FlySafair offered 30,000 tickets at R8. A million people showed up. Some of them are a bit angry.

Business Insider SA
(Photo by Gallo Images/Jacques Stander)
(Photo by Gallo Images/Jacques Stander)
  • FlySafair's mega-sale returned on Wednesday after a two-year break, with a million people trying to grab the cheapest fares in South Africa.
  • The airline sold 30,000 tickets at R8 each in just seven hours, becoming the most talked about brand on social media.
  • But some hopeful shoppers who'd spent the day glued to their screens expecting to exit the waiting room and be allowed to book their R8 flights have been critical of the sale.
  • Much of the frustration has been directed at FlySafair's randomised selection process, which didn't offer preferential access to the booking platform on a first-come-first-served basis.
  • FlySafair, at one time, did reward shoppers for their eagerness and patience as opposed to pure chance, but changed its methods following complaints.
  • The airline says both methods have been criticised and that it can't please everybody is "a fact that we've had to make peace with over the years."
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Low-cost airline FlySafair's R8 ticket sale dominated headlines and social media on Wednesday, with a million people trying to get their hands on the cheapest fares in South Africa. Some of the unlucky ones are angry, but the airline says it's made peace with those negative reactions.

FlySafair's annual mega-sale started in 2015, with the airline offering a limited number of tickets to patient bargain-hunters. These sales have grown in popularity every year since, except in 2021 and 2022, when the promotion was halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic and its crippling impact on the travel industry.

The sale re-emerged this year after a two-year break. FlySafair offered 30,000 tickets at R8 each and sold out in seven hours. But a million people who entered the waiting room, designed to limit strain on the website, never got through to the actual booking platform.

While the R8 ticket promotion made FlySafair the most talked about brand on Wednesday, it's also received criticism from those who spent their day glued to the waiting room screen with nothing to show for it.

The belief that the waiting room ordered shoppers in a queue on a first-come-first-served basis was responsible for some of the disappointment. The selection of who got to leave the waiting room and enter the booking platform was completely randomised.

But it wasn't always this way. FlySafair's first sales did work on a first-come-first-served basis, and the most patient – and eager – of shoppers were rewarded. But customers complained about this preferential system.

"Complaints were that it was unfair to people who only learned about the sale later or who had other obstacles in their way from getting online in the early morning," Kirby Gordon, FlySafair's chief marketing officer, told Business Insider South Africa in the wake of Thursday's bonanza.

"Learning from that, we decided to use the random selection option which feels more fair because it is luck of the draw to gain access regardless."

Randomising became effective in 2017, although the new method wasn't widely advertised. In the most recent sale, apart from responses by FlySafair's social media team, details of the selection method were briefly covered in the promotion's terms and conditions. "No preferential access to the site can, or will, be granted to any customer."

The only aspect of the selection process FlySafair claims to have direct control over is the number of people admitted from the waiting room to the booking platform. This is "designed to preserve the integrity of the website and protect it against the heavy traffic demand."

"This year, we hit a point where there were 1,070,000 concurrent people (or devices) in our waiting room, which was a new record," says Gordon.

And where previous sales, despite having the waiting room function, have been marred by technical glitches, Gordon says no fundamental errors were reported during Wednesday's promotion.

"There are always a few users who have small day to day issues as one would accessing the internet at any point – usually these are connection-related, and on rare occasions, a session can be corrupted, but the error rate was very low," says Gordon.

"For a brief period in the afternoon, we struggled a bit with our Low fare Finder tool, but this didn't stop people from doing normal searches and still actually completing transactions – so very minor things."

With no major technical issues to blame and the randomised selection method having been the standard for the three previous sales, FlySafair says that while emotions can run hot on the day, most shoppers understand its luck of the draw and that the chances of winning are slim.

"It's human nature to be more vocal when you're upset about something rather than when you're happy with a result, and the reality is that we're never going to please the whole crowd of over a million people trying to get tickets," says Gordon.

"That's a fact that we've had to make peace with over the years."

Asked if, judging by the criticism levelled at FlySafair's randomised selection method, the airline will change its processes for these types of sales in future, Gordon says that's unlikely.

"No, at this stage, and compared to feedback from the past when we did first-come-first-served, we'll probably stick to the randomised access lottery," explains Gordon.

"That said, we're also wanting to apply our minds to how we might change things up a bit in the future, so perhaps it'll be something quite different altogether."

And despite vocal criticism on social media, Gordon says, citing the year-on-year growth of the promotion, that most people will try their luck again.

"It is a great promotion, and it stands to reason that we'd not have repeated it six times if it didn't ultimately serve the business well," says Gordon.

"Emotion runs high as it's going on, and it sparks very interesting conversations, but at the end of the day, when people reflect on it, they realise that it's a truly crazy promotion and that the chances of nabbing those tickets, like winning the lottery, are pretty slim. More than that, despite hyperbole to the contrary, folks always try again the next time."

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