R2,000 for a one-way ticket, while some are even as much as R4,000 – meaning you’ll pay roughly between R4,000 to R7,000 for a return flight depending on your location and chosen destination.

Aviation expert Desmond Latham said that, unfortunately, these prices make sense given that airline expenses have increased by around 300% over the last three years, and this has been the case for all airlines worldwide.

“Australia has seen a similar increase of 300%, while the USA – which is known for having cheap domestic flights – has seen increases of over 100%, so airfares have simply rocketed all over the world,” said Latham.

He added that this is because jet fuel has almost tripled in price. In 2019, a gallon of Jet A1 fuel, which is just under four litres, cost around $1.80. Now, in 2022, it costs around $3.30.

Another issue, Latham said, is the shortage of airline personnel in South Africa, including pilots, which means that they are being paid more to pitch up to work. Compounding the expenses is the shortage of aeroplane parts, which has increased the price of spares due to China’s zero-Covid policy and subsequent lockdowns.

While it is common for flight prices to increase around the holiday peak season, the dramatic increase is also partly due to South Africa’s capacity constraints due to Kulula’s parent company Comair going under earlier this year in June.

According to FlySafair’s chief marketing officer Kirby Gordon, the Comair liquidation resulted in the standard 1.2 million available seat capacity dropping to 900,000. He said that flight capacity almost halved after the liquidation, with 40% taken offline.

While remaining airlines, such as FlySafair and Lift, have added more capacity to the limited market in recent months – with more capacity expected in their respective fleets in December 2022 and in early 2023 – the market is still suffering a shortfall.

Latham noted, however, that despite the ranging inputs costs, airlines are still making a killing, and this is because the ticket price of a flight is ultimately up to supply and demand.

He said that capacity is an issue because travellers are still willing to pay the price, despite the increases.

Steps to avoid high ticket prices

While it may be too late to get decent pricing over Christmas, Latham said prospective travellers should take steps to avoid high air tickets in the future.

The top tip is to book flights as soon as possible, planning long ahead to avoid paying closer to the time.

Other tips included looking at alternative days to fly and changing your holiday periods.

“Busy routes, such as between Joburg and Cape Town, can have good deals on off-peak days, while Flying just before the 16th of December, for example, could inflict the highest costs. Also, try looking for flights on days that people generally don’t like flying, such as the 1st of January,” said Latham.

He added that, while unfortunate, airfares are expected to continue at an elevated price as long as inflation remains heightened, and fuel prices continue to be pressured by global shortages as a result of the war between Ukraine and Russia.

“Several domestic and global economic factors have changed the dynamics of air travel in South Africa, and this will likely continue until 2024,” said Latham.

Read: Flight ticket prices for December compared – FlySafair vs SAA, Lift and Airlink

Show comments
Subscribe to our daily newsletter