Travel

It may be cheaper to buy a car than fly, this June 16th holiday weekend

Business Insider SA
(Constantine Johnny, Getty)
(Constantine Johnny, Getty)
  • Comair's failure saw an immediate spike in domestic ticket prices, as demand wildly overshot supply.
  • The June 16th holiday weekend is the first test for the domestic airline market since Kulula disappeared.
  • The result is not pretty. A family of four can easily pay more than R30,000 for return tickets between Johannesburg and Cape Town.
  • Even factoring in the high price of petrol, it can be cheaper to buy a car and drive there.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

If you don't already have tickets booked – and not on the failed Kulula – your travel options for the upcoming long weekend are limited.

If you are quick, lucky, and flexible with your times, you can pay tens of thousands of rands to fly domestically.

Or you can buy a cheap second-hand car, drive to your destination, and in some cases still be better off than had you flown.

As soon as Kulula and the domestic British Airways operation of Comair were suspended early this month, ticket prices on other airlines shot up. Comair's demise meant 40% of domestic airline seats disappeared, at a time when airlines are struggling with high fuel prices due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and pandemic aftershocks that include a shortage of staff.

See also | Comair grounding: Here's why other airlines won't be able to plug the gap any time soon

With June 16th on a Thursday this year, taking one day of leave makes for four-day weekend. And like much of the rest of the world, South Africans seem to have a pent-up need to travel, even though money is tight.

So we ran the numbers. 

Our airline price quotations are based on a family of four, with two kids under 12 but old enough to need their own seats, who want to escape Johannesburg for the weekend. To do so they would – ideally – leave later afternoon or early evening on 15 June, and return that Sunday, 19 June, again later in the day. All members of our hypothetical family would have standard luggage requirements, so enough space to pack some warm clothes but nothing special such as golf clubs or bicycles.

Here's what it would cost that Johannesburg family to fly to...

Cape Town: nothing under R20,000, and likely closer to R30,000 

Late this week you could still find return flights from Johannesburg to Cape Town for that family of four at just over R20,000 on Lift, but seats were moving fast. 

FlySafair came in just under R21,000, CemAir and Airlink were charging about R25,000, and SAA topped out at roughly R30,500.

Alternatively, that family could buy a 2009 Audi A6 for under R21,000.

We estimate that the round-trip drive will cost just about R5,400 in fuel and tolls. Throw in R800 to keep every well fed, watered, and entertained during the all-day drive, and another R140 for an AA membership, and the trip comes in at a bit over R27,000. And you still have a car at the end.

The drive is a long one – but it may actually save you a day or two of leave. By Thursday there were no flights from Johannesburg to Cape Town after work on 15 June, and almost none on Sunday. To fly you would have to take off the Wednesday at the least, and probably the Monday too.

Durban: at least R16,000, and up to R23,000

We were quoted R16,256 for our family to get to King Shaka airport via FlySafair, by far the cheapest option we could find. SAA and Airlink came in at just under R20,000, and CemAir at around R23,000.

Or, with a bit of a luggage squeeze, you could fit that same family into a 2006 Peugeot 206, for just under R21,000.

We estimate the drive to Durban and back will cost some R2,000 in tolls and fuel, for a total of just about the same as those CemAir tickets. Add in road trip snacking expenses and that AA membership, and you are paying more than you would for flights – but you don't have the expense of trekking from the isolated King Shaka to wherever you want to actually be. 

And, again, you still have a car at the end.

East London: About R16,000, but you can't just go for the weekend

The two airlines that can still get you to East London, FlySafair and Airlink, quoted our family around R15,400 and R16,200 respectively.

That makes it a bit more expensive to buy a 2002 Fiat Palio, on offer for R19,900. Plus we expect the return drive to cost you R3,400 in fuel and toll fees, which gets you to the region of R25,000 quickly once you factor in those other expenses of driving.

The thing is, though, you can't fly to East London just for the long weekend. By late this week, return flights were only available for Monday, 20 June, and those seats were getting scarce too. And to fly out on Airlink would mean a very early flight on Wednesday morning.

If you have time constraints, say because you can't take enough leave to fit in to airline schedules, buying a car for the weekend could still be a good idea. 

And if you reckon that you can sell that car for half of what you paid for it, you'll be in the green.

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