While domestic travel has quickly returned to pre-pandemic levels over the past year, so too have ticket prices for air travel, which are up by as much as 54% compared to pre-Covid 2019.
Many South Africans are booking or have already booked flights as the Easter holiday approaches – whether for a well-deserved holiday or to spend quality time with the family if they work or study outside of their home province.
However, due to rocketing prices as of the end of 2022, travellers are paying considerably more for air travel as a result of high fuel prices, increased demand, and a rapid decline in airline capacity.
This is according to a study conducted by Discovery Bank in partnership with Visa, which noted that in 2022, the airline industry suffered various airline liquidations due to the pandemic, which removed 40% of domestic airline capacity virtually overnight.
This included Comair, the company behind Kulula, which fell into business rescue and subsequently ended operations. British Airways is also unable to fly in South Africa as its local partnership fell through along with Comair.
This came at a bad time, as ‘revenge travel’ – embarking on travel journeys to make up for lost travel time during the pandemic – was rife in 2022, putting further strain on airlines’ capacity and pushing up the ticket prices.
Compounding the issue is that the cost of aviation fuel also increased by more than 80% in 2022 compared to 2021, creating a perfect trifecta that saw ticket prices skyrocket, and prices haven’t seemed to have recovered since then.
The combination of reduced supply, fuel price increases and greater demand for travel means South Africans are paying 30% to 55% more for local flights than they did in 2019, said Discovery.
Average ticket prices by route
As part of the study, Discovery Bank also looked at the average price increases of air tickets for the most popular domestic routes.
Looking at travel transactions across both international and domestic flights, South Africans are now spending on average 14% more on leisure and 24% more on business travel per trip, said Discovery.
Interestingly, the study also noted that, on average, travel spend on flight tickets for domestic flights nationwide increased six times more than that on international flights.
Flight tickets have increased for the average South African by 12% for domestic travel and 2% for international travel.
However, the prices for some of South Africa’s most popular routes increased dramatically.
The study looked at the price increases of ticket prices for travellers moving between Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban over the first seven months of 2022 alone – showing the average ticket prices of some routes increased by as much as 50%.
This was seen in the ticket prices for flights between Cape Town and Durban – which increased by 54%.
The second most expensive route is flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town, increasing by 41%, followed by flights between Durban and Johannesburg, which increased by 35%.
In 2023, there seems to be no reprieve ahead, as the Department of Transport has gazetted changes to airport tariffs for 2023, which will see price hikes for airlines using airport facilities in the country.
The managing director of Plane Talking, Linden Birns, said that airlines in South Africa are highly conscious of customers’ sensitivity to any increases in the cost of air travel, and, as a result, they try to mitigate the impact of increases and absorb them – whether it is user charges, fuel, interest rates or items detrimentally affected by the USD/ZAR exchange rate.
However, he said that it is inevitable that they will have to recover some of these costs from customers.
The changes include fee hikes for parking, landing and passenger services – the last of which will directly impact ticket prices.
The new fee schedule will see passenger service fees increase to R97.38, including VAT, for domestic travel and up to R266.05 per passenger for travel to other destinations.
Parking and landing fees have also changed, determined on a sliding scale, depending on the plane’s weight.