Flying vs driving from Joburg to Cape Town – the cheapest option right now

 ·23 Jan 2024

With fuel prices still at elevated levels above R20 per litre – and in line for a hike in February – the cost of making a round trip from Joburg to Cape Town by road works out more expensive than the air ticket alternative.

Even without the higher fuel price, air tickets are cheaper than they have been in previous years and give a decent alternative for those who don’t want a long road trip.

This does come with a caveat, though: it’s only cheaper to fly if you’re going solo – a family trip will always be cheaper by hitting the road.

Fuel price punch

Currently, the inland price for 95 petrol for January stands at R22.49 – an decrease of 76 cents per litre from December 2023.

According to PwC’s latest economic outlook for South Africa, petrol and diesel prices have risen by 22% and 41%, respectively, in the last two years.

The jump in fuel costs is mainly a result of South Africa’s weakening currency over the course of 2023, as well as the geopolitical tensions that have put pressure on global oil prices.

However, the airline industry hasn’t caught a break either due to similar reasons.

When looking at the direct impact on ticket prices, FlySafair noted that rampant jet fuel prices, the rand-dollar exchange rate, and a lack of skilled maintenance in the country are major contributors.

According to the airline, the cost of jet fuel increased by 223% from October 2020 to October 2023, outpacing general inflation. “Given that fuel costs constitute about 50% of our operating expenses, this surge has placed significant cost pressures on the industry,” it said.

Another factor that hit air ticket prices in South Africa was capacity constraints due to Kulula’s parent company Comair going under in June 2022.

Although capacity has recovered somewhat in 2024, Comair’s 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.

South African travellers are thus faced with high costs for both road and air travel.

BusinessTech looked at the price of a round trip from Johannesburg to Cape Town – a distance of 1,400km – with the most popular cars per vehicle type (prices sourced from TopAuto. Prices also include toll fees)

TypeCarConsumption per 100kmSingle tripReturn trip
CrossoverToyota Corolla Cross6.8LR2 345R4 690
SUVToyota Fortuner7.2L*R2 294R4 588
BakkieToyota Hilux7.1L*R2 265R4 530
HatchbackVW Polo Vivo5.9LR2 062R4 124
SedanVW Polo Sudan6.5LR2 157R4 314
*Diesel engines

On average, it costs just under R4,450 to drive a return trip from Johannesburg to Cape Town.

However, many South Africans may choose to make a single trip over two days, stopping on the roughly 15-hour journey to rest, adding additional costs.

The advantage of air travel is that it only takes a few hours and does not require a rest.

Below are the prices per airline for a round trip for a single person from Johannesburg to Cape Town over a weekend (26 to 28 January).

AirlineRound trip price
CemAirR4 540
FlySafairR4 113
LiftR3 775
AirlinkR5 150
South AfricanR4 367
*These prices reflect the cheapest flight option with luggage.

On average, road travel is slightly more expensive than flying, sitting at averages of R4,449 and R4,389, respectively.

Despite still sitting at an elevated level due to oil prices and the performance of the rand, air ticket prices have reduced substantially since the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, which – mainly as a result of capacity constraints – were sitting at up to R7,000 for a return flight depending on your location and chosen destination in at end of 2022.

However, if you travel with more than one person, then driving is substantially cheaper. Travelling by car for a family of four will carry a similar cost for road travel for one person.

Air travel also gets significantly more expensive when more than one passenger is considered.

Although the family of four may have to rest on both journeys, the total spent on accommodation would have to total roughly R12,000 to match the approximately R17,500 price of plane tickets for a family of four.

Ultimately, a larger group of travellers will save more money driving instead of flying, but air travel costs slightly less for an individual traveller.

*Prices sourced from each airline’s website Departing flights were for Friday, 26 January, while return flights were for Sunday, 28 January. Air travel prices are prone to change, and not all airlines offer the same packages.

Read: The most popular car brands in South Africa – including the 14 best-selling models right now

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