Several years ago, a number of discount airlines entered the South African market. With them came the promise of revolutionizing travel in South Africa, as passengers would no longer be captive to the high prices forced by the near monopoly of South African Airways (SAA). First came Kulula, and they were quickly joined by 1time, Nationwide (now defunct), and Mango. They offered no frills service for rock bottom prices.
But along the way, something happened. The service remains no frills, but the prices stopped being so cheap. Yet in their advertisements, and in most people's minds, these discount airlines remain the cheapest option for flying within South Africa.
The strange reality is, this isn't necessarily true. After scouring the discount airlines websites, we eventually found that the cheapest ticket available for a return flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg was offered, oddly enough, by British Airways. Second cheapest? Flying with SAA. All of the discount airlines were more expensive.
And the effect is that you can essentially get better service, more amenities, and more comfort for a cheaper price. When we headed up to Johannesburg, we walked past the swelling crowds waiting at the Kulula desk, and found literally no wait at British Airways. And of course, the better service continues on the flight, too. Pictured above is breakfast on our BA flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg. Despite appearances, it actually wasn't bad. British Airways flights are catered by Woolworths, a slightly upmarket local grocer, who provide a healthier and fresher alternative to the usual airline food. And for our lunchtime flight, they even offered wine to drink-- something I'd never encountered on a domestic flight before.
Occasionally, you may still find special deals with the discount airlines, and one-way trips with them may work out cheaper. But if you're booking a flight in South Africa, remember to shop around, because the cheapest airfare may not be where you'd expect to find it.