3 tips to help you save big on your travel bookings

There is no such a thing as booking your holiday flights and accommodation too early.

According to research from Reader’s Digest, prices begin to drop from 105 days in advance and are at their lowest approximately 70 days ahead of departure before rising again as the dates draw nearer.

Planning ahead for your journey is always better when booking for peak periods, such as school holidays or the festive season – especially considering the South African travel market’s unique, ever-changing landscape.

If you’re looking to take a local or international getaway, here are some expert tips to help you make informed, empowered and savvy travel decisions.

1. Timing is everything

According to Flight Centre South Africa’s general manager, Antionette Turner, South Africa’s travel market is a delicate balance of supply and demand.

“During school holidays and over public holidays, the demand often outstrips the available flights, resulting in a sudden surge in airfare prices,” she said.

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This is where early booking comes in handy as Flight Centre data revealed that, on average, the lead time for booking domestic flights in South Africa is 43 days.

It’s typically 48 days before when booking accommodation and 53 days before departure when investing in package deals.

Unfortunately, particularly when booking to travel during peak periods, these lead times don’t always allow travellers to secure the best options while ensuring they’re not overpaying.

“At Flight Centre, we recommend travellers book at least three to six months in advance to get the biggest bang for their buck,” said Turner.

She also revealed that many travellers planning their local holiday last-minute will opt for a road trip, believing this travel switch will help them save. However, with the ever-fluctuating fuel prices in South Africa, self-drive holidays might turn out to be costlier than expected.

“Today’s exorbitant fuel prices and the worries associated with poorly maintained roads can often tip the scale in favour of air travel,” she highlighted.

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2. Shoulder season and supplier deposits: the secrets of strategic planning

Turner said that if you can, bend your travel schedule a little.

“Consider the shoulder season. That’s the period just before or after the peak season. It’s often overlooked but offers immense benefits like lower costs and fewer crowds.”

However, she also noted that travel booking isn’t just about when to book but also about how to pay.

Some suppliers allow customers to secure bookings with a deposit, particularly for larger packages. The flexibility is especially helpful for travellers on a budget who can’t afford a significant once-off payment and a big reason why advance booking for cruises is such a popular option!

“Just remember to keep an eye on the currency for payments. If the invoice is in a foreign currency, each payment will be charged at the current rate of exchange (ROE), which will obviously fluctuate over time,” she said.

3. Booking tips: Local vs international

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And finally, Turner highlighted that there’s a distinct difference between booking local flights and holidays versus planning international travels, and she said that for local flights, travellers must consider early booking and the day of the week they depart and return.

“Mid-week flights can be more affordable than weekend ones. These are little patterns that, once recognised, can make a big difference in cost,” she said.

She also noted that when it comes to international bookings, the challenges increase.

“Some destinations, like Zanzibar, have limited air connectivity, making early booking essential to secure seats.

“The average lead time for booking flights to popular overseas destinations like Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and Canada varies between 70 to 90 days, according to Flight Centre’s data,” she said.